Remaking a sweater

Yesterday I wrote about storing sweaters. But what if you look at your sweater collection and find a few duds that shouldn’t see the light of next season? Too small, too pilled, too short, too huge, just not right.

You would think sweater projects would be perfect in the fall — but in the fall, you’re going to want to USE those projects. Plus, it’s National Craft Month! Get one or two ready now, and they’ll be all set to use this fall. Store sweater projects as you would store the sweaters they’re made from.

Revamp it

My first step is one I’m going to take with a sweater I just knit myself. I’m new to knitting sweaters, and it turned out waaaay different than I anticipated. I wanted a cute little cardigan. But I couldn’t get the armpits to fit, and the wider you knit the shoulders, the wider the arms. Everything turned out much wider — even though I was knitting at the right gauge, followed instructions, tried it on multiple times as I knit, and got second and third opinions. And somehow, it sticks out in the back, making me look much wider all around than necessary.

I could tear it all out and start over … but I’m tired of the yarn, which did not cooperate through 3 tries with a different pattern, and ready to move on. Mr. Cheap suggested wearing it more like a wrap jacket, and belting it (this advice is a fringe benefit of marrying an artist). I’m going to knit a belt and call it done. It’ll be shaped a bit more like this:

Here are some great examples — and instructions — for other sweater remake projects I found around the Web.

Transform it into a different sweater

If this issue is that the sweater’s shape doesn’t work for today, you have several options.

You can just trim it down into a narrower silhouette, like julie-bird.

You can make it into a cute cardigan (suitable for spring!) a la Threadbanger (click over to see photos).

Trim it up and create a Nordic capelet like the one featured on this post, or visit the creator, Felted Finery, to buy one.

Or go edgy and cute with something like this sweater-vest-turned-dirndl-vest, featured in Craft’s blog:

Bag the sweater

You can also turn an old sweater into a bag, preferably after felting it, and preferably with a liner. I found several options, from the tote bag created by Perched on a Whim

… to a really cute bag with felted decoration from Karmology Clinic

… to a yoga mat bag made from sweater sleeves:

Make mittens

You can limit yourself to using the sleeve cuffs as mitten cuffs, or turn an entire sweater into sets of mittens. Instructions are here.

Make pillows

I have several sweaters set aside for this purpose, and even have some yard-sale pillows to go in them. Maybe this will be the year! MintBasil has posted a tutorial on her method here, with great tips for sewing the felted sweater.

Make critters

You can turn a sweater into a cute, cuddly creature.

Or you can make a hat with a creature on it, again from Karmology Clinic (and of course, you can add this kind of embellishment to anything!).

And if you’re really, really handy with the felting, apparently you can turn your Roomba into a lifelike marauding creature to amuse yourself and terrify housepets (at the same time). This one isn’t from a sweater, but someone inventive could work something out.

I’m inspired now! Have you made other things from sweaters? Share below!


My DIY yarn swift – made for $5

March is national craft month — the perfect time to focus on doing crafts … on the cheap.

This post is not so much a tutorial as an example of what we can do to re-use, repurpose, economize — and still enjoy hobbies, tools and skills. I hope it will inspire you to listen to that voice inside that says “I bet I could …” — and then make something great.


At my house, I am loaded with yarny goodness. I’ve knitted off and on over the past 15 years, but two years ago, at our local Renaissance festival, my mother-in-law bought me a drop spindle telling me that since everyone else was getting a souvenir, I should get one, too.

Once I started spinning with that drop spindle, I’d caught an obsession. Within a few months I had acquired a spinning wheel. Spinning gave me a new appreciation for yarns, and I got back into knitting again.

I have tried to economize where I can. I am proud to say that my pricey tools have all been acquired secondhand. But all the yarn I spin, and most of the yarn I buy, comes in skeins. These are long loops of yarn — easy to make after spinning, great for washing the yarn, and not very nice for knitting.

