Introduction: Upcycled Sweater/Fabric Coat
I'm putting this Instructable together for the Sew Warm contest this year. I've seen many of these marvious creations on Etsy, and hadn't yet made my own. A couple months ago, a friend and I were at the mall and he was like 'what happened to that coat thing you were gonna do?" and I was like, OH YEAH! it'd gotten so far to the back of my 'to-do' list that it fell off the edge of the earth.
I want to say a big "thank you" To Katwise on Etsy for making the original coats that this Instructable is based off of. Without her, these types of coats would not exist.
The main difference between my elf coat and others, especially Katwise' coats, is that the rough edge of the seams will all be inside facing. This is so that people with no serger can still make these types of coats and still have that nifty outer edge seam effect. if you want outer seam facing coats, simply do that with my or Kat's tutorial with a serger instead, but I do suggest you purchase hers for that instead of trying to convert mine.
Anywhere from 5-20 sweaters, and whatever other materials you want to use, you can use fabric purchased at the fabric store as well. I'm using 7 100% cotton or 100% wool sweaters (cost: free to $50 or more, depending on the number of sweaters you pick or already have. 7 sweaters will be enough for a knee length coat. A floor length coat may require up to all 20, if not using supplemental fabric. If unsure, start with around 10. Try not to pay more than five bucks for each sweater, unless you really love it - this can get expensive fast. Do not pay full price for retail sweaters - I don't even want to think about how much it would cost.
NON-STRETCH satin/shiny thick lining or piping in notions. I'm using some leftover decent quality lining material from a previous project. 1-1.5 yards of quality lining material should be enough. ($6)
Optional: Bought or found wool or cotton fabric, should be medium weight and not too stretchy. In addition to my sweaters, I'm using some leftover velvet for trim and occasional filler.
Ribbon, pom-poms, trim or other items you might like to use to personalize your coat.
Zipper OR Buttons OR Fabric Ties: The coat can be securely tied closed with just a front tie, but with a zipper foot and basic sewing skills you can install a zipper or make button holes. Simply tying it closed works great too and has a certain charm. I will not cover installing a zipper - if you are attempting this tutorial, I am assuming you already know how to do a zipper, or are not doing one.
Tools and Equipment:
Sewing machine and/or serger: A serger is nice, but not necessary for this Instructable If you want those squiggly outside facing seams, you really do need a serger, or a lot of patience to zigzag stitch all your seams - and there will be a lot of seams. This tutorial is aimed at keeping all seams facing inside - you are welcome to finish seams with a serger..
You do, however, need a machine that can handle stitching through several thicknesses of fabric. If you are unsure, either leave out the satin piping, and/or do a test patch with one sweater. Cut several squares out and stack them, join them, stitch through joins and thicknesses. If your machine isn't making funny noises at this point, you can probably proceed. Do not risk burning out your machine.
If you decide NOT to do non-stretch satin pipping, or any other pipping, I urge you to use sweaters and fabric that do not stretch very much, and avoid stretch velvet altogether.
Dual-Purpose or Heavy Duty Thread: Can be complimentary or contrasting, but you'll need more than one spool of whatever color(s) you choose. Most if it will be on the inside anyway - for the most part, I used dark purple and black threads.
Heavy duty machine needles. You may break one, so don't be alarmed, but do be aware it could happen when you are stitching through several thicknesses of fabric. You may want to lean away from the machine or wear eye protection when dealing with these areas - mostly at the neck/hood attachment and skirt attachment. Katwise herself has a horror story of a needle to the eyeball. (AAUUGH)
Cutting mat and Rotary Tool is preferable, but as long as you have a large, hard flat surface you can cut on, that will suffice.
Standard sewing equipment, such as tape, pins, bobbins, chalk, needles.
You do not need to know how to read patterns to make this, as long as you have at least a single base sweater to cut the sleeves off of to make the base upper section of the elf coat, if using all store bought fabric in pieces, you will have to make your sleeves/arms from a separate pattern that will not be included here.
