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.