UPCYCLE That Old Sweater
Add swagger to any project or sweater—handmade or store-bought, firsthand or secondhand—with surface embellishments using that single skein in your stash, notions from your sewing basket, or other bits and pieces too pretty to just throw out. Here are jus
An “embellishing element” can be yarn of any kind, it can be either close in weight to the project yarn or a very different weight, depending on the desired effect. Or it can be something completely different, like a ribbon or fringe trim in a fabric-store notions section.
Looking further to our DIY crafting cousins, why not add jewelry chain, cord, beads, pendants and charms to the mix? Used and placed judiciously so the weight doesn’t overwhelm the background fabric, these can make wonderful embellishments. Do consider the cleaning implications of your choices; on a bag anything goes, but on a sweater you’ll need to plan for washing!
This technique is a classic, often used for adding names to Christmas stockings, for adding color in small sections of intarsia, and for “fixing” mistakes in other types of knits.
With yarn threaded on a tapestry or darning needle and the right side facing, follow the path of the knit stitches over and under, taking the needle to the back to move it up, down or sideways.
With duplicate stitch you can create designs on existing fabric, allowing you free rein to “draw” whatever shapes you wish. Since its building blocks are stitches, your shapes are somewhat constrained by their dimensions. For example, stockinette stitch stitches are usually wider than they are tall (e.g., five stitches but seven rows to the inch using worsted-weight yarn).
The free-form shape at bottom right of the yellow swatch is worked in yarn that contrasts with the background, but is approximately the same thickness, or weight. The single-stitch “dots” of color to its left are a multicolored ribbon. Below, on the pink swatch, a tiny pyramid of glitzy yarn wound with hues related to the background draw the eye.
Drawing With Hook & Needle
Duplicate stitch’s constraints are removed when you pick up a crochet hook, or a knitting or tapestry needle for these techniques.
With yarn at the wrong side of the work and hook in hand, slip-stitch crochet through the work to create free-form shapes. Or work on the right side and insert the hook sideways through loop(s) or the tops of stitches, yarn around the hook, and work a single crochet (sc) stitch.
If a crochet hook is not your cup of tea you can pick up stitches with a knitting needle, either by working through the fabric as for slip-stitch crochet or on the right side by inserting a needle through one loop of several stitches and knitting (or purling!) them. You can either bind off as you pick up, or work an entire row first for a raised look.
With yarn on a tapestry needle, one can simply weave over/ under stitches, either to create single straight lines, or to fill in areas. Draw it out on graph paper, use an existing intarsia chart, or be inspired with needle in hand. You can go over more than one stitch, but be aware of how long the resulting strand will be, since long ones can catch unexpectedly on fingers and sharp edges!
Couching is another option for creating lines and curves on fabric. Lay down a strand of yarn, cord or other element in the desired shape, and with sewing thread (to hide it) or a contrasting yarn (to highlight it), work evenly spaced stitches over the top of strand to hold it in place.
On the yellow swatch, the white/blue/orange/pink multi and yellow ribbon arrows are slip-stitch crochet, while the pink multicolored with beads is single crochet. The lilac and blue-green chains are pick-up/bind-off chains; each uses both immediate pick-up/bind-off and work a row/bind-off techniques. Weaving is shown in the violet “seeded triangle” at upper left, and couching is on the other side of the swatch, worked invisibly in thread across the spiral of twisted cord trim.
Buttons, Beads & MORE
Why stop at sewing on buttons and beads? Repurpose old jewelry chains, charms, the lone earring in your jewelry box you just can’t part with—the list of possibilities goes on and on. The yellow swatch has flowers made from old ribbon sewn on, some plain buttons on top of a chain, and uses jump rings to attach pretty stitch markers.
Buttons are stacked to add to a 3-D impact, some O-rings from the craft store are attached two ways, one which covers the bar through the center while the other exposes it. Beads are slipped onto a safety pin that is sewn diagonally onto the fabric, and also attached in more customary fashion by stringing them on yarn sewn to fabric (in this case backstitched in place).
Jewelry chains could be attached as watch chains to waistcoats. Purple ribbon runs through one chain, holding it into an “S” shape. The other chain was slipped onto yarn between stitches during the duplicate stitching that was done across the fabric.
Trims can be sewn directly onto knit fabric, as with the green fringe on the yellow swatch. Or, in traditional knitting fashion, make fringe out of yarn but use something different in some manner from the background. Fuzzy pink fringe is different in texture, but related in color.
Finally, embroider on your fabric! Play with scale, working with yarns much larger than the fabric and/or work across multiple rows and stitches, as with the cross stitch and blanket stitch on the pink swatch.
Small groupings of lazy daisies (purple suede), French knots and bullion stitches (both orange) can be sprinkled across a yoke or along a border or cuff. Chain stitches (blue-green) can wind into shapes, as can back stitches (fuzzy green); although, on here they are presented vertically. And satin stitches (coral) can be used to fill shapes or, as they are here, to create a cross-hatch effect in a shape. The raised purple and gray sari yarn is satin stitch worked over a crochet hook (pulled out later!) held onto the fabric to create a raised cocoon shape.
Whew! We’ve just brainstormed a ton of embellishment ideas! But how to arrange them on a garment, bag or other project?
With the base item in hand, gather all the embellishing elements you are considering. Are there any elements or techniques that you absolutely want to use? Start your planning with those and where you think they will look best. No need to work techniques, just try grouping or laying things out, looking at color, texture, patterns and so forth, seeing how they interact.
Look for contrast in color and texture. Try playing with variations on the same hue, or using very different contrasting colors. How do rough elements (fuzzy yarn, jewelry chain) interact with smooth ones (buttons, mercerized cottons)? Contrast creates visual interest, grabbing the eye.
Finally, look at repeating elements, colors and textures to help unify the design and prevent it from looking haphazard. Bottom borders, cuffs and/or necklines are great areas for repeating elements. And enjoy the process of creating a one-of-a-kind piece!
Yarns, fabric trim, buttons, beads, charms, stitch markers, the single earring that remains when the other one is lost—any of these can be attached to your sweater!
Techniques include duplicate stitch, crochet and knit chains, couching and weaving. Elements include beads (spun on the pink yarn), buttons, stitch markers on jump rings, ribbon flowers, fringe trim from the notions counter.
Techniques include embroidery: cross stitch, blanket stitch, chain stitch, lazy daisy, bullion stitch, back stitch and satin stitch. Elements include beads, buttons, O-rings, ribbon flowers and jewelry chains.