This coat is unlined - if you have the sewing skills to add a lining, feel free to do so. If you find your sweater coat to be itchy, you can try adding a lining to the upper part and sleeves alone - just the parts that could touch your skin if wearing short sleeves under it. A long sleeved t-shirt type thing should work well.
Total cost and time: Should not be more than $75, unless you really do want 20 sweaters - then I cannot predict - if you have the time and patience, I suggest hitting yard sales, visiting more than one thrift store, and looking for deals on fabrics at your local fabric store for a few weeks before starting to assemble your coat. If you insist on purchasing 20 sweaters at once, I hope they're cheaper than at my local Goodwill - $4-5 each.
Up to knee-length took me around 15 hours of working time, but I have to separate out the time I spent typing this thing too and stopping to take photos, so I'm not positive.
**Disclaimer: This tutorial is in no way meant to disrupt sales of Katwise or others on Etsy who have purchased her tutorial (which I recommend!). I have purchased and read Kat's tutorial and am making efforts not to duplicate it, either intentionally or unintentionally. My intention is for Instructables readers to be able to construct their own similar type of fantasy coat - the coats by her and others are simply awesome, but I don't have $2-400 to drop on a pre-made coat, and for those crafty people like myself, this tutorial is for you.
Step 1: More Is More
I don't know about you, but I get very easily distracted in thrift stores.
Try to pick sweaters that you not only like, but that also will at least sort of work together. Even if you're doing a rainbow coat of all colors, try to stick with solids. Patterns/prints are fun, but opposing patterns can get busy. Get saturated colors when you can - sweaters that are already faded will continue to fade after washing. If you like a pattern but the sweater isn't in top condition, don't get it. For this instructable, I bought a variety of striped turtlenecks and solid sweaters. I also made one lucky find of a long wool pencil skirt.
Fabrics to look for: lamb's wool, merino wool, wool, cotton, silk, cashmere, blends of natural fibers or blends of at least 50% or more of natural fabric and manufactured fabric. Any natural fiber is great, but try to get true sweaters or otherwise thick-fabric garments, such as hoodies or jackets.
Fabrics to avoid: Nylon, Acrylic, Chenille, Polyester, any other loose weave fabric regardless of material type, unless you're going to use it for trim pieces - these may unravel when cut into strips. Avoid any other plastic based manufactured fabric that I may have missed. Avoid t-shirt material or anything that resembles t-shirt material. Avoid anything super stretchy. I would advise against sweaters with hard plastic beads unless you are quite careful - they may pop off or break a needle.
Except for the all-important foundation sweater, it doesn't matter what size the others are, but bigger is better. In thrift stores, you rarely pay based on size of the garment. Poke your head in both the men's and women's sweater sections. Find an empty span where you can hang your chosen sweaters next to each other and weed out or replace as needed. Stand back and see if you like how the colors 'look' together. If you don't, put some back and find others.
If you feel like a particular sweater looks dingy but is otherwise okay? put it back. It'll still be dingy after washing, too.
Try to resist buying smaller sweaters - you may not get large enough panels to match the other cuts out of a smaller sweater.
Try to keep with turtlenecks and non-cuffed sweaters. Cuffs generally reduce the amount of usable fabric, but go for it if it's a very large sweater.
Step 2: Wash All the Things!
WASH ALL THE FABRIC.
Did I just say in the last step that almost of the clothes at thrift stores are pre-washed? Yes. However, they get handled, touched, dropped on the floor (cough) and tried on. Wash them.
Go ahead. I'll wait. I recommend hand washing the wool ones and laying them out to dry - any cotton sweaters should be able to just go in the wash as normal. Throw in dryer as normal. When done, collect all sweaters and get ready for some cutting! If you use no wool and all cotton, you'll probably be able able to accidentally throw the coat in the washing machine and have it survive, but for the best coat preservation, hand wash only and hang dry.
Step 3: I Choose You!
Out of all the sweaters you have chosen, pick the one that you think best holds together the color scheme of the entire coat. It should be in good condition, not stretched out and should already fit you comfortably around the bust and arms, but not tightly. It should be interesting and make a good visual focal point of the whole coat.
