Help Along Your Thrift Shop Items with Needlework!

It’s National Second Hand Wardrobe Week and we’ve got some great options for our readers on embellishing, patching, and bringing a personal touch to that sweet thrift store find.

Are you bicraftual? Head over to the crochet feed and see what they have in mind for those vintage items that need just a little extra love.

We can’t wait to try these suggestions from knitting Project Editor Laura Hulslander!


I love thrifting. I am totally that person who, when someone compliments my shirt, responds with, “Thanks! It was only three dollars!” It’s fun to shop at secondhand stores, but it’s also a bit of a crapshoot: what you see is what you get. However, we are crafters! With a little creativity, you can make an unloved sweater into a wardrobe favorite.

Here are a few ideas for altering your secondhand sweaters.

1.     Add sleeves to a vest to make it a pullover.

I’m not a vest person—I’m never sure what to wear under them, and they’re a lot of bother to take off if I start to get too warm. So I’m likely to change a secondhand vest into a pullover with a simple fix. Just take the armhole bands off and add sleeves. Since it’s difficult to match the original color exactly, choose a contrasting yarn. For a more cohesive garment, replace the neckband and lower ribbing too.

2.     Steek a pullover to make it a cardigan.

Found a pullover, but wanted a cardigan? Steek it! Steeking is simply cutting open a knitted fabric.

It’s actually the most traditional way to make a cardigan; cardigans were worked in the round (like a pullover) and cut open. You can find directions here on how to secure the edges before cutting to prevent your sweater from raveling.


On this sweater, I also found a small hole on the front after I bought it. For a small hole like this one, Swiss darning closes a hole and adds a fun detail at the same time. Or, if your darning skills aren’t the prettiest, add a pocket to cover the hole. . .

3.     Frog it.

Some sweaters are just unsalvageable. This pullover has multiple moth holes, and some of them are big.

Unless you’re really dedicated to darning all of them, the fabric won’t be stable; plus you’ll have a  heavily embroidered sweater.

However, I’m pretty sure this sweater is cashmere, given its overall high quality. (The label is missing, but it was 99¢ sweater day at the thrift store—I was willing to take a chance!)  It’s a super-soft garment. It has shell buttons (which I can save for another project), which are more expensive than plastic buttons. Also, it was knit to size: if you look at the wrong side of the seams, the edges are knitted, not serged, and the seam looks like a crochet chain.

When you’re planning to frog, take a close look at the sweater’s construction. A garment that has been cut out of knitted fabric and the edges serged won’t frog well: it will ravel into short strands rather than a long, continuous piece of yarn. SpinOff has some great articles about how to take apart thrift-store sweaters in their Spring 2012 and Winter 2016 issues. Once you’ve taken it apart, you can also do a flame test to make sure the yarn isn’t acrylic posing as cashmere.

Once your sweater has been reduced to yarn, you’ve got several options. Use it as laceweight yarn, or, if you’re a spinner, ply several strands together to make a thicker yarn. If you don’t love the color, you can overdye it. Recycling old sweaters into new yarn is a great and inexpensive way to add to your stash.

—Laura


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