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When I was last in Bologna, a bit over a year ago, I couldn’t resist stopping by a higher-end used clothing stand in an open air market. And I grabbed up a gorgeous wool maxi-cardigan…
…that was WAY too big for me! It was obviously supposed to be very long, but it was too wide around the torso and in the armpits. With it buttoned, I felt like a giant metal tube, because it clearly suffocated the little bit of body shape I have.
But we were talking high quality original Irish Aran wool, and I couldn’t bear to pass it up. Plus I figured that it couldn’t be too hard to slim-up the cardigan. Do you have a gargantuan sweater, too? Or you just want to see how I easily transformed this one into something that actually fit right? Well, then read on!
Now, the “right” way to take a shirt garment in one or more sizes is how I showed you last summer on some graphic t-shirts, detaching the sleeves, trimming the sleeves and bodice as necessary, and reattaching the pieces. But I wasn’t able to do that with this particular cardigan, and I’ll show you why.
In the picture above, I marked the position of my armpit with a red dot. The shoulder/arm seam, however, was considerably further down my arm from that point, though. But the real problem was that the sleeve length was perfect for me, and if I were to change the position of the shoulder/arm seam and the bodice side seam, the sleeves would end up way too short. So I ditched the “right” way and did the “cheating” version.
If you’re doing this project, I suggest first checking to see if you can do it the “right” way, but sewing with the walking foot, as I show below. If you have a similar problem to mine here, follow these instructions!
Turn the sweater or cardigan inside out and put it on. Pinch the front and back fabric layers under your armpit (as you can see in the photo above), making sure that the seams are right along the fabric edge, and not slightly over to one side or the other. Mark the point where you want your new armpit with a safety pin. If the arm is too wide, mark the point where you want to start slimming it down with another safety pin. If you want to slim down the sides of the sweater all the way down to the bottom hem, you’re done here. If you only want to slim it down partway (I did only down to my butt), mark the point where you want to stop with yet another safety pin. Don’t worry about the other side unless you have an abnormally unsymetrical body, and take the garment off.
Remember my lesson on how to use the walking foot? This foot will be a huge help in sewing through the thick wool, so use it!
I forgot to take a picture of this part, so just try to imagine it. With the sweater still inside out, position the point marked on the sleeve where you want to start slimming it down underneath the needle and walking foot, and sew in a straight-ish line to the point you’ve marked for the new armpit. (Make sure you’re using a heavy duty needle for knits.) Then turn the fabric and continue sewing down until you reach either the hem or the safety pin along the side seam. (Look at the red arrow in the photo above.) I used a straight stitch with a pretty long stitch length without any problems. When sewing out of or into a pre-existing seam, make sure to do it very gradually, or else you’ll see a weird bump when you turn it right side out.
Turn the sweater or cardigan right side out and try it on. If you like how it fits, great! If you’re not totally satisfied, turn it wrong side out again, put it back on, and make any modifications you need to. Remember that the armpit will be weird when turned right side out until you clip into the corner, but I suggest trying it on before clipping in case you took it too much in and need to rip out the stitching to let it back out.
If the fit is right, trim off the excess fabric to within about 1 cm from the stitching, and clip the corner in the armpit. Then, with the sweater inside out, fold it in half so that the hems and tops of the sleeves and shoulders match up perfectly, as well as the bottom hem (as seen in the previous photo with the red arrow). Remember that the seams must be right on the edges, and not under or on top of the fabric.
Place some safety pins as you did on the first side to show where to start sewing on the sleeve, where to stop sewing along the side and where the armpit will be. If you trimmed off the excess fabric in one piece, you could also just lay that on top of the uncut side of the sweater and position the pins. Then sew down the arm and side as you did on the first side of the sweater. Again, make sure the fit is right, then trim and clip the excess fabric.
The knit fabric of a sweater will unravel all over the place if the cut edges aren’t finished off somehow. If you have a very tough overlocker, you could just use that on the edges, but I suggest using the walking foot again to zig zag the cut edges (with the garment inside out). The bulkiness of the fabric makes it hard to get the stitching perfect, but it really doesn’t matter. All you care about it stopping the fray potential.
Did you remove any important care labels when you trimmed the fabric, like I did? Either unpick the original seams to free the label or be lazy like me and just cut the label off. Then, when you’re zig zagging one of the side seams, just stick it in there. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and it’s hard to get it perfect with all that fabric bulk!
You may have noticed that the zig zag stitch made the edge get all wavy (top). No fretting– use an iron with a low heat setting and a protective ironing cloth, and iron out those waves! Much better! (bottom)
Try on your newly-slimmed-down sweater or cardigan, and admire your handiwork! I repeat: MUCH better! No more fabric bunching up under my armpits and the armpit of the sweater is actually where it should be! Plus I’m not overwhelmed with excess fabric throughout the torso, either.
There was still one thing bothering me, though: the big plastic toggle button. Plastic just seemed the WRONG material for such a lovely and natural wool garment. So when I was at Abilmente Roma last November, I picked up a lovely wooden toggle button, as well as some coconut shell buttons, which I used on a project that I’m way behind in writing about.
Off I cut the old plastic button, and on I hand sewed (with a thick polyester thread) the new wood button. Much more fitting!
And I just love my newly-fitted maxi cardigan! (worn in these pictures with my reverse-appliqué shirt.) When I showed it to my husband, he said he couldn’t notice any difference, and I suppose that he may be right, that the difference isn’t really mind-blowing. However, the garment feels so much better when worn, without making me feel smothered in knit, and that makes all the difference between a garment that you wear frequently and one that gets forgetten in the back of your closet!