Keep in mind that this sweater will bear the weight of the bottom 3/4 of the swirly skirt coat. It has to be sturdy enough to not stretch too badly. I would recommend picking a wool sweater for this (pre-shrunk), but use what you will be most comfortable with.
You are welcome to start with an existing (sweatery) jacket base, just make sure you remove the current zipper, if one exists. A pre-existing jacket may already come lined - your base cost will be more expensive, unless you already have a jacket in your closet you want to use for this purpose A hoodie wouldn't even be a bad way to start, since you already have an attached hood, and you could cut out the back of the hood at any point to add a tube of fabric.
Select your foundation sweater, give it a big hug, then get cracking with the cutting implements! MWHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Step 4: If You Want to Destroy My Sweater...
Lay your chosen sweater out on a cutting board or other flat surface.
Cut off the sleeves at an angle up to the point where you want to add new sleeves. If you want, fold the sweater in half and line up the sleeves, and cut them off with a rotary tool that way. You may love your foundation sweater so much that you don't want to take off the sleeves at all, and that's fine. We accept you.
Cut the collar out of the sweater depending on how large you want the hood opening - BE AWARE TO CUT ALONG THE SEAM. If you just cut a big U out of the top, you'll be cutting off valuable neck/upperback space. Cut up to an inch or two away from where the collar was, if desired, otherwise, just cut along the seam.
Another option is to cut it open on a teardrop shape sort of angle, so the place where the hood opening starts and the open edge trim marries is less distinct. If you cut open the front on anything other than a straight up and down line, you won't be able to install a zipper.
Step 5: Step Two: ??????????
Here's where you figure out what you are going to use for which part of the coat, and how you are going to supplement it with store bought fabric or your own scraps, if at all.
First of all, you have to decide how long you want your coat - the longer it is, the more swirly it will be, but it will also be heavier. The beauty of these coats is that you can make it one length to start with and continue to add length in the form of long strips afterward. If this is your first coat, I would suggest leaving it around knee length or just below, and then getting more adventurous on your next coat.
Are you going to make your hood long or short? drapey or closer to the face and snuggly? Do you want a rolled hem around the front of the hood or fluffy coat trim, or even something else? Do you want normal sleeves or bell sleeves?
I want slight bell sleeves and a long and drapey hood, so that's what I'll be exploring here. The first coat will have 'petal' like panels. If you make the rounded bottom edge, you can always cut it off in a smooth line and add strips of fabric perpendicular later. From there, you can add one length of trim that runs in a stripe around the entire bottom of the coat, then add more widths of stripe, or even another line of shorter, box like trapezoids.
Alternatively, you can make more square-ish blocks of sweater to make it less heavy and swirly for your first coat.
Step 6: Going Dexter on the Remaining Sweaters
Repeat collar removal with any turtle necks, carefully cut it off to preserve fabric.
Cut off each sleeve at the armhole seam - this is pretty much symmetrical, so you don't have to give it the neck hole treatment, just slice off with a rotary blade or cut with scissors on the seam while the sweater is lying flat.
Slice up one side of the sweater only, and separate the shoulders - no real precision is required, but try to only cut along seams. The long, uninterrupted bottom 2-4 inches of each sweater is a piece of bottom edge coat material or waist cincher material.. Depending on the total bottom edge length of your coat, you may need one sweater for each row, potentially upping your total sweater count from 2-7.
One other thing - if you find some really big sweaters, you can cut panels out of the torso/back of those sweaters using the arm cutouts as a template. You probably won't have enough left over for strips in the hood and/or sleeves.
For the bottom edge, fabric from the store by the yard might be cheaper and easier to scavenge. thick flannel, curtain and upholstery fabrics might be worth looking at.
Find the shortest sleeve of the batch that you're willing to use, and use it as a template to cut more 'sleeves' out of extra fabric, or wait until your final cuts into rectangular panels are done, and use those as a template for spare fabric. Since I'm doing petals, I'm just using the open flat sleeve as a pattern.
Turtleneck collars are good for hood and sleeve use. Fabric from the top useable edge of a sweater - the chest and upper back area of sweaters - can be used for the smaller pieces of the hood, pockets and small details. Cuffs are also good for hood use. You may want to reserve one or two sweaters for unexpected uses, and hold off on cutting them up.
