|Rocket Originals UK – reproduction patterned sweater in claret.
I’m sweater obsessed at the moment. It might be that it’s November and snowing outside (yay!), but it’s also because ready-made vintage style knits are hard to find and/or hard to afford.
There are some beautiful reproduction sweaters out there, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just going to be honest and say I can’t afford them. I splurged on a Rocket Originals sweater from the UK, and after the exchange rate + international shipping, it worked out to be one of the most expensive pieces of clothing I own. I love it, but I can’t do that again, no matter how badly I want an Emmy Designs knit top (or four).
|Original 1950s Featherknit nylon sweater from Two Old Beans on Etsy
Other ways to acquire vintage knits:
- Knit them myself (haha ha hahahahaha)
- Buy original vintage (also hard to find, can be expensive, might be uncomfortable to wear, hard to care for, or in a fragile state)
- Sew my own (working on that)
- Retro-cycle modern sweaters
That last one – retro-cycling modern sweaters – is what I’m sharing with you today.
A trip to the thrift store will usually turn up a gazillion sweaters – men’s and women’s – that can be cut up to re-shape into a vintage style. Sweaters that are too big for you offer options for refashioning sleeves to create puffed shoulders, different necklines, etc. so don’t pass those by!
|Modern H&M sweater, un-altered.
My example today admittedly didn’t come from a thrift shop, but H&M (I hit the thrift shop first, but didn’t find what I was looking for – a tasteful, classic reindeer sweater), which was a surprise. It was about $35, which made me mildly nervous to slice into it (and really it was quite cute as a modern, long-length sweater), but the alterations were straightforward:
1. Shorten the length to at-waist
2. Taper the sides.
|Rocket Originals repro sweater over the modern H&M sweater – both have similar stretchiness and measurements at the shoulders and bust
I used my Rocket Originals repro sweater as a guide, laying it atop the reindeer sweater to compare length and width. Both sweaters had about the same stretchiness (very important!)
I tapered the sides first, stitching along the lines I marked from the other sweater, making sure not to stretch the material as it went through the machine. I followed up with a second, wider zig-zag in the seam allowance, close to the seam stitching, then cut off the excess.
|Turning up the band – I stitched along the line between the solid and patterned portion, then cut all that extra seam allowance off.
The second step was to cut off the ribbed band at the bottom, leaving the very wide seam allowance, flip it up to position it at the waist, and stitch. Again I ran a second, wider zig-zag right next to the seam line, then cut off the excess last.
|The shortened sweater complete.
And that was it! It’s a very very easy alteration to make, and leaves you with a great vintage-length sweater to wear with at-waist trousers and skirts.
|The shortened sweater worn with at-waist trousers.
Tips & Tricks:
- Stitch with wooly nylon thread + ball point needle + narrow zig zag stitch. This is the magic knits-without-a-serger combo for your regular machine.
- Let the machine feed the fabric through -don’t pull it!
- Leave as wide a seam allowance as possible. Stitch first, trim seam allowances second. Especially on a looser knit, this will prevent a rippled seam.
- Vintage sweaters often have quite fitted ribbed bands at the waist, then a blousier top. You can achieve this by reducing the band at the side seams, then gathering the fullness of the rest of the sweater onto the band, either with a gathering stitch (recommended for quite a lot of gathering), or stretch-gathering onto the band as you sew (ribbed band on the bottom stays un-stretched; fullness on the top, stretch and sewn down as you go)
- When scouring the thrift store for sweaters to cut down, consider the scale of the motif. Example: A man’s large reindeer sweater may not work for retro-cycling into a ladies’ medium because you may cut off half the reindeer reducing the width across the chest.
- Also consider necklines when hunting much larger sweaters to cut down.
As the weather gets colder and my vintage sweater adventures continue, I’ll be sure to share them with you, from more advanced sweater refashions, to sewing your own with pre-knitted yardage. Stay tuned!