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Upcycle Old Sweaters

Updated on December 7, 2012

Upcycle an old sweater.

The sleeves from two felted sweaters become arm warmers. That extra layer for the winter chill. One sweater was a ladies black cashmere, the other a boy's long sleeve gray stripe wool sweater.

Start now, collect wool sweaters from Goodwill Industries, yard sales, (your own closet) or the hubby's closet (with permission).

I'm about to give you step by step instructions on making a pair of arm-warmers. This is a sample in the picture. Made from 2 "Goodwill" purchased sweaters.

The pair in the picture is actually two different sweaters. The gray stripe was a boy's sweater, I cut the upper part of the sleeve, after felting both sweaters, then I cut the cuffs from a black cashmere ladies sweater. The two together make 3 combinations. Wear black cuffs alone, gray stripe cuffs alone (like a bracelet), or both for double warmth.

Get out there to garage or yard sales, flea markets ...

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I recently felted an old army sweater (100% wool) and have big plans for more creative items.

Arm Warmer "cuffs" on my hand.

Arm Warmer "cuffs" on my hand.
Arm Warmer "cuffs" on my hand.

So Simple Just Have a Wool Sweater Handy - Make Mittens from an Old Wool Sweater

I couldn't have described the process any better, this is actually a 2 minute challenge. Check it out.

Our puppy gets a sweater from the black cashmere sweater sleeve.

Boo in recycled sweater.
Boo in recycled sweater.

She loves wearing a sweater on chilly days, cashmere even.

Upcycled sweaters become arm warmers, they sold as fast as they were created. - Some arm warmers - wrist warmers - embellished with needle felting and buttons.

These were a hit at an art fair.
These were a hit at an art fair.

I added some twine and/or yarn to keep the pairs together on display at my art fair. The red ones are from the sleeves of the red sweater. I found really simple clear plastic buttons to sew on top of the needle felted circles. The black sleeves I added a blanket stitch in red yarn for the thumb hole, so stinkin' cute sold right away.

The off-white sleeves from an alpaca sweater, cuffs rolled up and the "cut" end embellished with brown yarn, blanket stitch can be worn with the cuff at the fingers, or at the mid-arm, and can be unfolded for even longer arm warmers.

This is an item in the washer in a pillowcase.
This is an item in the washer in a pillowcase.

Step by step - upcycle an old sweater.

CHECK FOR 100% Wool on the Tag

Yes 80% or even 50% wool will work, but 100% wool works best. Stay away from White Wool, because it just hates to "FELT"

The "Felt" process includes shocking the wool fibers. Because wool pills (balls up) you have to protect your washer, so:

#1 Put the garment into a pillowcase or garment bag, and tie it shut. Rubber banding it doesn't work, (the hot water stretches the band). I tie the top of the pillow case in a tight knot.

Now, set the washer to hot, add some old jeans, set the washer to the smallest load that covers the items with water. Add enough soap to wash a small load and start the machine.

After the full wash cycle, open your pillow case to reveal a shrunken wool garment with TONS of possibilities. GO EMBELLISH!! Well let it dry first.

Any Old Sweater works:


Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencerwearing Thick Wool Sweaters Cords at Balmoral May 1981

16 in. x 16 in.

Buy This

Made from 4 different sweaters using the pattern below.

upcycled from 4 wool sweaters
upcycled from 4 wool sweaters

Start with some old wool sweaters. - Chunky Funky 100% wool sweaters work as well as the fine cashmere.

Choose a variety. Some "Goodwill" stores have fill a bag days, or 50% off days, and spring is a good time to find sweaters. Good luck.

Free Pattern. Use the pattern below to make your own arm warmers from upcycled sweaters. - Right click on the photo and save it to your computer, print it. You

Draw this pattern on paper one for each arm.
Draw this pattern on paper one for each arm.

Design your own starting with the same basic shape. Then add a few shapes. Or design your own on graph paper. Basically leave enough room around the average wrist 7" to make a seam by sewing by hand or on a machine.

About these two patterns. Starting with the basic shape, draw a design, it's simpler to make lines go from one side of the shape to the adjacent shape, or across the shape. Number each piece before cutting, now on white paper, trace the pattern with a magic marker so it goes through to the other side, and number the pieces on the back of the page for the other hand.

The first pattern should have r1, r2, r3, etc. for Right hand, and the second (on the back side of the paper) l1, l2, l3, etc. for left hand. when you cut your pieces, the shapes will lay on various fabric pieces for cutting. Experiment with matching the cable patterns in the sweater so that your two arm warmers match in the end. Or mix it up.

Wait - wait, why do you have to felt an item before you upcycle a sweater?

You are about to cut through fibers that are interwoven, they will unravel if you do not felt them first.

Felting meshes all these fibers together. See my lens on felting.