Step 7: Let the Upcycling Begin!
Cut each sleeve long the one seem it should have, or if two, the shortest one. The sleeve laid out should look like below. Each sleeve should make one or more panels with more or less waste. Try to preserve as much of the remaining material as you can.
These are not exact templates, more like suggestions. I'm doing the big petal option - this coat will not have as many narrow strips in the skirt.
The last option - cutting two strips from one arm.
Depending on what you want, you may want more or fewer pieces. I used about 12 'petals' and the skirt is 6 feet long along the lower hem. If I add rows of extra fabric, it should get even longer along the base hem. Katwise's coats run up to 22 feet long on the lower hem on the longest coats.
NOTE: if you do petals as a final end to the coat hem, you will want to hem them before attaching them together - you can either turn them into diamond points, or cut 5/8 inch clips into the bottom edges of the rounded petals, turn them in and stitch them down. This will be a lot harder to do if you wait until after they are together.
Step 8: Shiny!
Once you have your pieces cut out, all nice and the same size, it's time to cut up satin to make trim that will mimic the effect of an outer serge edge. This has a secondary and added effect of structure, which is essential if you're using stretchy fabrics and mixing in non-natural fibers for your skirt panels.
The satin edging is entirely optional. Piping would work equally well, but raises the cost of making the coat. Or you can skip either altogether but I think you'll lose some visual interest.
Cut strips of your edging material the length of the panel edges plus a little extra for fudge room. Cut around 1.5 inches wide, or less if you are confident you won't oversew them and need to break out the seam ripper.
If you are planing to leave the skirt at knee-length, tuck the bottom ends of the satin inside itself at the bottom edge as you stitch them closed so there are no stray threads. If doing panels/lower strips, you can skip turning the ends in.
For a wider lower hem, the panels should be very narrow at the top and very wide at the bottom, for more A-line, they can be more square shaped, but should still narrow at the top.
I folded a strip of satin, fold facing inside and stitched in place. I used the first stitch as a guide when attaching the next panel, wrong sides out. Repeat until you are happy with the length. The wais/top edge of the skirt should be able to wrap very loosely around your waist. If you find the top edge is just too long, we'll deal with that in another step.
One you have your skirt the way you want, it's time to set it aside and move to the next element.
Step 9: Winter Is Coming
Next up - we shall assemble our remaining fabric for the hood and sleeves. I'm doing all my strips in about 2 inch wide blocks. If you want more narrow bands, cut them with a 5/8 seam allowance in mind. Sizes can vary for added interest.
You can use some of the strips you cut earlier, or from the upper back/front from sweaters. I ended up picking a couple sweaters I knew I would use all of in the bottom hem, and ones that I wouldn't use any at the bottom and used for other pieces.
Measure approximately from where the sleeve ends on your base sweater to the rest of the length you want the sleeve to be. We'll match strips of fabric until we get to that length, with piping or without.
Since I'm doing bell sleeves, I'll be sewing them together in a cone shape, then attaching at the elbow. I'll need about 5-7 lengths of fabric, getting progressively shorter toward the elbow.
Duplicate the same system as before with the skirt panels, only you will not need to 'finish' either end of the satin piping, since it will be closed in the sleeves. Stitch once to secure the satin where you want it, then stitch again, right sides facing together, to attach the next strips. You can assemble your strips in descending sizes, but I find that strips end up off-center more often than not, and this is not a project of precision.
When you have your strips assembled fully, turn to the inside and trim all seams to 1/4 an inch.
Turn right sides together, folded, and first BASTE stitch however you want your sleeve to look - I did a slight curve on mine to make wider openings at the wrist. Just make sure your stripes are llned up.
Turn rightside out and examine your sleeve. If you are happy with how the stripes line up, turn back wrong sides out and stitch normally at a 1 or 2, trimming the new seam to within 1/4 inch. If you have a serger, now would be the time to finish the seams, because the next step is attaching sleeves to sweater.
For now, I'm leaving the outer sleeve pieces raw edged, in case I change my mind later and add another stripe or other trim.
