February 15, 2013

Convertible cowly sweater vest made from recycled sweaters!

I made a thing!  My now-functioning studio made me itchy to make stuff, so the other day when I should have been working at the computer all day, instead I did a little digging through my reclaimed sweater stash, and made this!  What is “this”?  It’s a convertible cowl-neck sweater vest slash cowl slash shirt slash skirt…..?  It’s a simple concept that I came across on pinterest/ravelry and have been eager to try out ever since!

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

First, to give credit… that pin which first introduced me to the idea had no source (the original wrong source led me to the pattern-less rav project page which helped me reverse engineer the shape; I’ve since edited the pin source and description), so I did some reverse google image searching and found that the pin image is a garment by Elementum, and can be seen in this video (4:40 minutes in).

A major design element of the inspiration garment is that it’s oversized – the baggy size is part of what allows it to be worn comfortably in all the different positions.  Well, I wanted to try the idea, immediately, with what I had on hand.  And what I had on hand were a couple of fitted-sized sweaters.  So my version is the same concept as the inspiration, but fitted, for a pretty different look.  (I plan to make another in the future, appropriately oversized.)

Also, one of the sweaters I had in my recycling stash had a kangaroo pocket, which I thought would make the garment even more awesome, right?!  Well, sort of; it also makes it less versatile.  So, don’t necessarily follow my every move with this tutorial – if you want the most convertible, comfy finished result, then go for big sweaters with no pockets.  If you like mine exactly as it is, find a fitted sweater with a kangaroo pocket and you’re good to go!

A few more words on what to look for in your reclaimed sweaters… Sweaters knit seamlessly in the round would be ideal, but are rare to find at thrift stores, as almost all mass-produced sweaters have side seams.  Seams aren’t a huge problem, but the more clean / less visible the seams, the better your garment will look worn in all the different possible positions.  (It would also be easier to make without seams.)

Your two sweaters should be as close as possible to the same width – if one is a bit bigger than the other, then the slightly bigger one can just have slightly bigger arm-hole parts, not a big deal.  But the closer in width, the better.  As for gauge / stitch count – if you have two sweaters in the same gauge, the same width, for the same (or extremely close to the same) stitch counts, excellent!  This would take some serious thrift store luck to happen though.  Probably, the two sweaters you use will be different gauges, for different stitch counts.  You’ll just need to do a little math to work decreases around the smaller gauge one so that they end up with similar stitch counts, it won’t be too hard.

A couple last notes – if you’re not a knitter, you can do this project without any knitting, by sewing everything together instead.  It won’t be as neat, but it will work.  Stitch around the armholes carefully so no stitches unravel, and sew the edges together (instead of grafting) securely, so everything stays together and nothing unravels.

If you are a knitter, and you’d prefer to just straight up knit this entire thing, that should be easy enough!  You can see the shape here, a big tube with two big holes.  Go for it!

Lastly, if you feel guilty using perfectly good sweaters for craft materials, then look at thrift stores for sweaters with stains or holes… flawed old used clothing at a thrift store is unlikely to be bought and appreciated by normal (read: non-crafty) shoppers, and if you craft with it, you’ll be giving it a brand new life!  Crafting with reclaimed materials from thrift stores is a win-win for everybody, the way I see it!  It’s not like there aren’t plenty of clothes still remaining on the racks for shoppers in need of cheap duds.

Now, on to the tutorial!

You need:

  • 2 reclaimed sweaters, which are not felted (this means you can see the individual stitches, and will be able to unravel them and knit with them), as close as possible to the same width (around the body, under the armpits) – for my sample, one sweater is stockinette, and the other is ribbed; this worked nicely, but is not necessary, they can both be stockinette or both be ribbed (see notes above for sizing info)
  • scissors
  • 2 circular needles, sized to work with the sweater gauges
  • paper and pencil, and a calculator, to figure out and make note of your numbers
  • a yarn needle for grafting

(I used a weirdly shaped sweater which had already had one arm removed for another project, and a sweater from my crafting stash that I got super cheap from a thrift store because the previous owner had sloppily cut the collar off to give it a scoop neck.)

