This is a very simple, very rewarding project that allows you to turn old adult-sized sweaters into new child-sized leggings! I’m often aghast at the ads for cashmere baby clothes--I can’t imagine spending $50 on something that is going to be pooped on, puked on, and outgrown in a matter of days! However, repurposing someone’s cast away cashmere sweater into silky-soft leggings for my darlings is my kind of couture! These leggings have so many possibilities--pajama bottoms, an ideal base layer for outdoor activities, or super cute playwear. Have fun!
Step 1: Acquire a Sweater.
I like to hunt at Goodwill, but you may have just the thing stashed in your closet. The ideal sweater will be a fine gauge (ie small stitches of lightweight yarn) wool (preferably 100% merino, 100% cashmere, or 100% alpaca) with sleeves that are joined to the body of the sweater in a diagonal line from the armpit to the neckband. Also, the sleeves of the sweater should ideally be the length of your child’s leg, with their crotch meeting the armpit of the sweater. I used a woman's small, and the sleeves were *just* long enough for my 4-year-old’s legs. If it feels scratchy to the inside of your wrist, it will probably not be comfortable on your child--find something softer.
May I rhapsodize about the virtues of wool for a moment? It is a remarkable fiber--able to keep you warm even when it is wet, it does not burn, it is extremely hard-wearing, it repels dirt, and it (paradoxically) keeps you cool. I know many people think it itches--it certainly can!--but there are some unbelievably soft wool fibers out there. The one everyone has heard of is cashmere, but merino and alpaca are close seconds. There is often at least one cashmere sweater in the racks at Goodwill when I visit, and I can always find merino or merino/cashmere blends. I live in a smaller city, so take heart and go hunting!
Step 2: Prewash
Launder the sweater they way you intend to launder the leggings. If you wash all of your kids’ clothes in hot water at super high speed, do that to the sweater now! It will probably felt (shrinking in the process!), which is a good thing, since felt is easier to sew than a stretchy knit fabric. Once the wool is felted, you are safe (you can make the leggings and wash them with the rest of your laundry without worrying they will be doll’s clothes when they emerge). If you like hand-washing clothes, and are impatient to get sewing, by all means skip this step. (Really, hand washing wool is pretty easy.) Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Step 3: Fit to Child Recipient's Leg
From the neck of the sweater, have your kid stick his/her leg into one sleeve and the other leg into the body of the sweater. If the armpit meets the crotch and the length & fit of the leggings are good, you’re golden! If not, don’t worry, Plan B is outlined in step 6.
Step 4: Mark the Waist Midpoints
With your kid’s leg in the sleeve of the sweater, align the shoulder seam of the sweater with his/her hip. Then gently smooth the fabric of the sweater body across your child’s abdomen, with the neckline of the sweater approximating a waistband. Some of this depends on the neckline of the sweater you are using--my green sweater was a v-neck, so it was very easy to fit around my child’s waist. A turtleneck will not be so easy--you may want to carefully remove the turtleneck collar in order to fit the sweater to your child more easily. Using a straight pin, mark the location of your child’s belly button in the front of the sweater. Then carefully take the sweater off, and repeat with the other leg of your child (and the other arm of the sweater). Mark the belly button on the second side. Now remove the sweater and lay it out flat on the floor.
Step 5: Cut Off the Arms to Make the Legs
Draw a line (with a dressmaker’s pencil or disappearing ink marker, or a ruler used as a straight edge) between the armpit of the sweater and the pin. Give yourself 1/2” to 5/8” of a seam allowance (move the line 1/2” or 5/8” toward the center of the sweater), and cut through both layers of the sweater all the way to the collar. This should completely remove the arm from the body of the sweater. Take that piece, flip it over, and lay it on top of the other arm. Line up the seams of the two arms, and use the top piece as a guide to cut the second arm off of the body. You should now have two arms--from now on they are legs!
Step 6: Plan B for Cutting Out Pattern Pieces--if the Sleeve Doesn't Fit.
