how to refashion a cardigan


This post has been months in the making, but to those who were anticipating this tutorial, I hope it was worth the wait! For now I’m just posting all the steps here, but plan on formatting it nicely in a .pdf (so you can print the instructions out and keep them handy!) later, when I have a bit more time.

We all have them lurking in the back of our closets: those cardigan sweaters that we bought because they were “practical” or were 100% wool and on sale for a great price. But they languish because they don’t fit in the most flattering manner; the worst offenders are the large, boxy type cardigans. But you don’t need to banish these from your wardrobe anymore! Refashioning a cardigan into something more flattering on you is easy and only requires some simple sewing supplies and know-how, a small dose of patience and about one afternoon.

I started refashioning and embellishing my cardigans a few years ago when I wanted to recreate the high end looks that I saw in catalogs with the cardigans I had or found at thrift shops. Although much of my learning was trial by error, I have stumbled across a few good resources. My favorite is “The Yestermorrow Clothes Book” by Diana Funaro, published in 1976 (check Amazon and Alibris for second hand copies). It shows a smattering of ways to refashion all styles of sweaters, and I highly recommend finding a copy if you’re looking to explore other sweater refashioning options.

This tutorial is quite easy; I think even a determined beginner seamstress could easily do this. I have developed these techniques from several years of adjusting and altering my own cardigans, but this is by no means the zenith of cardigan refashioning. I encourage you to tweak and modify these steps and methods as you go along to suit your needs.


- a cardigan sweater (medium to light knits are the easiest to work with)

- sewing machine with a zig zag stitch

– a iron with an appropriate setting for your cardigan’s fiber content

- pins

- sewing shears

- thread to match your cardigan

– marking chalk (or another marking tool that will show up on the cardigan knit)


1. First determine areas of the cardigan you want to refashion (img. 1). Do the sides need to be taken in to nip more at the waist? What about the length? Do you want the sleeves at a more flattering bracelet or elbow length? I will show you how to achieve all three easily.


2. Button the cardigan up most of the way and turn it inside out. Slip it over your head and button the remaining buttons. (Even if you do not intend to wear it buttoned, it improves the accuracy of marking the new seams.) Determine where you want the new waist to hit (the seam between the body knit and the waist ribbing), and mark it with a pin at the center front, each side, and center back (you may need an extra, helping hand for this!), and one or two between these points if needed (img. 2). Make sure they appear even on you. Carefully remove the cardigan. (Note: for this tutorial I am shortening the cardigan so the waist seam hits at my waistline, and the ribbing sits at the upper hip.)



3. Working with the cardigan inside out, measure down 1/2” to 3/4” from each pin, and mark. This will be you new cutting line. At the ribbing, measure up from the top edge of the ribbing the same amount you did at the top and mark (creating a seam allowance) (img. 4). This will be the ribbing cutting line. Cut along both these lines carefully, using long, straight strokes with the shears (img. 5). Discard or set aside the excess material cut from the cardigan. Note: if there are buttons that will fall within or near the seam allowance, remove them (at least for now). They can be replaced at the end.



4. With right sides together, ribbing side facing up, pin together the cut edges (img. 7). At your sewing machine, set the stitch to a medium length and a shallow (barely) zig zag. Sew the pinned seam, being careful to follow along the top edge of the ribbing and not stretching the knit as you go (img. 8). Fasten the ends securely by backstitching (knotting is not recommended, as it has a tendency to “pop out” of knit material).


5. Set the stitch to a wider zig zag and run along the outer edge of the seam to finish. Trim if necessary (img. 9). Press lightly (set the iron to an appropriate heat setting for the knit fabric).


