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10 Ways to Upcycle Ugly Christmas Sweaters

During the first several years of my marriage, a well-meaning member of my husband’s family gave me an ugly Christmas sweater. Lacking the heart to re-gift it, I shoved it to the back of my closet (with all the other ugly sweaters I couldn’t re-gift). Then a few months ago, I stumbled upon a website showing new uses for old sweaters. An endless amount of upcycling possibilities raced through my mind! I not only raided my closet, but also the closets of my husband and teenage sons. Here are some of the fun projects in my list.


If you’ve ever successfully traced your hand on a piece of paper, then you have already accomplished the first step in creating mittens from old sweaters. Here are all the instructions for creating a pair of unique mittens to wear, or share!

  • When tracing your hand on paper, make sure to close your four fingers and be generous with the thumb allowance. I can’t speak for other crafters, but the biggest mistake in crafting my first pair of mittens was making the thumb too small.
  • Draw an outline around the shape that is about half an inch away from the first. Use this line to cut the pattern. This gives a 1/4″ seam allowance while leaving plenty of room for finger wiggling inside each mitten.
  • Pin the paper to the sweater and cut, following the shape of the pattern. You will need two pieces for each mitten. Line up the bottom of the mitten pattern to the bottom of the sweater to avoid needing to hem the final product. However, it is not necessary for the sweater’s designs or patterns to line up, and intentionally misaligned patterns may even create a more whimsical or interesting design.
  • With wrong sides out, sew around the mitten using a 1/4″ seam allowance. If you didn’t line up the bottom of the pattern with the natural hemlines of the sweater, now is the time to also add a hem to your mitten.
  • Turn the mitten right side out, and you are halfway to warmer hands!

Mittens created from old sweaters are not just a great way to upcycle outdated sweaters, but they make great gifts – especially for children. Winter in the mountains sometimes means subzero temperatures. When I have to drive anywhere, I am quite thankful for my own upcycled mittens that keep my hands from having to make direct contact with the freezing cold steering wheel. Just remember with this and other upcycled sweater projects, save the cleaning instructions from the garment to avoid washing or drying on the wrong settings.

Stuffed Animals

If you have never followed a sewing pattern, then I highly recommend that you try the above mitten pattern first. Otherwise, search the Internet for “free stuffed animal sewing patterns” and pick one that looks relatively easy. Instead of cutting the required shapes from fabric, cut them from an old sweater instead. If you use an ugly Christmas sweater, or some other sweater with a design, experiment with lining up the pieces over specific patterns for a unique look.

No matter how bad you think the project is going, stick with it through the end! If the end result turns out completely horrible, there are options for the poor creature. Add a pair of mismatched button eyes and throw it in your family’s donation box of things headed for the local thrift store. Leave the buttons off for a unique handmade pet toy. If you don’t have pets, animal shelters and pet rescue groups love donations!

Patchwork Scarves and Blankets

Cut out squares from old sweaters. Sew the ends together, connecting them to make a long rectangle, and hem the sides. You just created a patchwork scarf! Because the backs of scarves are often as interesting to look at as the front, forego a lining for a fun, reversible option. Sew several scarves together to make a funky patchwork blanket.

Pillows and Pillow Cases

A few different options exist for creating pillows from old sweaters. This is an especially fun project when using an ugly Christmas sweater or any others that boast a pattern or design. Just cut two squares from an old sweater and sew them with the wrong sides together, leaving a three-inch opening in one side. Turn it right side out, stuff with fiberfill, and then hand stitch the bottom closed.

Or you could make a removable pillowcase! Cut one square and one rectangle from an old sweater, using an existing sofa pillow to gauge size. (Like with the mittens, trace around it, and then create an outline about 1/2″ from the tracing for seam allowance and wiggle room.) Sew three sides together, and then hem the open ends to prevent fraying.

Don’t be afraid to play around with this one. Angle the long end of the rectangle to vary the design. Angel both ends in to make a point, creating an envelope shape. Once you’re happy with the look, fold the long end of the rectangle over the square. Depending on your level of craftiness, or how brave you are in trying new things, use buttons, velcro, or zippers to hold it closed.

Both options are fun, and they make great gifts. If you’re short on time or stuck wondering how to use up those leftover sweater pieces, try a miniature pillow. Add some potpourri to create a scented sachet.

Jar Cozy

This past year for Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a beautiful candle in an oversized jar. Scented with juniper and sage, the candle itself smelled amazing. But even better was the elegant knitted cozy wrapped around the glass. What she paid was a bit outrageous, but duplicating the project costs less—much less. If you have the items lying around, you may even be able to do this for free!

Cut a piece of paper one inch bigger than the height you would like to make the cozy. (I use newspaper because its of its size and availability.) Measure the jar’s circumference and cut the paper at least one inch longer. This is your pattern.

Using the pattern, cut the shape from an old sweater. Create a cylinder by sewing the ends together and then hem the top and bottom of the cozy. For a different look, align one end of the pattern with the natural hem of the sweater when cutting. Hem the top and bottom first and then overlap the natural hem to create the cylinder.

And that’s it! If the sweater lacks any kind of natural design or pattern, you can add buttons or felted flowers to give it a whimsical, homespun look.

Slippers and Leg Warmers

Sewing patterns for slippers are in abundant supply on the Internet, and as with the stuffed animals, you just cut out the pieces from sweater material instead of fabric. Leg warmers are another fun project and even easier. Lay your sweater on a flat surface. Cut the arms off just under the armhole, making sure the cut you make is parallel to the opening for the wrist, creating a tube of woven material. Turn it inside out. If it’s necessary to make the upper arm area narrower, now is the time to take care of that. Finally, hem the cut end and turn right side out. Making leg warmers was never so easy! The best part about this project is that all sweaters have two sleeves, so you always have a perfectly matched set.

Knitted Headbands

Knitted headbands are a great way to keep warm, but store-bought ones are sometimes pricey. If you don’t know how to knit or are short on time, try creating one from an old sweater. Use a shoestring to measure around your head. With that measurement in mind, cut a strip of sweater material that is the same length and about three inches wide. With wrong sides out, connect the ends to make a cylinder and hem the sides. Turn it right side out and you now have a one-of-a-kind knitted headband.

Pet Sweaters

Sometimes closets are unfortunate enough to house two of the same type of ugly Christmas sweater. If this happens and you are a pet owner, then you are fortunate enough to have an extra option available when upcycling old sweaters. Alter the second sweater for your pet! Using an existing pattern for pet clothing in the proper size and cut the shapes from a sweater instead of fabric. Incorporate the sweater’s natural designs and embellishments (like cables and ribbing) into your pet’s new garment to create something that will turn him into this season’s dog park fashionista.

Vendors at websites like Uncommon Goods and Etsy sell items like the ones above, but you can save money while increasing your closet space when you tackle the projects on your own. Whether you’ve upcycled sweaters in the past or are new to this kind of craft, I’d love to hear about it! Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section, and good luck with your projects!

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