First of all, if the sleeve is too small, resign yourself to making capris or even shorts--you won't have enough fabric to work with in the body of the sweater. If the sleeve is too long, you have a couple of options. Our goal is to minimize the number of seams you have to sew. First, get a pair of leggings or lightweight pants (or heavy weight tights, I suppose) that currently fit your child. Fold them in half lengthwise, so the leg is fully extended. Lay out the sweater you'd like to use on a flat surface, and evaluate the following positions. 1) Line up the ankle edge of the pants with the wrist cuff of the sleeve. If the sleeves are nice and wide, you may be able to simply use the crotch seam of the pants as a cutting guide (give yourself at least 1/4" seam allowance!) and cut off the arms along the waistband of the pants. This means no extra seams for you! 2) If the sleeves are not wide enough for option 1, align the cuff of the pants with the waistband of the sweater and the outer leg seam of the pants with the side seam of the sweater. Use the shape of the pants for your cutting guide, remembering the seam allowance, and cutting up the leg and around the crotch to the waistband. You will need to sew the inner leg seam of each leg before beginning step 7, but this is very simple. Fold the leg in half, matching right sides, and sew up the inner leg seam. Then continue with the instructable at step 6. 3) If you can not get enough length from the body of the sweater, put the leg of the pants on the upper part of the sleeve so the top of the leg is even with the armpit of the sweater. Then, starting at the armpit, cut the crotch and waistline shape out of the body & shoulder of the sweater (remember a seam allowance!). Then trim the extra length off below the cuff of the pants. For this option, you'll need to finish the bottom edge of each leg after completing the pants. You can either turn under the cuff of each leg--very similar to making the casing for the waistline--or you can use a narrow zig-zag stitch to create a wavy "lettuce" edge for a ruffly finish.
With all three options, use the first leg as the pattern for your second leg. Then they'll match! :)
These options also come in handy for getting more than one pair of leggings out of a sweater. As you can see in my pictures, I got four pairs of leggings out of two sweaters--not a bad day's work!
Step 7: Stuff One Arm Into the Other to Align the Cut Edges.
Take one leg and turn it completely inside-out. Take the other leg and, matching seams, insert it into the leg that is inside out. (The right sides of the fabric will be touching each other.) This will result in one thick leg. I pinned at the ankle on either side of the seam, and then all along the crotch edge (your cut line from step 5). Don’t stretch the fabric! Match the seams and gently smooth it outward, allowing it to rest naturally. It is worth taking your time on this step--you will avoid strange bumps and waves if you work slowly and carefully.
Step 8: Sew Seam #1
Sew crotch seam, using an overlock stitch or a serger. I strongly recommend cutting a piece of waste fabric from the sweater and practicing to check your tension and to see how your machine handles the extremely stretchy fabric.
Step 9: Test Fit.
Turn pants right-side out and try them on your kid to test for fit. Don’t worry if the seam is a little wavy, steaming it with an iron will help it relax. If the waistline needs to be adjusted, mark your child's waistline with pins.
Step 10: Fold Over Casing at Waistline
If you did not use "Plan B" for your pattern pieces, cut around the top of the pants to 1" above your child's waistline, making it fairly uniform all the way around. Using the elastic as a guide, fold over and pin the waistline casing on the pants. Make the casing at least 1/4” wider than the elastic. Do yourself a favor, and make sure all of the seams are folded in the same direction all the way around the pants. This will make threading the elastic SO much easier.
Step 11: Sew Casing
Sew the casing along the raw edge using a zig-zag or overlock stitch. Do not sew all the way around the casing--leave a 1”-2” opening in the back of the pants.
Step 12: Cut Elastic to Fit Child's Waist
Wrap a length of elastic around your child’s waist without stretching. Cut the elastic about 1” shorter than the circumference of your child’s waist. I used 1/2” elastic, but use your best judgement based on the weight of the fabric and the size of your child.
Step 13: Thread Elastic
Thread the elastic through the casing. My favorite way to do this is to put a safety pin through one end of the elastic and use the safety pin to guide the elastic through the casing. Be sure not to let the “tail” of your elastic disappear into the casing--then you’ll have to start over.
Step 14: Sew Ends of Elastic Together.
Overlap the ends of the elastic about 1”. Pin together and sew securely.
Step 15: Sew Casing Closed
Finish sewing the casing closed. You may need to stretch the elastic some to get the fabric to lay flat. Another nice touch is to sew through the casing and elastic along the side seams--this anchors the elastic and prevents it from twisting. You’re done! Unless you want to......
Step 16: Embellish! Customize! Decorate! Go Wild!
Embellish! In a household with four girls, we are all about embellishment and decoration! You can embroider, bedazzle, sew on patches or felt shapes, add trim--let your imagination run wild! Your new 'luxe leggings can go anywhere--our maiden voyage was to ballet class!