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DIY Mission: Turn an Old Sweater Into a Shoulder Bag

Written by Maya Marin

We all know that sweaters are bulky space hogs, which is why, during frenzied closet purges of times past, chunky knits were among the first articles I relegated to the donate pile.

But that was before I discovered that an old sweater is veritable DIY gold with nearly unlimited presto-chango potential.

Doubt me? A quick Google search turns up several ways to recycle sweaters into pillows, hats, mittens, toys, bags, unravel them for yarn, the list goes on. In the end, I opted to turn a not-worn-in-years sweater into a shoulder bag.

My favorite web finds

For terrific sweater recycling ideas, check out craftingagreenworld.com which links to 10 fabulous tutorials for making comfy pillows, clothing for adults and children, plush toys, and more. A similar list of inspired ideas can also be found at diylife.com.

As I was looking for purse projects, this video tutorial (originally from diystyle.net) for a chunky cable knit purse with round bamboo handles caught my attention. But, as I didn’t have purse handles handy, I continued searching. Another great find was this sling purse tutorial at makeit-loveit.com — a pretty number with a flirty satin flower and magnetic closures.

Still on the lookout for more simplicity, I finally chose to base my project on this tutorialat blog.sewhooked.org, primarily because it requires the least amount of materials and re-purposes the sweater sleeves for the strap. (Brilliant!) My version, though, is far simpler in that it only has one pocket.

What I made
Sweater Before Bag After

Step 1: Cut the purse body from your sweater.

From the torso, cut out the desired shape of your purse bottom. The sweater waistband will be the purse opening. For symmetry, fold it in half lengthwise and cut both sides at once. I chose a simple curved shape.

Step 1

Step 2: Cut your lining fabric pieces.

It’s important that you line the purse with a woven, non-stretchy fabric to give it stability. Use your purse body as a template to cut two equal pieces from your lining fabric.

Step 2

Step 3 (optional): Cut a pocket piece from sweater and lining.

I chose to cut one out from the back collar area. You’ll also need to cut an identical piece from the lining fabric.

Step 3

Step 4A-D: Transform the sleeves into the purse strap.

4A: Cut the sleeves.

To make the strap, cut both sleeves in a straight line across. Each will become half of your strap, so adjust their lengths accordingly.

Step 4

4B: Assess your cut-outs.

You should now have: one purse body open at top and bottom, two identical pieces of lining fabric, one pocket piece cut from sweater, one pocket piece cut from lining and two identical sleeve tubes for the strap.

4C: Sew the strap.

Turn one sleeve tube inside out, then place the right-side-out tube inside of it, lining up the seams.

Step 4C

4D: Stitch the sleeves into a strap.

Then, at the narrow wrist opening, stitch the two tubes together all the way around so that they form one long tube when the interior tube is pulled out. Voila! You have your strap. Step 4D Shoulder Strap

Step 5: Make two pouches–one from sweater fabric and another from lining fabric.

Turn your purse body inside out and stitch the bottom shut to make a pouch. Now, with the right sides of the lining fabric together and the wrong sides out, sew the sides and bottom of the body lining shut — but leave a 3-inch (or so) opening at the bottom.

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to leave an opening, as you’re going to be turning your finished purse out of it once you’ve sewn your layers together.

Step 6: Make pocket and attach it to the lining pouch.

If you’re making a pocket, sew the lining to the knit fabric (right sides facing) all the way around, but once again, leaving an opening for turning out. Turn it through and, if your sweater fabric is iron safe (mine wasn’t), you can press it flat.

Then, top stitch your pocket onto the right side of your purse lining. I used a zig-zag stitch to achieve an imperfect applique look. Since I prefer my handmade items to look…well…handmade, I’m not interested in making things look flawlessly factory-finished. Step 6 Pocket

Step 7: Pin it all together.

Make sure your lining pouch is right-side-out. Take one end of your sleeve strap and fold it in half lengthwise, holding the cut edge up. Now, into this fold, sandwich one side of the lining pouch. The lining pouch side seam should meet exactly where the strap is folded in half lengthwise.

Hopefully the photo below will clear up any confusion!Step 7

Pin the strap to the lining. Do the same with the other side. Your strap should be hanging, untwisted, below the lining pouch, with the ends pinned to either side.

Now, turn your knit sweater pouch inside out, take your lining pouch with straps attached (still hanging from the bottom) and put it all inside your inside-out sweater pouch, lining up all the side seams. Making sure that all layers stay in place, re-pin all three layers together, with all the straight edges aligned. Your lining pouch should be right side out, your strap ends should be pinned to the outside of the pouch, and enclosing everything is your sweater pouch, inside out. Almost done!
Step 7

Step 8: Stitch strap to pouches.

Stitch all three layers together at the open edge, but only from strap edge to strap edge. Be very precise about not sewing past the strap edge — you’ll see why in the next step. Do this at both sides.
Step 8

Step 9: Make pleats.

You could have sewn all the way around the opening during that last step and been done, but your knit fabric would have gotten all stretched out, leaving you with more sweater fabric than lining fabric before you were halfway through.

Instead, after sewing the layers together at the straps, I recommend pulling the knit fabric taut on either side, where the straps are joined. Fold the extra fabric over where the strap stitching begins, then pin down these pleats from strap to strap on both sides. See the picture.

Step 9

If you make sure your pleats are placed exactly on either side of the straps, then they’ll look nice and symmetrical on your finished purse. I could have done a better job with this, so learn from my mistake!

Step 10: Sew all the way around the purse opening, turn it all out, then sew the lining opening shut.

Now, sew all the way around the opening–and that’s it! Turn your finished purse out through the opening you left in the lining fabric, then stitch that opening shut. If your fabric is iron-safe, iron down the purse opening edges for a sharper line. Marvel at your DIY success! Step 10 Step 10

About the author

Maya Marin

Maya Marin is not the girl to call for company if you're planning a night out on the town. In fact, this incurable homebody's got an honest boilerplate response for anyone who should extend such an invitation: "Thanks, but I'd rather stay in and make stuff."

And make stuff, she does, regardless of whether or not she has the requisite skills! Anyone with an eye for DIY is more than welcome to join her at home. A believer in self-taught, trial-and-error crafting, she learned how to sew, knit, and crochet entirely via the Internet -- and is confident that you can, too.

To support her crafting habit, she has worked as, among other things, a performing singer-songwriter and advertising copywriter. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three cats.