Altering hand knits – a few suggestions

When we started building our new home in the country I packed away most of my sewing equipment, thinking to myself “I will just do a bit of knitting while I wait for my sewing room to be constructed.”

Knitting has absolutely sustained me, excited and amazed me, during this time. I made a dozen or so items – mainly jumpers – and I have learnt so much.

Each item has been enthralling for me. I used nice patterns – both ancient and modern – to start me off, and then I found an approach, via Elizabeth Zimmermann, which freed me up to personalise my patterns,  and take control of the design process. And although I have yet to make a cardigan, and perhaps a skirt, to tackle cables and lace, I absurdly feel able to do anything on the knitting front now, if I want to. Knowing that it will be an exciting challenge (can’t wait to have a go at steeking…), and that I can make wearable clothes, finding that yarn appears to be reincarnateable, has made learning to knit a complete joy, and one that was unexpected. I was actually so scared of failure that I avoided it for years. Knitting has been, for me, an awesome and magical process. Not only unknitting, but also lengthening, shortening, pulling out and redesigning – it is so much easier than with fabric which once cut never heals.

So I knew what I was doing last August when I packed away my tools and bought a bit of wool and some knitting needles. Knitting appealed for many reasons, but mainly as it was portable and sociable. I also was attracted to the fact that the basic equipment was very inexpensive. I bought my first needles from Sharon on Clitheroe market – £1 a pair with proceeds to Claire House, a children’s hospice. And while nice yarn is expensive I have found good suppliers at reasonable cost. And yarn is never wasted.

Post hoc alterations

One really important thing about knitting, that I did not originally understand, is that alterations are quite possible. In my 12 months of learning to knit I have now shortened and lengthened jerseys and changed necklines, and made the sleeves longer, and released tightness, and various other changes. I could have shortened sleeves too, but haven’t yet. Are they any other alterations that have worked for you? I noticed Karen Templer wanting to make an Aran sweater smaller which she is attempting to do with blocking and heating. Sounds scary to me. I would be interested to know if you have good techniques for making garments smaller or larger or a different shape.

Here is an example.

I knitted the Elizabeth Zimmermann “Seamless saddle-shouldered sweater” from Knitting without tears. But I didn’t really understand how to get the fake seam stitch to do my bidding. So it came out wrong.

EZ SSSS that went wrong

I was going to try again, and then I remembered that all four versions of the Elizabeth Zimmermann seamless sweaters start in the same way – with the three tubes – two arms and a body. So I ripped out the knitting until I got back to three pieces plus one inch of yoke knitting, and then I changed course and made the Seamless Raglan Sweater. Here I am trying it on with the neck hemmed but no finish at the sleeve or waist hem, and the underarm seams incomplete. At this stage I am asking myself is the jersey too small? Not in the body width, or the arms, but it looks too short to my eye. I like shorter sleeves and I don’t want my jerseys too long, but this looks like a boy’s jumper worn by a woman. So what are my options?

I decided to lengthen the sleeves. I did this by knitting fairly long 1×1 ribbed cuffs. I also finished the underarm seams and hemmed at the waist. I am happier with it, but the jury is still out on the body length. There is no embarrassing flash of belly flesh (I am wearing a long sleeved pink Uniqlo top underneath). But maybe I should remove the hem and add a couple of inches of ribbing? Incidentally it is made from left over small balls of grey cashmere and it is lovely and soft and pleasant to wear.

altering a handknitted sweater
Seamless Raglan with longer sleeves

The next item requires your feedback. As we are now in the country more I have been investigating charity shops. There are some good ones in Cirencester, including a hospice shop with a huge tin of buttons, and nice fabric offcuts. Last week I saw a cute child’s hand knit, with navy ribbing, for £2.50 which I thought might do for 6 year old Ted when he stays here. I took it home, and on a whim, tried it on. Of course it looks like a woman wearing a child’s jumper.

We can immediately see this as it too short in the body and the arms. I could lengthen the arms and keep it cropped. I would lengthen the body but leave the arms short. Or I could lengthen both. This would involved detaching and unravelling the navy blue ribbing and finding some remnants to fill in the remaining inches. The jersey is seamed but I think I could add the alterations by using a circular needle. Obviously as it is made up of a range of shades this should not be too hard. I would then re-rib the hems.

I am not sure I want to wear these colours and the yarn is not top quality. And I have now got alot of sweaters. And I bought it for Ted. But I quite fancy doing the job. What do you think?

And I forgot to mention that the cupboard behind me is Nick’s new cupboard in my sewing room. This is due to be painted soon. I will share some pictures in a week or two.



19 Responses

  1. Ruth

    Hooray I’ve actually, really and truly finished my first EZ jumper! Did you notice the ‘first’ in there? Already started the next one. I wouldn’t bother with the found jumper – make something you like.

