Men's XL Cashmere Sweater Upcycle

About: I've loved textiles since I was a kid. My well-educated grandmother introduced me to the magic of sewing. The redemptive and transformative nature of sewing is like good therapy - only cheaper.

Yes! You can alter that sweater on a sewing machine... with a few tricks and tips here, you can transform that sweater into something entirely different. I altered this sweater about 3 years ago and I still wear it and love it.

This gorgeous RL Polo cashmere was purchased at a Chicago thrift store and was in brand-new condition. However, while sitting in my stash, it got some moth holes. *Tragic!* Thankfully, none of the holes fell in the middle of the sweater - there were some near the neckline, near the waistband, and on one shoulder - which led to a shoulder replacement panel that made the sweater even better.

Here, I turned an oversized (men's XL) sweater into a women's sized tie-neck sweater. So it is shorter, I took the sleeves in and the shoulders and used the extra I cut off from the sides and bottom to make the tie-neck piece.

If you like this transformation, then you might also like to see my project where I turn 2 men's XL wool sweaters into a grommet-front sweater hoodie. You can find that on my YouTube channel called ThreadheadTV. I have many more sweater transformations in the queue so stay tuned. And some are much simpler than this tie-neck project which is not for a beginner. But you can get a big bang even with a beginner project. And the world is finally wising up to the antidotes to fast-fashion but slow to recognize sewing/altering/upcycling as a viable alternative. Let's change that!

Here are the supplies you will need:

  • sweater
  • thread
  • knit iron-on interfacing (about 1.5 yards)
  • wool fabric (if you need additional panels)
  • walking foot for your sewing machine
  • jersey knit needle for sewing machine
  • steam-a-seam (if you want to piece together the tie part using sweater pieces you cut off as I did)
  • flannel scraps (to use as backing for your tie-neck piece)
  • OR you can use a different fabric all together for the tie-neck piece

And the video tutorial is on the last step if you'd like more detail.

Step 1: Cut Sleeves Off

I started by cutting off the sleeves. Follow the seam line of the sweater when cutting. Set them aside for later.

Step 2: Iron Knit Interfacing

In all the places where you will be making a cut, iron knit interfacing along those lines on the inside or wrong side so that the sweater will not unravel when cutting and will also retain its shape when sewing. In my case, I ironed interfacing along the inside of the neckline, side seams, around the armholes, and also along the sleeve seams where I would be cutting - about an inch in from the current seam which would bring the sleeves in a total of 3 inches in circumference after sewn (1"x 2 plus seam allowances).

Step 3: Cut Using Sweater As Template

Use a sweater or sweatshirt in your wardrobe as a template that that has a fit that you really like through the bodice/torso. Use this as a pattern and cut the sides of your sweater down, leaving 5/8" seam allowance on either side for the seams.

Next, cut new armholes out by chalking one side then use what you cut as a template to cut the other side. Use another sweater as a guide so you know where you want your shoulder seams to fall then add 5/8" seam allowance to that.

Cut the bottom of the sweater up according to the length you want. If my band along the waistline didn't have moth holes, I would have probably wanted to sew it back on after removing some length. But this kind of knit is like a t-shirt so even the raw edge won't unravel at the bottom ..but it will curl a bit. However, with a soft and unfinished bottom edge, I can tuck this sweater into my jeans or skirt if I want because it is less bulky without the band.

Lastly, I even-upped the pieces cut from the side seams so they were all exactly the same width and uniform with clean lines.

Step 4: Sew Sides

Now that you've cut your sweater down to size, you are ready to put it all back together.

For this step you will want a walking foot for your sewing machine. It's a foot used for quilting to go over all the layers without allowing them to get bunched up. It's not cheap - runs in the $40-$80 range - but you will use it for so many different projects that it is well worth the investment. I couldn't have possibly gotten a smooth result around the tie-neckline with a regular machine foot. The sweater material is just too bulky. A walking foot also comes in handy if you want to sew leather - a regular foot will stick to the leather.

