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A couple of weeks ago I was in the Thrift Store searching for stranded colorwork sweaters for an upcoming steeking class (it’s always helpful to have a few extra swatches to have students cut into, and there’s no possible way I could knit them all!). I came across a beautiful Fair-Isle inspired sweater in my colors: blues and whites. It was an LL Bean Sweater (good quality) and I loved it. Only problem? It was about a 2X to 1X sweater (the size tag was missing). I’m somewhere more in the range of a medium/large on my top. No way it was going to look anything other than sloppy.

So I bought it anyway, with the intention of reworking it for myself. This documents my process.

What you will need: good sharp scissors. I used three pairs, of various sizes including really small pair, a small pair, and a medium pair. You’ll also need contrasting color yarn, in various weights, thread, a tape measure, pins (I used T-Pins), crochet hooks of various sizes, and locking stitch markers. I also used a dress form. If you don’t have a dress form of your own, you’ll need a friend to help pin in places, or you’ll have to contort yourself quite a bit. You’ll also need, of course, a sweater that is too big for you (either store bought or handmade).

Supplies for reworking sweater: yarn, pins, crochet hook, scissors, tape measure, locking stitch markers

This is what my sweater looked like before: Drop shoulder, sleeves rolled up, and quite baggy. My dress form was made for me about a year and a half ago, and is actually bigger than myself, and you can see how big the sweater was on the dress form. You’ll want to turn the sweater inside out, and get a good feel for how it is put together. You’ll also want to have a plan for where you want to go, that is, how you want the sweater to fit. Remember: once you cut something away, you can’t put it back. I knew I wanted to go from a drop shoulder to set in shoulders. I wanted a comfortable fit, and 3/4 sleeves, though I wasn’t that particular.

Drop Shoulder Colorwork Sweater

Cut the seams to the sleeves, making sure to cut just the seams. For some commercially made sweaters, they are actually crochet together, and once you cut one part, the seam will unravel, leaving you with the separated pieces. This did not work for me. I went carefully, bit by bit, snipping away.

cutting seams to sweater

After the sleeves are cut away, put the sweater on inside out. Pin the line that you want along the sides of the waist. If you want to get rid of shoulder bits, pin that too. Take the sweater off the yourself or the dress form, and try to make the pinned lines as similar as you can (so you aren’t taking away more fabric on one side than the other). Then, baste the sides and pull out the pins. Try the sweater on. Do you like how it fits? Makes sure you sit down while wearing the sweater. Often, when pinning, you’ll pin too close to the waist. When you sit, the shape of your waist changes, and if the sweater is too tight, it will make your mid-drift look like a sausage. If you aren’t happy with the fit, repeat until you are happy with the waist and fit of the shoulder.

pinned waist to sweater

I added a step of adjusting the line of the shoulder seams, making the sweater go from drop shoulder to set in sleeve. This picture, below, gives you a good idea of how the original sweater was made: it was basically a rectangle, meant to be worn quite loose. Here, I’m trying out several different lines of where I want the set in sleeves to fall. I used basted stitches to “draw” lines. If you had a washable fabric marker, that would work too, but I started this project where I didn’t have one, so made do.

basted seams for sweater to try on fit

When you are sure you are happy with the fit of the sweater, reinforce the fabric right along where you are going to cut into the knit. Basically, you are reinforcing the fabric for steeking. For most parts of my sweater, I used a crochet slip stitch to reinforce. This prevents the edges from unraveling.

slip stitch reinforcing of knit fabric

Next, cut away the excess fabric, just to the outside of your reinforced stitches. Here, the fabric to be cut away is on the right and left of the crochet white lines. The pink is my basted seam, where the real seam will go soon.

basted and reinforced knit fabric

Seam the waist seams together with mattress stitch (also known as ladder stitch). Don’t know mattress stitch? Go learn. It will give you the best seams on your sweater.

cutting knit fabric

Mattress stitching knit fabric together

Now, baste the sleeves to the armhole of your sweater. Do you like the fit? If not, pin and make adjustments where you want the sweater to lay better over your shoulders and armholes. When things are perfect, reinforce the stitches on the sleeves and around the armhole, and trim away excess fabric. When trimming fabric, err on the side of too much. You can go later and cut away more after you seam.

Seam the sleeves to the armholes of the sweater. Take your time. It helps to pin things together beforehand. Make sure your stitches lie flat. I seamed with thread, about half the weight of the yarn used for the sweater. I used super strong crochet thread, because I tend to tug on my stitches quite a bit, and lighter weight thread breaks too easily on me.

Finally, after everything is seamed, trim away any extra fabric along the seams.

Trimming away excess fabric along seams

If your sweater is made out of felt-able wool, the extra ends will matt down over time. If the sweater is made out of washable wool or any plant based fiber, you’ll need to tack the loose ends of the cut stitches down on the inside, so you aren’t shedding threads every-time you wear the sweater. The blanket stitch works well for this. So does the whip stitch.

So how did my sweater come out? Well, at the time of writing it, it is finished except for weaving in a few ends. Unfortunately, my husband is traveling, so I couldn’t get a shot of the sweater on myself. Instead, you’ll have to do with my other dress form:

refitted sweater on dress form

On myself, I’m happy with the fit. The shoulders are nice, not too tight, not too roomy. The fit around my waist is a lot more complementary, since it has some shaping around the sides. On the dress form? It looks a little big in the shoulder, but that is because my antique dress form doesn’t go up to my bust and shoulder measurements.

I’m happy with it.