If you knit from the skein, you would soon have a tangled mess. So knitters use a ball winder to wind the skein into a ball. The tool to hold the skein for winding is called a yarn swift. Typically, swifts spread out like an umbrella to hold different size skeins. They revolve so the ball winder can neatly pull the yarn and wrap it into a ball. And swifts usually cost $50 up.

Then my neighbors put out a broken wood patio umbrella. Ah ha! Mr. Cheap had his doubts, but by purchasing a lazy Susan and some screws, bolts and nuts, I turned it into a functioning swift for $5. Here’s how:

1. I waited till everyone left me alone so I could work in peace. First, I sawed off the “stand” of the umbrella just below the part where the arms attach. Then I evaluated the umbrella. All arms were present, but two of them were broken — one at the hinge, one at the base.

2. I decided to cut the arms off at the hinge and sand off the rough spots. (Mr. Cheap did the sanding when he got home. He’s patient like that.)

3. I fixed one arm that had a broken connection between it and the wire that goes around the top of the swift. I was going for function, not form — and did I mention my lack of patience? I unbent a picture hanger and used a staple gun to attach it to the wood arm.

4. I identified one more spot where one arm was broken off so that it was disconnected from the hinge (a part where the metal rod should have been encased in wood to form a hinge).

5. I fixed this spot up with another picture hanger — this one brass to go with the rod. I wasn’t sure if it would need to move, so I made it “swingable,” but that wasn’t necessary.

6. The most important structure of this swift is the spinning mechanism. I bought a lazy Susan dial at the local hardware shop. It cost about $2. First, I measured and cut a square piece of wood that would fit the base of the swift. Then, I measured and cut another, rectangular piece of wood that would be long enough to go under the square piece of wood and extend far enough beyond the swift that it could be clamped to the table without impeding the swift’s spin.

I used a pencil to mark the exact center of the square piece of wood. First, I measured — it wasn’t precisely square, so I drew lines to indicate the edges of the would-be square. Then I used a straight edge to draw an X from corner to corner. (The lazy Susan mechanism would be sandwiched between the two pieces of wood.) Next, I drilled pilot holes for the lazy Susan, based on the instructions that came with the package. I messed up (I’m no woodworker!) and did it again. The mistakes didn’t matter, as they would be hidden inside the lazy Susan sandwich and didn’t affect the integrity of the wood.

7. I attached the lazy Susan to the wood square. Before attaching it, I inserted small screws into the bottom of the lazy Susan, which would attach to the rectangular piece of wood. The screws had to go in first to extend down through the rectangular base to hold it on.

8. I used a long screw (about 3″) to go through the center of the square piece and into the wood base and center pole of the swift to hold the “umbrella” structure onto the base. This was the only frustrating/challenging aspect of the project. I used a vice to hold the pole and enlisted help to hold the square piece while I used a drill to screw it together. I don’t have a photo of that step, but in this shot you can see the open center of the lazy Susan mechanism through which I drilled into the base of the umbrella. The screw went right through the center of the X.

9. I used a large drill bit to drill holes in the outside of the rectangular piece of wood. Then I drilled holes for the small threaded bolts (sticking up in the photo above) to go through. Then I attached the nuts to the bolts using a small screwdriver with a nut wrench included. The holes aren’t especially neat (did I mention I’m not a woodworker, and also impatient?), but they are unseen beneath the swift. One could even glue a piece of felt to cover the whole base, to disguise ugly holes and protect furniture.

At last, I was finished! The swift stands up neatly for storage:

To use it, I open the “umbrella” and plug the peg (attached to a chain) into the hole at the top of the umbrella (this might have been the bottom, previously), which holds it open.

I use these clamps to attach it to any surface I like. The clamps, of course, are useful for any number of other projects.

The yarn extends from the swift to the ball winder:

I have thought about getting some mini-clamps to make adjustable “stops” to  hold any size skein on the arms. In the meantime, I use clothespins.

The swift rotates smoothly, making ball winding a breeze:

If only it would also clean up my craft table when it was finished ….