So Simple

So Simple
So Simple

Step #2 - Wash and spin and rewash your sweaters, some will felt quicker than others.

After the rinse and spin, start removing tags and buttons, and save buttons for embellishment (save the tags too, actually, you can sew it inside one of the gloves for that "Upcycled" identity.

USE WOOL, ALPACA and/or CASHMERE sweaters to upcycle.

Did I mention you must use wool sweaters?

First felt the sweater, then cut the fabric.
First felt the sweater, then cut the fabric.

Arm Warmers from an upcycled sweater.

This pair of arm warmers ended up selling to a young lady who wanted them for leg warmers. Some people have legs as thin as arms! They were taken from an alpaca sweater. First I felted the sweater by placing it in a pillow case tied shut and washed it with mild soap for about 30 minutes in very hot water. Shocking it by rinsing with cold water. The fibers meshed into a very dense fabric that will not fray. then I cut the sleeves off and trimmed the edges with a contrasting tweed bulky knit wool blend yarn.

Other Upcycle ideas - Upcycle Cardboard

This is pretty interesting. Hm-m-m collecting corregated cardboard.

I upcycle old sweaters. - So when I see one in a yard sale or at Goodwill my imagination starts racing.

I see arm warmers (from the sleeves.)

I see a neck gator.

I see a reusable zipper.

I see pockets for a future purse.

I see cup "cozies."

I see baby leg warmers.

I see the base for a hat made from the hood (embellish with ribbon).

I see parts and pieces for patchwork armwarmers.

Upcycle a Wool Sweater Sleeve for a Puppy Sweater

Boo weighs 5 lbs. She is 5 months old. And she is very cold on these chilly mornings. I felted a small women's wool sweater, then cut the sleeve out at the shoulder. Holding the sleeve up to her body I determined where to cut little holes for her front legs. TOO CUTE!! She loves it, puts her head right in and lets me place her front legs through the holes, She backs up to me and leans on my leg when she's ready for me to take it off.

Upcycle Old Sweater into a what? - You need to watch this video - it is the cutest at the very end!!

Another Use for Recycled Sweaters - (before felting or after)

Read the step by step instructions by clicking on the PHOTO!

If I'm not busy upcycling old sweaters ... - I may be writing on Squidoo or riding my motorcycle.

Biker ministry - what a trip!
The Photo is my husband with an arm around a biker's shoulder at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Run For The Wall 2011. The gentleman rode his motorcycle...

Bikerministry Lensmaster is Judy Cockrum.
You'll find that many of my writings are emotion packed, and written from the heart. I love to write. I've been published in a periodical. I've written an e...

Writing lenses for fun and profit.
Author's note: I really enjoy looking back through this article and improving on it. One of the prominent things that stands out is how my goals have not on...

Got Questions? - Please let me know if you have questions on this. It's easy peasy!

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    • kittyhappykitty profile image

      kittyhappykitty 3 years ago

      Upcycling is the way to is fun and can help generate funds for more materials. Thanks for this lens! You make me happy!

    • AcornOakForest profile image

      Monica Lobenstein 3 years ago from Western Wisconsin

      I love upcycling wool sweaters. Thanks for the ideas!

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 4 years ago from Concord VA

      These are great ideas for upcycling sweaters! You're very creative!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks for a useful lens full of great ideas and the fun quiz (I was an English teacher)

    • DeeHayes profile image

      DeeHayes 4 years ago

      Thanks for the really cool ideas. I'm going to try the dog sweater one!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great ideas for recycling sweaters. Thanks for sharing!

    • joannalynn lm profile image

      joannalynn lm 5 years ago

      My hands get very cold in winter even working inside. I think I can make these just long enough to cover my hands and my fingers can still type. These are much nicer than gloves that are made without finger tips. I have a lot of old sweaters that I don't wear often, just waiting to be made into such a garment. I love this idea!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 5 years ago from Arizona

      Such a cool concept!

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      Never thought about reusing a sweater since I don't wear them very much. Have upcycled socks for arm warmers though.

    • squid-pinkchic18 profile image

      squid-pinkchic18 5 years ago

      So many good ideas here! I've been on the hunt for cute sweater cuffs that would make good coffee coozies :) Loved this lens!

    • KateHonebrink profile image

      KateHonebrink 5 years ago

      Love your felting ideas! Great lens!

    • FunNaturePhotog profile image

      FunNaturePhotog 5 years ago

      Great ideas here! My husband is into felting (always haunting our local thrift stores for wool sweaters) so I'll have to show him this.

    • esvoytko lm profile image

      esvoytko lm 5 years ago

      I love upcycling. I especially love the aqua blue sweater pillow.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Nice ways to use sweaters again. Love the blue buttoned sweater pillow. Nice!!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I'm lovin' your upcycling. Just think of all the extra mileage you are getting and giving. Thanks for the fabulous ideas. Appreciated!

