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Transform your favourite old sweaters into cosy new treasures

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A favourite sweater is like an old friend - warm and cosy. But when it's worn to tatters, then what?

You can't simply throw it away. (You wouldn't toss out an old friend, right?)

Designer Stefanie Girard, 39, of Burbank, Calif., works with many materials - beads, fabric, yarn, to name a few - but her current passion is turning old wool sweaters into fun new clothing and home accessories. As a designer of crafts for books, television and the web, she is a woman bitten by the crafting world's recycling bug.

"Cutting up a sweater, you can have instant satisfaction," she says.

Girard proves there are many ways to slice a sweater. Her book, "Sweater Surgery: How to Make New Things with Old Sweaters" (Quarry Books), has instructions for 35 projects, including purses and pillows, mittens, scarves, hats and stuffed animals. The projects include two whose no-sew instructions are below: a tissue-box cosy and felted beads.

Don't stop at these two simple projects. Hit the thrift stores for wool sweaters, no matter how outdated, because this book will beckon you back to try another craft. Martha Stewart Living's website also includes several recycled-sweater projects.


Tissue-Box Turtleneck Cosies

This project requires no sewing. The stretchy fabric's cut edges are not likely to unravel.


Small, square tissue box

Knit turtleneck (thin and super-stretchy works best)

Sharp scissors


From cuff, measure 12 to 14 inches and cut off the entire sleeve. Slip this stretchy tube, cuff up, over the tissue box. Roll the cuff down about 1 1/2 inches to create a turtleneck at the top of the tissue box. Keep fabric beneath the tissue box to a minimum, and it ought to stretch flat.

Notes: If the preferred design element is elsewhere on the sleeve, you can omit the cuff. Simply roll the fabric twice, as in instructions above, to create the new "turtleneck." Also, if the turtleneck has a seam, place it along a corner or back edge of the tissue box.


Swirl Beads

Note: You will need to "felt" the wool sweaters, a process that may take several hours.


Wool sweaters in different thicknesses and co-ordinating colours

Zippered pillow protector (or use a pillowcase and safety pins)

Straight pins

20-gauge wire

Needle with eye large enough to thread the wire

Needle-nose pliers

Wire cutters


1. First, the sweaters must be felted: Place them in a zippered bag or pillowcase (depending on the size of the sweaters, you may need more than one pillowcase) in a washing machine with plenty of hot water, one or more clean towels and some laundry detergent (the towels help speed the felting process). The longer the sweaters are in the wash, the more compact the wool fibres will become, and the stiffer the sweaters will be. Check the sweaters after a few minutes. If you like what you see, remove them and air dry them flat on dry towels, blocking (or smoothing) them out. Otherwise, wash them longer, until they felt to your desired thickness. (Note: The zippered bag or pinned pillowcase helps keep wool fibres from clogging your washing machine.)

2. Cut strips of felted sweaters about 1/2-inch wide and as long as possible. For swirl beads about 1 inch in diameter, you'll need strips 4 to 5 inches long. For larger swirls, about 2 inches in diameter, you'll need strips that are 11 to 13 inches long.

3. To form the swirl, wrap the end of one strip over the edge of the second strip and coil it until the swirl is the desired size. Cut the outside strip 3/8 inch longer than the underside strip. Use a straight pin to hold the swirl closed. Repeat, making as many swirls as you want.

4. Using the needle, insert a length of wire and crimp it onto the needle. Insert the needle and wire into the top of a swirl bead and pull it through, leaving wire at each end of the bead. Use the pliers to form a loop at each end of the wire and cut the wire. (Note: It helps to spin the needle as you poke it through the swirl bead.)

5. Use swirl beads in jewelry-making or other crafting projects. Try alternating them with glass beads and chain links to make a necklace.


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