Start by cutting straight across each sweater under the armpits.  To make the right shaped garment, one tube should be shorter than the other; my orange sweater happened to be significantly shorter than my grey sweater, so I just cut under the armpits of both.  If they are the same height, and/or if both your sweaters are big and oversized, cut one of them further down so that it’s shorter than the other.  (Exact measurements are up to you!)

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

If cutting across stockinette stitch fabric, turn the sweater inside out, as it will be easier to cut perfectly straight across using the reverse stockinette stitch lines as a guideline:

cowl neck sweater vest thing

Now you have 2 knit tubes, hopefully the same width, one a bit (or a lot, your choice) taller than the other (kangaroo pocket optional):

cowl neck sweater vest thing

For each tube, stretch it out, to loosen up the stitches, then unravel the top 1 or 2 rows.  You’ll end up with a pile of little yarn bits, as a result of cutting across, and the top row may have been snipped into accidentally.  I find it’s easier to get the stitches onto the needle if I unravel 2 rows – those little yarn bits tend to stick in there when you rip out the first row, then they generally fall out with the second row.  Once you’ve unraveled a row or two, and are left with a clean line of live stitches, slip all those stitches onto your circular needle.

cowl neck sweater vest thing

Be careful to pick up all stitches in the seam area so they don’t end up unraveling later – you’ll probably need to do some extra snipping or fiddling around to get every stitch on the needle.  If you end up taking out part of the seam stitching, that’s fine, as you can re-seam it up when you’re weaving in all your ends.

Hold on to the yarn strands that you unravel, as you’ll use them to finish the armholes and graft.  You can also rip out a couple rows worth of yarn bits from the unused part of the sweater, if you need extra yarn.

cowl neck sweater vest thing

Here’s when you’ll have to deal with stitch counts and gauge issues… I didn’t take photos of this part for my project, and it’ll probably be different for you anyway, so you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself with your particular sweaters.  My fine-gauge orange ribbed sweater happened to be almost exactly twice as many stitches as the chunky grey sweater, making the math easy for me – I doubled up the yarn (held 2 strands together) and knit around, decreasing all stitches, for one row around the orange sweater, k2tog every stitch.  It was 2×2 rib, so I k2tog the 2 knits, then k2tog the 2 purls.  I could have k2tog the knits and p2tog the purls, but since I knew it would be grafted in stockinette, I just knit all the decreases.  I did this at a loose tension, so it wouldn’t pull in.  If you don’t luck out with such as even ratio of stitches to decrease, decrease evenly around one tube as needed to give your two tubes close to the same stitch count.

cowlneck sweater vest thing

Now you’ll need to do a little math.  First, you’ll need to figure out how big you want your armholes, and therefore how big your connected parts will be.  The armholes should be big enough for your head to fit through, so at least 22 inches or so around, stretched.  Each tube will have a line of stitches bound off for each half of each armhole.  Make sense?  So, each bind-off section should be approximately 11 inches (or more) across.  (My sample, because the whole thing is so fitted, has smaller armholes – approximately 10 inches across each part, stretched, and juuuust barely fits over my head.)

Count all the stitches across, from seam to seam.  Usually the stitch count will be slightly different on one side from the other – write everything down.  My notes as I worked are shown below.  My orange tube had 79 stitches on one side, 75 on the other; my grey tube had 71 stitches on one side, 69 on the other.

Determine how many stitches will be joined – the stitches not in the armholes.  In the above sketch, this is x (x is the same on all sides of both tubes).  This measurement depends on your total tube width, but it should be somewhere around the width across (when laying flat) minus 11 inches or so (armholes)… or somewhere near 2/3 of the total width.  If your stitch counts for each side are all odd, choose an odd number, if they’re all even, choose an even number; if they are different, then you’ll need to adjust by having slightly different armhole bind-off stitch counts as needed.  I decided my joined stitches would be 43 stitches (odd number).

