new life for an old sweater

A few weeks ago, I saw a t-shirt refashion in a craft magazine, and was inspired to apply its techniques to a little red sweater that I’ve had forever, but is now tragically too small. Here’s the end result:

finished shawl front sweater

The t-shirt refashion took two over-sized t-shirts and turned them into a single, shawl-front cardigan. I thought it might be cool to start with a fitted sweater instead of an over-sized shirt, and then the final product would be more fitted, too.

Instead of 2 t-shirts, I used this old red sweater and a pair of knit pants in a black and white herringbone pattern. These two are relics from my black-and-white-and-red phase (many years ago, now), in which nearly everything I owned that wasn’t denim or black was bright red.

red sweater before refashion black and white pants before refashion



The sweater is way too small for me now, and the pants never quite fit right anyway. Both are made from a cotton/poly blend medium-weight knit, of very similar textures. Over a long sleeve shirt, this cardigan will be pretty cozy! A great layer for fall, winter, and the chilly beginnings of spring.

All you need for this refashion is a top you’re not wearing, and 2 rectangles of similar fabric…the whole project took me two hours, including pausing to take pictures!

cut down the center front

step one
Cut your sweater down the center front, and then shave off the pointed top of the neckline. I sketched the curve using tailor’s chalk, but if you wanted to be precise, you could use a french curve to measure and mark it before you cut.

To make sure both sides come out identical, fold the sweater in half, matching the shoulder seams, and use the curve you cut on the first side as a guide for cutting the second side.

step two: cut off the pant leg

step two
Cut your strips of fabric that will become the shawl – they need to be two rectangles of the same length and width. Mine ended up being 8.75″ wide and 29″ long.

If you were using thinner fabric, I think a wider rectangle would be better. The length depends on the length of your original top, and if you want the ends of the shawl to extend below the hem of the top.

I used one pant leg from the herringbone pants. After cutting it off at the crotch, I cut open both side seams, and trimmed the remaining fabric carefully until they were rectangular in shape and matched in size (I realized after I took this picture that they weren’t quite the same size yet). I recommend ironing your fabric before your final trim to get the most accurate cut!

I kept the hem of the pants intact, to use as the hem of the shawl.

french seam

step three
Join the two rectangles to form one long strip of fabric.

Use a french seam for the nicest finish. French seams are super easy and look very neat. First, pin your fabric wrong sides together, and sew using a seam allowance slightly smaller than you normally use.

Then, fold the fabric along the seam with right sides together, press it flat with a hot iron, then sew together using your usual seam allowance. This encloses the raw edges inside the seam ~ lovely!

As a final step, I stitched down the finished seam allowance, giving it the look of a flat-felled seam. Because the knit is kind of bulky, I thought the seam would look nicer stitched down.

finished edge of shawl

step four
Finish one long edge of the shawl. On the original t-shirt refashion, they left the edges of the t-shirt raw, but I didn’t think that would look right with this project, plus the herringbone knit was too loose not to unravel.

If you have a serger, now would be a good time to bust it out. My serger lives in a box in my closet and never comes out, so I just used a narrow zigzag stitch to finish the raw edge, and then turned it in 3/8″ and stitched it down.

I recommend pressing the edge in with a hot iron before you sew. It will help keep it in place while you stitch, especially with a slightly bulky knit like this.

finished refashioned shawl front cardigan

the final step
Attach the raw edge of the shawl to the sweater, again using a french seam. Start pinning the shawl to the sweater by lining up the center of the shawl, with the center back neckline of the sweater. This way the ends of the shawl will be even on both sides.

My shawl turned out being the exact same length as the sweater, but I think it would look great if it were a bit longer, and perhaps cut at an angle.

I really liked how this turned out! At a mere two hour time investment, this is practically instant gratification. I’m definitely going to be using this treatment again!

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19 thoughts on “new life for an old sweater

  1. Great tutorial, great look and I am in love with the idea of using clothing that you already have and love. I am trying very hard to be “green” in all areas of my life these day and this fits the bill. I have just discovered your blog! I am looking forward to browsing with my mid morning cup of coffee! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lyn, thank you so much! I’m so glad you like this little project. I’d love to see pictures of what you come up with if you do similar surgery to your old clothes!

  3. Great idea. Have you seen there’s going to be a new show, not sure on what channel, where woman scours thrift shops to redo / remake things to sell. From brief quick blurb I saw it looked like was going to be along these lines….
    Looked interesting anyway. Even to someone that doesn’t take the time to sew anymore. ;}

  4. Shawna, that sounds like fun. I wonder if that’s Alexa Chung’s new show about thrifting? I will look out for it, I love refashions!

  5. Bonjour, je viens de voir votre site et ce que j’ai vu m’intéresse. Je vais essayer de la faire car j’ai un vieux mais pas de pantalon alors je vais en acheter dans une fripperie, car c’est pas cher
    merci. J’ai oublié de vous dire que je vis en France dans le Pas de Calais, et comme c’est la crise je vais sur les sites de retransformation de vieux vêtement en neuf. A bientôt

  6. Dear Valorie, I am a senior,way over the hill, and have sewn all my life. Love what you did with this sweater. If my fingers and eyes will cooperate, I’ll try it. … I have a cowl neck sweater, want to cut down the cowl neck and made it into just a turtle neck. I keep looking at it, for weeks, but nothing springs eternal. If you have any ideas, may I impose on you to share. May you always enjoy what you do in good health, and God’s blessings. ? Amelia

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