An awesome handmade datebook, and a paean to Nikol Lohr

Knitters, spinners and calendar-users, alert!

Last week was a week of wonderful surprises. A friend sent a surprise holiday package to my family over the weekend, and then one day I opened my mailbox to find a super-special calendar for 2009.

This datebook is part of a limited edition of 200 handmade calendars created by Nikol Lohr of Disgruntled Housewife, where you can still buy your very own copy. Every year she makes these calendars, with a theme — this year’s is “the year of the dreamer” and features vintage yearbook art — and great monthly activities a la Oprah, only more relevant (biggest fears for October … rules if you were queen of the world … what has been ruined in the world and just who is to blame).

She’s totally organized inside the calendar, too, with a monthly page and then weekly pages to keep track of your bad self.  So it’s clever and also useful. And it comes with colored pencils.

Beyond being a calendar goddess, Nikol is the co-operator of the Harveyville Project, where she and her partner have converted an old school in rural Kansas into an artists’ retreat and workshop center. She hosts a twice-yearly shindig called Yarn School, and I’m bound and determined to make it sometime. (I was trying to persuade my knitting group members to carpool in September, but no one bit.)

She is a knitter, knit designer and knitting blogger with her own groovy blog.

She’s got some sheep going on over there in Kansas, and she has an Etsy store featuring her hand-carded and blended and wittily named spinning batts. Mr. Cheap (not so cheap in this case!) subscribed me to her batt-of-the-month club for Christmas, and I can’t wait till the goodies start pouring in.

In short, she is kind of my hero. What more is there to say? Thanks, Nikol.

Cheap, reusable skin exfoliation

At our house, I must admit, we are fans of St. Ives apricot scrub.

However, it comes with a few problems:

1. It costs about $2.39. For one tube. Of stuff made up of apricot pits, which, you know, is technically trash. (But at least it is not plastic, like so many other exfoliating products are.)

2. It comes in a big ol’ nonrecyclable plastic tube.

3. If it’s really full of Swiss ingredients, the carbon miles aren’t exactly low.

4. We noticed, when we stopped using it, that our skin actually improved.

After stopping using the stuff, and seeing that my complexion looked a little better (fewer “blemishes,” which after all, I was wondering why I had in the first place since I am in the latter half of my 30s), I took skin care one step further and quit washing my face in the evenings.

My skin’s condition again improved, but I could feel a bit of … how do you say … thickness? Buildup? My skin wasn’t coming off like it used to, and I felt that my complexion, consequently, lacked a bit of freshness.

Enter my newfound, old-school, cheap and utterly reusable exfoliation tool:

That’s right. The washcloth.

Change the pressure of your fingers to alter the depth of the exfoliation. Rub briskly to really take off the skin, or baby your face with a gentle massage. Couple it with soap, cleanser, or good old H2O for customized care.

The cost? It varies.

Cherry liqueur update

Remember last summer, when the sun was warm and the cherries were abundant?

And I scavenged cherries to make cherry pies and cherry liqueur?

Well, Christmas has come, and the liqueur is ripe … and so is the time for giving.

In all honesty, we cracked open one jar of Cherry Bounce as soon as its ripening time had passed. We enjoyed it — sweet, with all the red color the alcohol robbed from the cherries, and oh-so-alcoholic! (I suppose adding sugar and sugary fruit to hard liquor and allowing it to steep will do that.)

For Christmas, I wanted to give some of the liqueur away. It took me a bit to think of how to package it. Then, on a road trip to Taos in October, Little Cheap and I indulged in some Lipton bottled tea. The bottles were made of glass, and I thought they could be reused. I removed the labels, but the bottles were very plain. Then I remembered a knitted beer bottle cozy I saw years ago in a now-defunct magazine called Budget Living. Could I recreate such a thing? Yes, I could:

I reviewed some online patterns and then invented my own cherry chart — something I’ve never done before. My idea is that the cozy can be used for a coffee cozy (or a beer cozy!) after the liqueur is gone. The sleeve simply slips onto and off of the bottle.