6. Try the cardigan on again as you did in step 2. Analyze how you would like it to fit at the side seams along the body and sleeves. We will be taking this in at one time. Carefully pinch off an even amount at each side, tapering as needed from a wider point (such as the bustline) to a smaller one (the waist). Continue the pin line through the underarm and sleeve seam as necessary, working a smooth and shallow curve through the armhole seam (img. 10). Carefully remove the cardigan. Note: If you find it too difficult to accurately pin both sides, pin on side and remove the cardigan. Using a ruler, measure the same amount taken in on the pinned side and repeat on the other (not pinned) side seam. Slip the cardigan back on and check for fit. Adjust as necessary.



7. Working with the cardigan inside out, mark the pin line carefully; this will become your stitching line. Pin the front and back layers together securely with pins along this stitching line (img. 12). Using your sewing machine set at a medium stitch length and shallow zig zag, sew along the stitching lines on each side, taking care not to stretch the material, and fastening the ends securely. Trim the seam to 1/2”; with a wider zig zag stitch, stitch along this edge to finish it (img. 13). Lightly press.


8. Try the cardigan on again (as in step 2 and 6); we will be shortening the sleeve length now. Determine the new length for the sleeves; I opted for 3/4 sleeves on my cardigan. Mark this line on each sleeve with pins (img. 14); carefully remove the cardigan.


9. Working with the cardigan inside out, carefully mark this pin line. Measure down 1/2” to 3/4” and mark; this will be your cutting line. At the sleeve ribbing, measure up the same seam allowance you marked for the sleeve body, and mark; this is the ribbing cutting line. Cut along both lines and discard the excess material (img. 15). Right sides together, ribbing facing you, pin together the edges. You may need to ease in the excess sleeve body material. You can either do this with pins or run a line of basting stitches in the seam allowance to gather up the excess.


10. With the sewing machine stitch set to a medium length and shallow zig ziag, carefully stitch the sleeve together using the seam allowance you determined earlier (img. 16). Finish the edges as before with a wider zig zag and trim if necessary. Lightly press. Repeat for other sleeve. Note about sleeve alterations: This method assumes that the sleeve will be shortened to the elbow or a place below. Unless the cuff ribbing is really stretchy (or the sleeves really big), I do not recommend shortening the sleeves to any length above the elbow, as this could result in an unpleasantly tight cuff around the upper arm.


11. Press all seams as follows: waistline seam down, side seams back, sleeve seam down (towards ribbing cuff). Turn cardigan right side out and lightly steam. You may also want to lightly tack down the seams at the waist/ribbing by hand with a few stitches (img. 18). This will prevent the seam from rolling outward.


12. Now here is where the fun begins: you basically have a custom fit, blank cardigan now. You can leave it plain (as I did for this one; I have several embellished red cardigans already), or jazz it up a bit! Simply replacing the buttons is a start, but what about adding a little lace or fabric collar? Eyelet to the front edges? A row of faux award ribbons and medals at the upper chest? Ruffled lace along the neckline and cuffs? Using a bit of the leftover material cut from the cardigan body to create some gathered flowers? The possibilities are endless!

12.06.09 {grey skies}

[ sporting my "new", custom fit cardigan! ]

December 9, 2009 · 57 lovely thoughts
posted in tutorials · tags: , , ,

Anna Boberg December 9, 2009 at 07:06

Thank you for an excellent tutorial! I want to go home and try it out this second!

Angel Cutsforth December 9, 2009 at 07:46

I wish my sewing machine was working!!! I have a cardigan that needs altering and this is really helpful!

Stephanie December 9, 2009 at 07:55

Very cool tutorial! Thanks!

Marmielu December 9, 2009 at 08:48

You know, I am so grateful to you for this!!! The pictures are so helpful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Nadja December 9, 2009 at 09:21

Great post! Lets see what I can find in my closet *lol*

Erika December 9, 2009 at 09:35

What a great tutorial! I can’t believe I’ve never thought about this before, I’ve always been a bit afraid to sew in knitted materials. Hmm… wonder if I have any good cardigans at home for this… got to check! =)
Thank you! Wonderful inspiration!