It is not strictly necessary that they match each other, but it looks tidier, and it's easier to cut out matching sets of strips of fabric.
Step 10: You Know the Drill
To attach sleeves to coat, follow the standard procedure of turning the coat sleeve inside out, and slip the sleeve up inside the sweater sleeve right side out and stitch in place. Baste first if you feel you need to be assured of placement, but it's probably not necessary, just make sure you do it at the same point on each sleeve so the seams are symmetrical, ie, mine face to the back.
Next up - the hood!
You may skip attaching the hood and do the skirt next, hood last. If so, come back to 10 and/or 11 later.
Step 11: These Points of Thread Make a Beautiful Line...
You can always opt for no hood, of course, and go with a collar, or a short 'normal' hood, or the one we're doing today! The long hood!
Mine is around 4 feet long, made up in 2-3 inch wide strips that are very narrow at the bottom and widen to the top/front. I recommend starting with the widest strip first, the front of the hood, and working your way back, narrowing the cone of the hood fairly drastically after attachment to the neck, almost a flat 'S" shape.
By starting from the front and going back, you will also be sure you don't short yourself any satin trim/piping and risk raw edges.
Repeat the same process with the hood that you did with the sleeves and skirt - one stitch to set the ribbon in place, second stitch to attach next piece of fabric.
When finished, clip all seams to within 1/4 an inch.
Fold your strips of attached fabric over evenly, right sides in, and BASTE your first stitch. You will want to stitch up to your estimated hood opening, which for me, was indicated in an image below. Taper or block off the final end piece to close it. If you are happy with it, go back over with a regular stitch. Clip your long hood seam to within 1/4 an inch, and turn the hood rightside out.
Ta-Da! you should have a very long hood with a front opening and a neck opening about 24 inches wide.
Step 12: Pray I Don't Alter It Any Further
To attach the hood to the neck of your foundation sweater, pin it in place, right sides together, at the center of the neck. Moving a couple inches at a time, pin the rest of the hood length in place, having it taper to an end around mid chest, or at the top of the neck if you plan on doing a zipper. If your hood opening is too long, remove the pins and stitch a little further up the length of the back of the hood seam to make the opening shorter.
Once pinned in place where you're happy with it, BASTE stitch first, then try it on. If all is well, stitch two straight tight rows 1/8 an inch apart. Add a zig-zag if desired. This is one of those places that the needle may break.
Your machine may hate you at this point. It will probably be thinking dark thoughts about you while you sleep.
I made one small alteration before attaching my hood - I didn't like how overly stretchy my foundation sweater seemed, so I cut out a back panel 6 inches wide and 2 inches from each side in the front and replaced them with different fabric. I may further alter it.
Step 13: The Last Coat You'll Ever Wear
Now for the fun part you've been waiting for!!
Add one or more strips of any type or color to the bottom edge of your foundation sweater until it is the length you want. I did just one wide one, about 4 inches. This or one of these bands is where we will attach a sweater tie.
Now it is time to gather your skirt! Starting in the center, pin right sides together and work your way around. You may find that you'll have to either bring some of your pieces in, shortening the top, or doing a gather. Since this version is an A-Line, I underestimated the top length of the skirt, and had to take it in a little by darting and regular intervals.
If happy, great! repeat with the previous step, a double row of tight stitches, and/or a zig-zag. You want this seem to be well-reinforced. Clip seams to within 1/4 an inch.
CONGRATULATIONS! All you have to do at this point is either add trim to your hood (I like fluffy things), then finish the seams at the sleeve openings, either by turning in to hem or by adding trim. Stitch a couple very long lengths of fabric, tacking down a few places at the waist, for your sweater ties, or go ahead and add buttons and button holes.
That is, that's all you have to do if you did petal or diamond tips that you hemmed the pieces of in an earlier step. If you have gotten to this point and decide you really want a longer skirt, or have already planned a longer skirt, back up to just before attaching the skirt. In the next few steps after this one, I'm going to go over slice off your flower petals and converting the skirt to a fuller circle - at that point, you need only to attach it as above.
