Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | December 1, 2012

The Sweater Project

Each year, as the days grow shorter, I find myself in the mood to hunker down indoors and do some sewing.

Now, I will be the first one to admit that although one of my sisters is an accomplished seamstress, the other excels in spinning and knitting, and one of my nieces is a talented fashion designer in Portland…I did not inherit the gene for these particular abilities.

Growing up, while my sisters were turning out lovely garments, I was ripping out my zipper for the fifteenth time, or sewing striped fabric in two different directions – not noticing it until the garment was complete, and unwearable!

So, I don’t really understand why I go back to this “need to sew” in the winter, but nevertheless I do. Perhaps it is a throwback to more primal times when women would sit indoors on cold winter days and fashion clothing for the family.

Last year when the sewing mood struck, I sat myself down and took stock of what I had to work with.

#1 – I live in a camper so there is not much room to set up for sewing. #2 I did not own a sewing machine so all work would have to be done by hand. #3 It is a 1.5 hour drive to the closest fabric store. #4 I operate on a low budget. #5 Although I love to dream up sewing projects, I lack a bit in the follow-through-to- completion category.

After contemplating these issues, it was obvious that I needed to find something to make from locally procured materials that was quick to make, inexpensive and relatively easy.

With all of this in mind, I got online and started searching for inspiration, which I found in a variety of useful things that could be made out of – who would have thought – old wool sweaters that had been felted. So, I thought to myself, EUREKA! All I had to do was go down to the thrift shop and buy some old wool sweaters and I would be in business!

My first trip to the thrift shop was a huge disappointment. The big rack of sweaters yielded just one small cornflower blue wool sweater…all the rest were acrylic or cotton, and not “felt-able”….but at least I could test out the process on this one meager find.

The felting process turned my sweater into a mere shadow of its former self, and I had just enough material to stitch up a winter hat and set of mittens. They turned out pretty well, but the pain in my hands from all that hand sewing brought me to the realization that I was too old to sustain this kind of work for long, (but that wasn’t really a problem since I had run out of sweaters).

When I mentioned the lack of thrift shop wool sweaters in Truth or Consequences to one of my sisters during a phone conversation, she thought that she might be able to help, and for my birthday in March I received the gift of five wonderful wool sweaters which were already felted and ready to go!

Of course, by March, I had switched from “sewing” to “garden” mode, so I set them aside for the time being…but the sweaters kept calling to me.

Periodically I looked online to see what other crafters were doing with their sweaters, and searched for a pattern to follow that would make the process easy ~ to no avail. Of course, there were options out there, but interpreting someone else’s explanation of the process made it seem more difficult than I was sure it would be.

So, one day last month, as the days grew shorter, I decided to set to work, and just pull out a sweater and do some “zen crafting”, by letting the sweater tell me what it would like to become in its next life. I did set some parameters, though, in deciding that I would make “bags”, as I was concerned that a totally open-ended approach could lead to all day-dreaming and zero productivity.

Then, I remembered how sore my hands were last year after just one day of sewing, and I did not want to go through that again. One quick trip to the store later, and I was the proud owner of a brand new, very inexpensive, basic sewing machine that could be easily stashed when not in use…now I was really in business!

Today, after consulting with my five sweaters and spending a minimum amount of time at the sewing machine, I am happy to share the results of my winter “Sweater Project”….none of them is perfect, and not really what I first imagined it would be ~ I learned to work with the material as I went along, but hopefully, what they lack in technique, they make up for in cleverness!

My first attempt...a large, double handled bag with a pocket on the front.

My first attempt…a large, double handled bag with a pocket on the front.


Smaller, striped shoulder bag with black grosgrain ribbon trim on handle and pocket.

Detail of button and ribbon trim on pocket

Detail of button and ribbon trim on pocket

Large, double handled shoulder bag.

Large, double handled shoulder bag.

Hobo bag with woven belt for strap. Metal buckle detail will hold car keys

Hobo bag with front pocket and woven belt for strap. Metal buckle detail will hold car keys


Buckle detail.

Last but not least, a soft shoulder bag with pleats and decorative button.

Last but not least, a soft shoulder bag with pleats and decorative button.

Button detail.

Button detail.

I truly enjoyed working on The Sweater Project, and plan to continue……as soon as I have located some new old sweaters to repurpose!



  1. Barb, your purses are beautiful! I think you did a lovely job!

  2. You’ve been a busy girl. Very nice purses!!! I think you could sell them.

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