Jessica December 9, 2009 at 10:25

Great tutorial – I have tons of thrifted sweaters that could use to be modified in this way. I just found your blog today, and your vintage sewing is so inspiring to me! I’ve done vintage knitwear patterns, but I’m about to tackle my first vintage sewing pattern this week. It’s so nice to see someone getting fabulous results! December 9, 2009 at 10:44

Great post, I’m bookmarking it. I have an old boring pink cardi and I might just as well try this :)

_marguerite_ December 9, 2009 at 10:58

Wonderful tutorial!! Thank you so much for sharing. Refashioning is something I want to do more of, and this will definitely help make it easier.

Sally December 9, 2009 at 11:04

Amazing, AMAZING tutorial, Casey. And well worth the wait!

Bunny December 9, 2009 at 11:09

Great tutorial! You make it look so easy. And I love your refashioned cardi. You look fan wearing it!

Inky December 9, 2009 at 11:47

thank you Casey for taking the time to do such a good job with this! I am sure it will help many of us resurrect a few cardis!

PatternJunkie December 9, 2009 at 13:48

Thanks for the great tutorial — and for the reminder about the Yestermorrow Clothes Book! I have a copy but haven’t leafed through it for quite a while. I know what my bedtime reading will be tonight!

Hana December 9, 2009 at 13:51

Thank you so much for posting this tutorial! I’ve been looking forward to it for some time now, and it completely exceeded my expectations! =) I can’t wait to refashion a few of my cardigans now!

p.s. I love your outfit in the final photo!

Solanah December 9, 2009 at 13:57

Casey, I love you.

This is so perfect, I have such trouble finding sweaters that are short enough for me, and now I can buy those cashmere ones at thrift stores and make them fit me!

BTW, you will love the sweater pattern I just bought:

how cute is that?

Anyway, thanks so much!


Amy December 9, 2009 at 13:58

Brilliant Casey!

Sunni Standing December 9, 2009 at 14:08

I have a sweater that I was planning to do something with. And really all it needs is this custom tailoring! Thank you for these brilliant instructions! Not to mention the countless other sweaters just waiting for me at the local thrift! You are spectacular!

Char December 9, 2009 at 14:22

Wow, thanks so much Casey! Love this practical and very very useful tutorial!

pam December 9, 2009 at 14:29

What a wonderful tutorial! This is great for those thrift store sweaters that *almost* look good.

Audrey December 9, 2009 at 14:50

Casey, this is amazing! I spent some money (even though they were still on sale, it wasn’t cheap) on some retro cardigans. I wish I would have had this sooner! But! Now it gives me a reason to go thrifting. I would never have guessed how easy it would have been to do this. Thanks!

meaghan December 9, 2009 at 14:51

this is such an amazing post! im tempted to try it on the frumpy gray favorite cardigan i have! it is one of those things i never actually wear out, but the fabric is so soft and cozy i always wish i could! maybe with your help i’ll finally be able to! :D
p.s. your hair is getting so long and beautiful!

jennine December 9, 2009 at 14:57

that is amazing! really! i really have to learn to sew…

KimB December 9, 2009 at 14:59

Thank you so much for a wonderful tutorial! You make this process seem very manageable. Can’t wait to try it!

Nancy December 9, 2009 at 15:17

Such a beautifully done tutorial! I do stuff like this all the time but I’m too impatient to slow down and take pictures! Lovely results, too, but then everything you sew is always well done…

Mel December 9, 2009 at 15:31

Yay I love this post! I’ve been wanting a 1950s cardigan and I never thought to just refashion one! Thanks for the tutorial! I can’t wait to try it!

Rebecca December 9, 2009 at 16:01

This is fantastic!!