    • wheresthekarma profile image

      wheresthekarma 5 years ago

      Very cute! I love the pillow ones!!

    • earthybirthymum profile image

      earthybirthymum 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Many blessing! You inspire.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is very creative indeed! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Returning with and upcycle those old sweaters angel smile!

    • curious0927 profile image

      curious0927 5 years ago

      Great lens, I really love make "treasures" from old things. My favorite hobby and saves me plenty of money. You just gave me a zillion new ideas! Thanks! I love your comment about the crayons and the bowl! I knew there was a way to use old crayons for other things, but couldn't remember! Saved it since I still have every crayon I ever bought my kids, except for the ones I donated to school!

    • profile image

      klaird 5 years ago

      Great Ideas for upcycling sweaters!

    • kimark421 profile image

      kimark421 5 years ago

      The arm warmers are really cool! Great lens.

    • SueM11 profile image

      Sue Mah 5 years ago from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

      Great tips. Never thought to recycle them before.

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 5 years ago from London, England

      Great ideas.

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 5 years ago from Western Mass

      cute pillows! :)

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Great lens - I am sending it on to a particularly crafty friend for her inspiration. This is a lady on Squidoo here you also knits or crochets squares to make quilts for AIDS blankets for orphans in Africa, she also uses the felting process.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I am for all ideas that recycle and save our planet - great tips and suggestions.

    • SheGetsCreative profile image

      Angela F 5 years ago from Seattle, WA

      Great lens. I'm for upcycling anything! ;)

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      wonderful ideas, thank you!

    • profile image

      miaponzo 5 years ago

      So cool!!!! Thanks!!!! Great sweater ideas here.. I LOVE recycling anyway :) Blessed!

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 5 years ago from Scotland

      I will never look at an old jumper the same way again!

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 5 years ago from San Francisco

      What a fantastic idea, and what wonderful gifts. Talk about warm fuzzies! Angel blessed.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @badmsm: Yep, recycling is a "feel good" craft.

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @CoeGurl: I'm excited about clever!

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @CoeGurl: I'm excited about clever!

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @WildFacesGallery: Aw, thanks! I'm finishing up several arm warmers, fingerless gloves and boot cuffs for an event in a few days. I've made several neck gators from old sweaters too. My latest find was 3 cashmere sweaters at the same yard sale for $.25 (that's 25 cents) each. I have made at least a dozen items from these 3 sweaters that will sell for $12 to $18 each. I'm pretty excited about the results. Thank you for the blessing of stopping by and commenting. :)

    • WildFacesGallery profile image

      Mona 5 years ago from Iowa

      This is beautifully done. I was recently at a craft festival where someone was selling mitten made from recycled sweaters. They were adorable.

    • profile image

      badmsm 5 years ago

      Always good to reuse things, very clever ideas here. Liked & Blessed! :)

    • CoeGurl profile image

      CoeGurl 5 years ago from USA

      Very clever use of old sweaters!

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @NevermoreShirts: Appreciate the like and comment. I'll be "Upcycling" again today. making Kindle and/or Nook covers from cashmere sweaters. I know, I know, my hubby thinks that's silly, but hey - gotta treat your electronics elegantly sometimes!

    • profile image

      NevermoreShirts 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens - always great to "upcycle" old items. :)

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      @jlshernandez: I bought 5 wool sweaters and 2 zip pillow covers today, spent $2.75. Three of the sweaters are cashmere. Always looking. I'll use the sweater sleeves for leg warmers for little girls, and the body for pillows or cowls. Fun stuff. Thanks for stopping by.

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 5 years ago

      Thanks for this superb idea of repurposing old wool sweaters. I am going to make mysel some leg warmers. I am so glad I stumbled upo this lens. Blessed by a SquidAnge..

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 5 years ago

      kiwinana71- thanks for the squid angel and squid like. I made a felted fedora using yarn that was "unpicked" from a sweater. I bought the yarn on Etsy and knit the Fedora. Kinda neat knowing you can build a business tearing up clothing. I know what you mean about nothing being wasted - I was raised that way. Consumers just consume now.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 5 years ago from New Zealand

      Nice lens,yes I like the word "upcycle". Re minds me of 60 years ago, old sweaters were all unpicked and re knitted into some other knitted garment, nothing was ever wasted."Blessed"

    • bikerministry profile image

      bikerministry 6 years ago

      @anonymous: I didn't coin the word, probably first saw it on Etsy, but I've certainly enjoyed "upcycling" and documenting the process. Thanks again for visiting.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What an excellent idea, I don't know if I've heard the term "upcycle" before but you certainly did that here with your arm warmers, very creative and innovative!