Merry Christmas to all — and be cautious with those drinks, folks — I could feel a slight buzz almost immediately. Or perhaps it was the faint recollection of the bees in the trees …

Making reusable gift bags

I kicked off Christmas Eve day by whipping up some gift bags from the materials I bought at Goodwill last week. In 1 hour and 15 minutes, I made 10 bags — here’s how I did it.

If you don’t have the time or desire to make these before your holiday giving, check out thrift stores and giveaways for *post-holiday* deals on these items, and make some in January. Put them away with your wrapping supplies and be prepared next year.

You will need materials to make into bags (fabric, pillowcases, blankets, pajamas, or whatever you find), thread, matching cloth ribbon (about 1 yard per bag) and a sewing machine, unless you are very industrious. Pillowcase bags could be hand-sewn without too much psychic pain.

First, at the top are a few packages under our tree, made from a pillowcase and a pillow sham I cut in half. And here’s a glimpse of a couple of bags I made from two pillowcases:

I attached the ribbons with a zig-zag stitch on the seam of the pillowcase:

The first 5 bags I made from a pair of flannel holiday pajama pants from Goodwill. They were a size XL with an elastic waist (with little stretch left) and a missing drawstring:

First, I cut the pants. I wanted some smaller, squarish bags, so I cut off each leg and then cut the legs in half. If you wanted longer bags (for wine bottles or a similar shape), you could use the whole leg.

Then, I sewed the bags. I turned each leg section inside out and sewed a hem across the bottom. At the cuffs, I simply sewed across on the outside of the right side.

Next, I cut a length of ribbon about 3 times the width of the bag. (Be sure to cut the ribbon ends at an angle to reduce unraveling.)

The next step, completing the top of the bag, can be completed two ways.

  1. You can just sew a hem and then attach the ribbon to the outside seam, as I did with the pillowcases. To do that, keep the bag wrong side out. Fold the top edge over twice. Then stitch close to the fold farthest from the top edge of the bag (i.e., not right on that edge). Turn right side out and stitch on the ribbon.
  2. Or you can make a channel for a drawstring. Because I felt like flirting with stitchy danger, I inserted the ribbon and sewed the hem (for the drawstring channel) with the ribbon already inside. If you try this, be forewarned that if you catch the ribbon in the needle, you will need to rip out those stitches and-re-sew. Be sure to leave an opening for the ribbon to emerge.

Turn the bag right side out and tie knots in the ends of the ribbons, so the ribbon cannot slide back into the channel.

Voila! One bag completed.

Then I did the same thing on the other parts of the pants.

I didn’t do a drawstring on all of them — on some, I simply stitched ribbon on.

Those bags look like this when they are tied up:

In about 45 minutes, I had finished all the bags, including the top of the pants. For those, I snipped off the area where the leg seams met and stitched across the bottom to make a wide, floppy bag.

Then I did a similar process with a table runner …

… and a double-sided flannel blanket I had found at the thrift store. All told, we have 10 new bags now.

Just in time for me to finish my gift wrapping tonight! Happy holidays, everyone.

Free ways to get in the holiday spirit

Things are very busy around the Cheap house as we get ready for the holidays. But here are a couple of free and eco-friendly ways to help bolster your holiday spirit:

  • is offering a free holiday song download every day through Christmas. I’m late onto this boat … but that’s OK, because the previous downloads are still available here.
  • If you are itching to do something crafty, whip up some origami reindeer. Or save the instructions and cut some squares out of used wrapping paper, envelopes, etc., so that you can turn the rejects into gift cards or ornaments next year, as Green Daily suggests.

I do store holiday “projects” in a box with our Christmas decorations — things like cards with slots for photos, purchased on clearance for 90% off, or glass ornaments for which I intend to someday crochet covers.

Now, I’m off to finish up the week’s work and stitch up some reusable holiday gift bags with materials I picked up at Goodwill last week. What are you up to? Share your ideas here.