First, turn inside-out. With right sides facing, pin and sew the side bodice seams, stopping 5/8" away from the top of this seam where the sleeves will be set in (in the armpit part). In my video you will see that I failed to stop at this point so had to seam rip it out (pic #3 on this step).

For all seams I use what is equivalent to a serger-like stitch on my machine. You can use a zig-zag stitch if you don't have any other stitches to choose from. You just don't want to use a straight stitch on any of these seams as it won't have any give/stretch.

Step 5: Pin & Sew Tie to Neckline

You can do a different kind of neckline, depending on how much sweater you cut away that you now have to work with. I pieced together the 4 side/torso pieces I cut away using steam-a-seam and a small piece of flannel as my backing. Then I satin-stitched along the line where the two pieces meet. You can see this in my video if it doesn't make sense.

Once I had all 4 of these pieces sewn together into one long strip, then I backed it with a strip of sweater which was cut from the bottom of the sweater. Since I needed additional length for the tie-neck, I added pieces of embroidered wool to the ends. Measure how much of the tie-neck piece you will need to go around the neckline which will determine how long the ends after that will be (hanging down). Finish off the ends by sewing around the perimeter, 5/8" away from the edge (or less). Turn these ends right side out.

Finish the inside edge of the tie piece by using the serge-like or zig-zag stitch along the outer edge of the tie piece that isn't in a seam.

Then pin the front of the tie neck piece to the neckline, right sides facing and leaving a width open on the neckline that measures the same as the width of the tie piece. (Again, in video if this isn't clear.) Make sure you don't catch any other part of the tie in the neckline on this step.

Step 6: Sew Sleeves

One sleeve had moth holes on the upper part so I needed to replace that part of the sleeve with my embroidered wool fabric. This made for an even more visually interesting sweater and the wool panel gave the tie-knot balance as it was on the opposite side. In this case, necessity was the mother of an even more creative end product.

I cut off the piece of sleeve that needed to be replaced and used this as my pattern on the wool, with an additional 1" seam allowance on the edge that would be sewn to the original sleeve. My embroidered wool fabric was not stretchy/knit so I cut it on the bias (diagonally) to allow this shoulder piece a bit of give. Then, right sides together, sewed the upper sleeve to the lower, making it one complete sleeve again. No need for knit interfacing here since the wool is sturdy enough to keep this seam from stretching when sewn.

Then, turning right sides together, I sewed the sleeve seam along the under arm back together after cutting out needed width, making sure to sew on top of a layer of knit interfacing so as to keep these seams from stretching out.

At any point you can iron pieces of knit interfacing to the wrong side of your sweater before sewing so that you aren't just sewing on the sweater alone. Only one layer of sweater needs the interfacing. For example, you will see in my #2 picture here that I don't have any interfacing along the top edge of the sleeve (where the sleeve meets the shoulder seam). This is because the bodice piece has a layer of knit interfacing where I am pinning the sleeve in and this one layer will suffice to keep it from getting wonky/stretched when sewing.

To set in the sleeve, turn the sleeve right-side out and the bodice inside-out. Then put the sleeve inside the armhole and pin, using lots and lots of pins (as shown in pic #2). This is the key to easing in a sleeve/shoulder. Sew 1/2" or less away from the edge, starting in the armpit seam and working your way around, making sure nothing is getting bunch along the way. Take your time here on the machine.

Step 7: Hand Finish the Tie/Neckline

At this point everything is sewn except for the inside of the tie around the neckline. You could just tack it in but I wanted a nice finished look so I turned the edge of the inside tie/neckpiece under about 1/4" -enough to hide the serged-like finished edge- and hand sewed this using a blind stitch all the way around which doesn't show at all from the outside.

And that's it! I hope this inspires you to re-create a sweater in your closet or salvage a moth-eaten sweater. This is an absolutely gorgeous cashmere sweater and you can do it too.

Thanks for joining me for this project and please vote for this project in the Warm & Fuzzy contest!

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