  2. Jenny

    If the idea excites you I’d go for it. I always found jumpers were always less used when mine were at Ted’s age as they preferred the flexibility of zip styled hoodies which could be unzipped or zipped up depending on how warm they were. I doubt if Ted does much sitting around to feel the cold!!

    • fabrickated

      Actually they are young enough to allow a jersey to be pulled over the head (the both enjoy help with dressing!), complete with a look of irritation. But I agree all young people seem to have a different thermostat to me!

  3. Kim

    I love the colours in the child’s jumper (and i think they look good on you) but you are used to wearing ‘good’ yarns. Save time and start again – I’m sure you will be happier.

    • fabrickated

      Yes! I think the colours are OK as a group although I wouldn’t have chosen some of them. But you are right acrylic is not my thing really. I am just interested in it as a project really. Am thinking about the cardigan suggestions. How is your colourmart project going Kim?

  4. Rowena

    Another thing you can do as an alteration is to just chop the item right down the front! I made a CRAZY and huge Kaffe Fassett pattern out of a Rowan magazine once and it was like wearing a giant inner tube cape. It even had batwing sleeves – one of those “fascinating in the magazine photo” but horrific in person. It sat in a box under my bed for years, then one year I took it out, machine sewed a more realistic side seam+armhole (wool yarns are great for that), snipped it right up the middle (again, wool yarns + some zigzag stitching before hand) and knitted on some bands. Now I really like it.

    I could see the jumper you’re wearing as a cardigan – bands along the front edges, neckline and bottom would tie it together and add a little length, and the slight cropped nature wouldn’t be a problem if it was worn over something.

    • fabrickated

      I love this story and I know what you mean about KF. I actually think some of his designs might work for cushion covers rather than sweaters. A funny guy at work (in his 60s) keeps telling me how much he loved wearing his KF jerseys in the 1980s. This jersey has got machine stitching inside and it makes it hard and not very flexible. A cropped cardigan is a super idea.

  5. Veronik Avery

    Personally, I would replace all of the ribbing with another colour and make it as long as needed. I also like Rowena’s suggestion – this would be a great opportunity to try steeking, if it’s wool.

  6. ceci

    Great looking cupboard, awaiting more views.

    On the little striped sweater, I am in the “experiment” camp, specifically take off the lower ribbing, steel down the front and pick up stitches for a wide button band and to lengthen it. Maybe you end up with a wearable cardigan, maybe you don’t, but meanwhile you have learned about steeking.


    • fabrickated

      Yes I think I am keen for a learning project. This maybe the moment to finally steek (which I am fearing more than streaking – not that I have ever done that). The cupboard is nearly finished.

  7. Kerry

    I like Rowena’s suggestion, as long as the wool/acrylic will hold up to the alteration process. And it works as a cardigan. But my first thought was – hang on, this was bought for Ted, so maybe let him try it on and if he doesn’t like it or wear it, then it’s all yours! I wear many a cast off (no pun intended) of my children’s these days.

    As for the reinvented EZ saddle-shouldered sweater, it either needs a same-grey-toned top underneath so that the length is ambiguous, or, it could benefit from lengthening. But then I like them a bit longer, except for cardigans, for which it’s a good length. Or wear it with a skirt, which may make the jumper, and outfit more symmetrical (if that makes sense)?

    Bravo, Kate, on all the changes you have made and what you have learned along the way. And thank you for taking us with you on the journey. I have really enjoyed coming back to knitting and embracing plain knitting as I would normally choose some fancy lace or cable affair, but would never have thought myself capable of colour work.

  8. Kerry

    And another thought, it’s possible the stripes are drawing the eye up, and shortening the visual length? Which might make sense of why the cardigan idea feels right – it will create a vertical stripe, and draw the eye away from the stripes and shorter length. I sat in on a styling session last week and the stylist said a vertical stripe deflects from horizontal stripes. I’m not very good on the styling thang, I just know what feels right, so hope this helps rather hinders??!!

  9. Karen Kayes

    I’m not one for altering existing knits, but maybe I should be? Anyway, Dayana knits blog gives great advice on lengthening and altering knits, that I come across, and her work is exquisite. Also that stripy sweater can be cut and sewn for Ted. I’ve overlocked plenty of my knits without any trouble and he’ll soon grow out of it so it doesn’t need to be perfect. Good luck Kate, so glad you found knitting, it’s a wonderful hobby.

  10. Maggie

    Sorry, late to comment. I agree you might have fun experimenting with the thrift store find.

    I have altered sweaters after the fact a few times.

    First, on my first ever sweater, I made the sleeves too wide and too long, so I hacked them off and reknit them.

    Then, a made a pullover that was way too big, so I steeked it by using my machine zigzag, cut it down the front and knit button bands onto it. So I made it smaller and it was also a cardigan by the time I was done. It was sort of my around the house sweater, because I knit it before I fixed the fact I twisted all my stitches.

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