Now, for each side (4 sides total – 2 tubes, 2 sides each tube), subtract the joining stitch count from the total stitch count, and then divide each of these numbers in half.  (You can see in my notes, 79 minus 43 is 36, in half is 18; 75 minus 43 is 32, in half is 16, and so on.)  These numbers are your bind-off stitch counts for each side of the armholes.

If you like algebra, then using the labeled sketch above, you need to find y and z values for each tube (different for the 2 tubes).  x is your joining number (which you just decided) – so, total stitch count on the y side, minus x, divided by 2, is each y; total stitch count on the z side, minus x, divided by 2, is each z.  y + z is the total armhole length (for the one tube – the y+z numbers for the two different tubes added together makes total armhole circumference stitch count).

project sketch planning

Now that you know the stitch counts, make the armholes.  On the first tube, with needle points at the seam, looking at the wrong side, slip the correct number of stitches to begin first armhole – slip the number that corresponds with the side you’re on.  (Eg: with my numbers, if I’m slipping into the side which has 71 stitches across, then I need to slip 14 stitches for that section of the armhole.  Or, using the variables, if you’re slipping into the y side of the tube, then slip y stitches.)

Knit across all armhole stitches – so, knit to seam, then knit correct number of stitches on other side of seam.  (For mine, if I slipped 16 stitches, then I knit across those 16, then I’d continue knitting 18 on the other side of the seam.  Using the variables, if you slipped y, then knit the y, now knit z.)  Now bind off those just-knit stitches, loosely, purlwise – I recommend the decrease bind-off method.  *Purl 2 together, pass just-purled stitch back onto left-hand needle without twisting it, repeat from *.

Repeat this for all 4 armhole parts, slipping stitches around the circular needle to get from one to the other.  Keeping those center live stitches on the needle for the next step…

cowl neck sweater vest thing

Now you should have two tubes that look like this, all 4 of those rows of stitches between bound-off parts with the same stitch count:

cowl neck sweater vest thing

All you need to do now is graft those live stitches together, for a nice, clean join!  If your tubes’ sides each had different stitch counts from each other, join the two sides which had higher stitch counts, and the two sides which had lower stitch counts.  Hold the 2 rows of live stitches together, needles parallel, wrong sides facing, and thread some of the extra yarn (whichever is the more sturdy, less breakable yarn of the two) onto a blunt yarn needle – try to use a length of yarn at least 4 times as long as the line of stitches.

Head over to my (brand new!) full step-by-step photo tutorial in my leethalknits.com knitting tutorials for grafting instructions.

cowl neck sweater vest thing

Once that’s done, on both sides, all that’s left to do is sew up any holes you might be left with (around the seams, maybe), and neatly weave in all those loose ends:

cowl neck sweater vest thing

And here is my finished piece, shown inside out and folded sideways, and then right side out after washing:

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

And all the ways I can wear it!  The standard way places that kangaroo pocket kind of awkwardly… I can pull it down when I put my hands in it:

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

The length is better with the cowl neck around my shoulders:

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

It’s a better look with the pocket hidden in back (proving that the pocket wasn’t the best idea…)

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

I love it as a cowl!

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

And then some of the other ways the inspiration piece was worn… I didn’t even bother photographing it worn upside down, since the small, fitted orange section as the body looks ridiculous.  It doesn’t work so well sideways, because of both the pocket and the fit (or in the kind of halter top style):

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

But, because I made mine smaller and fitted, it can be worn a couple extra ways – as a skirt:

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

…and as a weird tube sweater thing, haha.  I had fun playing around with the different ways.

cowl neck sweater vest thing cowl neck sweater vest thing

Anyway, conclusion on my end, try again with bigger sweaters and no pockets, and it should be awesomesauce.  If you use the tutorial to make your own, I’d love to see it!  I have this flickr group that I tend to forget about, but you can stick a photo in there to share!  Happy crafting!!

Filed under: clothing,general crafts,knitting,tutorials — leethal @ 8:45 pm
  • Rainy Daisy

    Neato! Aren’t you clever.

  • Stephanie

    This is genius! I look forward to making one!

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