Zoe Edwards December 9, 2009 at 17:30

Thanks so much for that Casey! This throws the cardigan hunting in charity shops wide open now, you may have changed my wardrobe forever! Zoe x

jolene December 9, 2009 at 19:10

you made that look so easy…i wonder if a beginner like myself could do it…need a sewing machine first though :)

Sara December 9, 2009 at 19:28

Cute tutorial, Casey! <3 <3 <3

angie.a December 9, 2009 at 21:02

Great tutorial! I actually contemplated doing this over the weekend, to 5 beautiful in color cardigans I got from ON at a sale. Then I decided it wouldn’t look “good” to use the ribbing. I’m terribly upset now because I took all 5 back to the store TODAY!!! And here your completely adorable sweater is!! This probably means I need to be on the nets more often. Right? ;)

Maggi December 9, 2009 at 21:50

Wowowow, that is awesome! Thanks for the tutorial!

Eyeliah December 9, 2009 at 21:58

wow, it looks stunning.

erin December 9, 2009 at 21:58

Thanks for sharing your cardi refashion tutorial. The finished cardi looks super cute and so do you :) I’m going to look for old cardis to refashion!

Krisztina December 9, 2009 at 23:55

This is really awesome and so helpful. I’m only 5′ tall :P So almost every sweater (and most shirts) that I have are sooo long in the arm.

I’m totally going to give this a shot (on some old clothes to start) and see how it goes!

Once again, thank you so much!

lauren winter December 10, 2009 at 03:06

you rock, Casey! this is wonderful and really informative.. you are so talented!

Tuppence December 10, 2009 at 08:30

I have always wanted to do this to my cardigans, but have (in all honesty) been terrified to do so. Your details and pictures have made me actually excited and want to alter my cardigans! Thank you so much!

Camille December 10, 2009 at 13:13

Awesome, this is so helpful! Thanks for taking the time to put this tutorial together.

lizzy December 10, 2009 at 14:43

thank you so much, casey. truly. your ingenuity is inspiring. i’m refashioning a cardigan that had spaint splotches on one sleeve but i couldn’t throw away today, thanks to your creative & informative post. i’m listening to TED talks while i work. you mentioned podcasts and listening material several posts back and i would recommend, such a diverse resource of courage & information.
i’m so thankful for options for those of us with limited budgets and a delight in all things creative that you present and elaborate upon.
let’s be friends. :D

Miss Penelope December 10, 2009 at 19:35

I think I might be able to tackle this when winter comes around for us in the southern hemisphere. I’m sure I’ll be a better seamstress by then!! Fantastic tutorial!

Brumby December 11, 2009 at 17:14

Thank you for the tutorial, I know how long these take to put together! It sounds really silly, but I never thought of adding collars or beading before, I will go through the thrift stores with fresh eyes now!

Peldyn December 13, 2009 at 20:47

LOL, I remade a cardi over with ribbons a couple months ago on my blog and planned on posting a tute on how to do just this when I got around to doing my other cardigans. I may as well just post a link to your lovely one. *grin*

Cardigan December 16, 2009 at 10:55

Love to see more of your work like this. You tutorial would help me celebrate this Christmas with custom cardigan ;) . I’m from Iowa!!

Gabriella December 18, 2009 at 19:28

Hallelujah! I have a bunch of (way too big) cardigans in my closet that I keep wearing, even though they look kind of crappy on me. (They match a lot of stuff, and I can’t find ones that fit anyway.) I am SO going to refashion them. Thanks so much for this awesome tutorial!!!

ruth ang December 22, 2009 at 00:05

Hey, Ms Casey. My name is Ruth from Singapore. I am so blessed by your talent. You have good eyes for beauty and intricate sewing skills. Thank you for sharing. I hope you will share more about your sewing in refreshing vintage apparels. :) God bless you and have a very blessed Christmas a grand New 2010.

Perrine January 4, 2010 at 05:29

Thank you Casey for this tutorial i will use for my old cardigans !!

Ariel January 24, 2010 at 23:05

Thank you so much for posting this!! I have bunch of sweaters that make me look like a box, I didn’t even know they could be altered! Thank you!!

Celia Rose April 15, 2010 at 07:10

Have just shortened a cardigan, which was really easy thanks to your tutorial!

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