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A few days ago I mentioned how I donated my first ever knitted hat to a friend who is collecting hats and scarves for a group helping the homeless. I also mentioned that, in order to help more, I decided to sew up a bunch of sweaters. (I’m a pretty novice knitter, so it would’ve taken me ages to knit the same amount of hats!) But as the dedicated refashionista that I am, I did not use new fabric yardage but old sweaters.
This awesome and oh-so-easy (and quick!) technique is definitely not an original idea of mine. If you take a peek at my refashioning Pinterest board, you’ll see various projects upcycling sweaters into hats, mittens and scarves, so I won’t get too much into details. This is a great post to get you started.
You don’t have to use wool, but if you do, you can choose to felt it or not. To felt wool, wash it in your washing machine in hot water. The hotter the water and longer time, the more it will felt. Machine drying it on hot will felt it even more. When a sweater (or any other wool item) is felted, the stitches seem to disappear as the whole item shrinks and becomes a much thicker and stiffer fabric. Felted wool is much warmer and will not unravel, which is great, but it’s also not at all stretchy, so you’ll have to make your hats wide enough to fit around the head. (Learn more about felting wool sweaters in the washing machine here.)
Grab a sweater. I tried to felt this one, but it wasn’t 100% wool and didn’t felt completely. If you’re using a non-felted sweater which is still stretchy, make sure you read this post of mine on how to sew stretchy knit fabrics. The absolute easiest way is to turn it inside out (which I didn’t do in this picture) and place a hat that fits you well along the hem. Most sweaters have ribbed hems, which is great because ribs stretch nicely and will therefore be snug around the head.
As instructed in the tutorial I mentioned above, trace around the hat with chalk, making it on the larger side, especially if the wool is felted and therefore not stretchy. Stick a few pins in to keep the layers together. I prefer to sew directly along the chalk line before cutting the sweater. That way you can slip your head inside the newly sewn space to make sure that it does fit decently. If it’s too tight, rip out the stitches and resew it larger. (This happened to me for one of these hats.) If you have a loosely woven sweater that might fray, sew another line of stitching about 1 cm outside the other. Then then cut between the two lines of stitching (or just outside the one line if you didn’t bother with the second), turn the hat inside out and check the fit again. If it’s too big, just turn it back inside out and sew again just inside the original stitches. Super easy, right?
Now let’s get a little more fancy. You can try some of the little decorative techniques as seen in this post at Make It And Love It, a hat with ears and pom poms, or a cat hat. I didn’t know how much the recipients would like such whimsical hats, so I decided to keep things more simple. I managed to fit in another two hats from this one sweater, placed as you can see above. I first picked out the stitching attaching the cowl neck to the sweater. I ended up tracing the hat upside down on the top half of the sweater with the brim along the neckline so as to take advantage of the sweater edge there. The natural shape of the neckline made the brim go lower down, which sort of covers the ears an extra bit, which I liked. As the cowl neck had a slit in it, I turned it sideways to fit the hat shape in around the slit.
Alas, when I picked out the stitching, I found that the two edges weren’t actually finished edges, but had been sewn together without being bound off first. This wasn’t an issue because the wool was felted enough to not unravel, but I didn’t like the way it looked, so I decided to embroider a blanket stitch around the edges with some extra yarn and then crochet two rows of single crochet into the embroidery. I discovered this technique here, and I am dying to try it on a sweater like she did!
This cotton sweater vest was wide enough to fit two hats in along the ribbed hem, so I turned it inside out, folded it in half, traced the hat and cut outside the line to leave a seam allowance. I then sewed each hat, overlocking the edges to keep them from fraying or losing little bits.
As this was not a thick cotton, I decided to make it a single double layer hat. To do so, I put one inside the other, right sides facing (top), stitched a thin zig zag stitch along the edges of the brim to attach the two hats together (zig zag allows for stretch), turned it right side out through the open space that I left (bottom), and hand stitched the opening closed.
I decided to try two different types of hats with this purple sweater. I don’t know exactly what material it was out of because the tag was faded, but something synthetic, fuzzy and stretchy. I noticed that the stretchy neckline fit snugly around my head so I decided to do an experiment of my own and make a beret. I folded a normal beret in half and placed it on top of the neck, traced around it and cut.
I then placed the folded beret along one side of the sweater body and cut. On the other side I placed the pattern for this adorable “Snowy Day Hat.” (Don’t pay any attention to the extra markings on the pattern. My printer has been acting up lately.)
Originally I’d planned on making both the inside and outside of the Snowy Day Hat from this one purple sweater, but with the beret I didn’t have enough fabric, so I cut the inside out of this ribbed cotton shirt, avoiding stained areas. I then followed the instructions to sew the hat.
To make the beret I arranged the full circle of fabric flat with right side up and placed the circle with the neck on top with the right side down. I pinned the edges and zig zag stitched all around the edges. I took off the label, turned it right side out, and had myself a new beret! Alas, I hadn’t quite taken into consideration that the stretchy fabric would make for a wavy edge. I love berets, so I plan to try this technique again but on a non-stretchy sweater.
And there we have it! From just three old sweaters (I didn’t end up using the red one in the picture towards the top of this post) I got six cool new winter hats! It only took me a few hours to make them, including the time taken to shoot pictures, hand stitch, embroider and crochet, but you could make the simplest version of this in just a few minutes. It felt great using up some clothing that we had just hanging around and being able to donate so much to those who really need them!