Sometimes you're stuck with a sweater you just don't wear any more. Maybe it shrunk or became felted in the wash, or maybe you outgrew it. When this happens, there's a variety of ways you could upcycle your sweater into something new.
Do you like knitting? One way to recycle your sweater is to unravel it into a skein of yarn. This way, you can reknit your sweater into a garment you actually wear. This process takes a lot of patience, but if you particularly like the material your sweater's made from, it's well worth it.
If your sweater has become too small, you could try to upsize it by adding in extra pieces of fabric. You could knit your own, use scrap fabric, or sacrifice a second sweater to cut out panels or gores from.
(Image source) [ID: a gray knit cabled sweater with gores made of floral pink fabric sewn to the bottom, starting at the waist.]
Sweaters that are too big are pretty easy to downsize, too. If your sweater's made of a natural fibre, you could try shrinking it in the wash. Otherwise you'll have to tailor it. Add in darts with the ladder stitch, or resize the sides by using a fitted sweater as a template.
Your sweater doesn't have to stay a sweater! If the shoulders bother you, then remove the sleeves and turn it into a sweater vest. Chest too tight? Cut open the front and turn it into a cardigan. Top not fitting right? Cut off the bottom and make yourself a skirt or a pencil skirt.
(Image source) [ID: a before and after picture of a gray sweater being turned into a cardigan.]
There are many ways to upcycle a sweater. In the end, your sweater is just fabric/yarn in a sweater-shape. You can reuse it however you want. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Scarves, mittens, arm warmers, hats
Basket with handles
Cat ears hat
Hot water bottle cozy
(Image source) [ID: three sweater diagrams showing how to turn a sweater into an ear warmer, fingerless gloves, infinity scarf, arm warmer, slouch hat, cowl scarf, traditional scarf mittens, and a beanie hat. Text: "© Jenuinemom.com".]
There's no need to throw away a sweater if you don't wear it any more or if it doesn't fit you any longer. You can always resize, alter, or upcycle it into something new.
If you don't feel in a crafty mood, please consider giving your sweater to a friend or family member, freecycling your sweater, or donating your sweater to a charity rather than throwing it away.
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Crafting on the cheap
When you want to learn how to mend or make clothes, the costs of tools and materials might seem daunting. However, it doesn't have to be!
Mending your clothes is a great way to save money. Every piece you mend is a piece you don't have to buy anew.
As for making clothes from scratch, the materials and especially the time you invest in your craft might not weigh up to buying fast fashion. That's true. However, there are ways to at least keep the costs of your materials down.
Making your own clothes does have one financial edge over fast fashion: as you get better, the items you produce will end up being of much better quality than your average fast fashion piece. They'll last longer, which means you'll have to buy new things less frequently.
Unlike fast fashion, everything you make will be unique, too!
How to keep things cheap:
Tools: needles, embroidery hoops, fabric scissors, crochet hooks, seam rippers, chalk, rulers, pins, darning eggs, maybe even a sewing machine,... All things you might want when you're just starting out.
If you're completely new and aren't sure if you want to invest in any tools yet, ask around if you can borrow some of these items. Maybe your crafty friend will lend you their hoop, or perhaps you've got a community centre nearby that has sewing machines available to the general public. Some libraries also run tool libraries, which are well worth a check if you're starting a new craft or even looking to remodel your home.
Don't skimp out on sewing needles. A good sewing needle is worth its weight in gold. Blunt or ragged needles will cause you much frustration, and they'll damage the item you're working on.
As for fabric markers: you could invest in some good tailor's chalk or water-soluble fabric markers, but you could also just use sideboard chalk or an old piece of soap. These will give you less precise lines as they're thicker than tailor's chalk, but they mark well and wash out easily. Don't use anything like a biro or a crayon, though. They will permanently stain your fabric.
Check if you have a local freecycle group: if you're lucky, you may find people who just quit their craft and are giving away all of their tools.
Second-hand shopping is your friend! A lot of thrift stores have a crafting section. I've managed to get almost all of the common knitting needle sizes for €5 at my local thrift store, for example. If you don't have a physical shop nearby, check out online second-hand platforms like Facebook Marketplace, Ebay, Vinted, Poshmark, Depop, or whatever your local equivalent is.
Note that if you end up buying a second-hand sewing machine, you still may have to spend some extra money on maintenance or repair, depending on the state of the machine.