From this point on, I'll be using more than a total of 7 sweaters.
Step 14: This Is the Coat That Never Ends...
Whew. Okay, you are now at the point where you have done one of two things - you either have already planned to do a fuller skirt, or you didn't plan on doing a fuller skirt but now you want to.
The good news is, the top half of your coat is complete!
Chances are, you will already have the extra fabric to proceed. If not, go get some more!
So, you want to convert your petals? all you have to do is dart the top edge of all your petals, then start adding more panels that are much more narrow at the top. My final circle skirt came to around 14 feet. This will increase with the more rows I add.
What we are going to do is add length by adding strips of additional fabric - sounds easy, right? We'll need more very long strips of fabric that will run the entire bottom length of the coat - which can be anywhere from 12 feet to 20 feet or even more. Other than 2-3 inch wide strips of fabric, another option is to make kind of quilt blocks of fabric to make a row, so you have alternating colors in one or two strips - I wouldn't recommend doing more than one or two of these, and make the rest long strips that run the full length of the coat.
In the end, I bought some sparkly black and white lace from the remnants bin at the fabric store and used that along with some old purple stretch velvet for trim on the hood and sleeves. I used the same purple velvet to finish the front open edge too, by just folding it under and stitching right sides together. My sleeves now end at my fingertips, and I'm kinda torn on shortening them. I had intended on making my coat even longer than what I'm using for the front image, but I think it told me it was done.
I ended up keeping yet ANOTHER one of the wool sweaters I bought at a thrift store, because it was just too nice.
Don't forget to stitch some lengths of fabric to the middle and back of the waist band so you can tie your coat closed - I used 2 inch wide raw edge fabric. You are welcome to fold it over and close up the raw edges.
The final coat is pretty heavy, but not 'unreasonable'. The nearly full circle skirt makes it heavier than an a-line, and all that fabric does make it a little more interesting to get in and out of cars and hogs space on coat racks. It's more of a special occasion type of coat, but I still enjoyed wearing it. When I told the thrift store woman what I was going to do, she asked me to come back and show it to her when done :) So I do plan on doing that soon.
Step 15: Once More With Feeling
Lots of natural fiber sweaters, more than you think you'll need, and with a color palette in mind.
Your personal design might evolve as you stitch.
You might find something else you like better than folded satin to make faux piping, like, say, brocade.
You may suddenly cut out more pieces of the foundation sweater and replace it with more contoured pieces. You can add pockets of literally all types and sizes. I may realize that the inner facing of a long stripe is the perfect place to add a small pocket for my glasses case. You may suddenly decide you need to stitch/embroider giant leaf shapes along the hem. Who knows?
Where was I?
If you do nothing else while following my tutorial, cut your strips of fabric as evenly as possible. Theoretically, you can build this coat with no true measuring or pin use. Evenly cut and sewn lines will add more character than take it away. Smooth transitions and consistently sized strips of fabric prove your seamstress cred.
When you make your next coat, you can go further outside the box. You might decide you want two tails on your hood, or layers of overlapping material that hang down the skirt in a cascade of fabric, or even just a waist length hoodie-style for cooler weather.
You are done whenever you are done. You can always go back and add more fabric. If you get tired of piping and strips, you could also just do very large 1 foot square squares to make up the last length of coat. If you don't trim the bottom edge, it should be hemmed though.
Do make sure you clip all seams and/or finish them - it's weight in the coat you don't need. Because of the bandy nature of the coat, you can always, say just chop off part of the hood and hem it shorter, or do the same and add more bands. The main thing is that your stitches are neat and tidy and that nothing is pulled out of shape.
Step 16: Nyan Cat Would Be Proud
I hope you have enjoyed this Instructable and found it useful.
My next coat I think will be even longer, and now I want to add a dragon's crest to the long hood and make it look like a tail. I'd do two seams and put little felt triangles pointing up for that. Possibly even a small pair of wings, or a double row of long ruffle fabric down the back to make it look like a gold D&D dragon.. Course, what I really might do is make one for a friend... She likes blues..
::wanders off, muttering::
Step 17: It's Dangerous to Go Alone