While this blog promotes reusing as much as possible, it's also important to acknowledge that's not always an option. You'll occasionally find cheap tools at shops like the 1 euro store, Dollar Tree, 100 yen shop,... Whatever your local equivalent is. Honestly, if you use your tools until they break (or sell/give them away once you're done with them), it's okay. You'll be using them to save other resources by mending your clothes, which will offset the use of your new tools.
Notions: thread, buttons, zippers, ribbons, lace, interfacing, elastic, bias tape, embroidery floss, beads,... You can't get started without whatever basic notions your project requires.
Just like needles, don't skimp out on thread. Weak thread that breaks easily is frustrating to work with and will cause your mends to deteriorate faster.
Again, check the crafting section of local/online second-hand shops and ask around in freecycle groups. You'll frequently find people selling/giving away their notions.
Speaking of thrift stores: a lot of second-hand shops receive more donations than they can sell due to overproduction in the fast fashion industry. My local shop even holds regular €1 sales just to get rid of their excess stock. So, don't feel bad about buying garments just to repurpose parts of them for your craft projects. Whatever you don't use now can go into your stash for future projects. If you run into uncommon sizes or disability aids, or if you live in an area with specific shortages, maybe leave those items for people who need them more than you do. Apart from that, everything's free game.
Don't throw anything away. Use your broken garments as a source of raw materials, instead. Your moth-eaten blouse probably has buttons you can repurpose. The lace on that lingerie set with the broken bra hook can be used to modify other underwear, or to cover up a hole in your favourite dress. That hoodie that ripped last week? If the zipper's still fine, it's perfect to fix up a different hoodie with.
Patterns: if you're new to your craft, you're probably looking for good patterns to follow, but even those you can often get for free.
Got a favourite garment that fits you like a glove? You can duplicate the pattern and make your own version of it.
Looking for free knitting/crochet patterns? Make a Ravelry account. They have a huge collection of both free and paying patterns available.
Need free sewing patterns? Check out sites like Freesewing.org.
Invest time into making proper pattern blocks for your body if you've already got some pattern drafting experience under your belt. Once you've got a few good basic patterns, you can modify them into anything you want them to be.
Check if your local library has pattern books.
Look up vintage patterns online. Sites like Gallica or Archive.org have plenty of magazines and even old sewing manuals available for free.
Don't forget about Pinterest! There's plenty of free patterns to be found there, too.
Ask your crafty friends if they have a pattern you can borrow.
Learn how to draft your own patterns, or how to sew/knit without patterns! It takes some experience, but once you've got a good grip on the basics, it's easier than it looks.
Materials: good quality fabric and yarn are expensive. That's a fact we can't change. What we can do is look into cheaper sources of materials.
I've mentioned second-hand shopping multiple times in this post, and I'll do it again. It's an absolute goldmine of raw materials.
Hunting down cheap yarn? Look for people who just quit knitting and are selling their yarn collection online. Browse your local thrift store for sweaters made of nice yarn that you can unravel into a new skein. Also check the shop's craft section for unused skeins, while you're at it.
Looking for fabric? Take a look at your thrift store's curtain and bedding section: once that curtain's a dress, nobody will know it once hung in front of a window. If it's good enough for princess Giselle, it's good enough for us. Just make sure your curtains/bedding are made out of materials that are suitable for making clothes. Thrifted maxi skirts and maxi dresses are also a great source of fabric thanks to their length.
A lot of fabric stores have a discount corner with leftover bits of fabrics that are too small to sell at full price.
Again, don't throw anything away. If you've turned a pair of jeans into shorts, keep the legs to patch other pants with. Your old pillow case might make for a great skirt. That leftover yarn from your last project might be just enough for a pair of socks. Be creative. Start a stash with bits and bobs that you can dig into whenever you need to patch something up or replace a zipper or something. Encourage crafty friends to also start a stash so you can trade with them.
Mending and making clothes does not have to be expensive. If anything, it might save you money. While you can't reduce the time needed for your craft project (because let's face it: time is a luxury), you can find ways to at least make your tools and materials cheaper.
I absolutely live by the things mentioned in this post. Check out my latest yarn haul, for example:
[ID: 58 skeins of various types of yarn spread out on a wooden floor.]
If I had bought all of these skeins new from a shop, I'd have paid hundreds of euros. There's some very fancy wool in there! What I did instead was look up people on Vinted who were selling their yarn collections, and buy their stuff at a fraction of the retail price. It's a win-win situation: the seller gets some of their money back, I get cheap yarn, and a whole bunch of pre-existing materials that otherwise might have gone to landfill will now be turned into clothes.
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