Is Your Cardigan Too Big? How To Make a Cardigan Smaller

T-shirt, sweaters, skirts… all of these can be easily shortened, narrowed, let out or even lengthened. But what about cardigans? Can you tailor a cardigan?

Finding a cardigan that fits like a dream can be tricky. Sometimes the arms are too long. Sometimes its too boxy. Sometimes it's an unflattering length. Not all cardigans have the same problem, but all the problems have one thing in common… they all turn what looks perfection on the hanger into something that looks dreadful on the body.

If you’ve got a closet full of cardigans that drown you, squeeze you, or make you feel more frumpy than fabulous, don’t give up on them just yet.

While tailoring a cardigan isn't quite so easy as tailoring a t-shirt, it’s not an impossible task.

Can you tailor a cardigan? Providing you have a sewing kit and the will to use it, altering a cardigan shouldn’t make you break out in a sweat. Although it always helps to have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve before you start….

How to Alter a Cardigan That is Too Big


If your cardigan is 2 sizes bigger than you are, it doesn’t mean you have to put it in the charity dropbox. Not until you’ve tried a few of these quick fixes, in any case.

Method 1 – Boil It - A slight disclaimer before we move onto the steps of this method: don’t even think of trying it if the cardigan is particularly precious to you or if it’s made from a delicate fabric.

Cotton and wool both respond well to the treatment, but less robust fabrics can be easily ruined under too high a heat. If you’re happy to take a slight risk, try it. If not, move onto our second method.

Also, note that this method works best if the entire cardigan is too big – if it fits perfectly at the body but is too big at the sleeves (or vice versa), try something else.

  • Step 1 - Pop the cardigan into the washing machine, making sure you don’t accidentally mix any other garments in with it. Turn the heat to the max and let the boiling water do its magic. Once it’s finished washing, dry at the highest heat.
  • Step 2 - Try the cardigan on for size. If it’s still too big, repeat step 1 until you get the fit just right.

Method 2 – Compare and Contrast - Cardigans have a terrible habit of being shaped in a way that’s more suitable for a box than a person. This next method addresses just that problem, providing a great solution for cardigans that are too wide and (dare we say it?) frumpy.

  • Step 1 - Flip the cardigan inside out and try it on. Pinch the side from the inside seam until you reach a comfortable fit. Pin to secure. Do the same on the other seam.
  • Step 2 - Lay the cardigan flat, still facing the wrong way out. Use a fabric pen to mark where you pinned, then draw a curved line from the underarm seam to the point you want the alteration to end (if the cardigan is too big all the way down, take the line all the way down to the hem). Repeat on the other side.
  • Step 3 - Sew along the lines, keeping the stitches as small and even as possible. Trim the excess fabric between the old and new seam to finish.

How to Shorten a Long Cardigan


Is the hem of your cardigan closer to your knees than your hips? Then it’s time to take action. shortening a cardigan is surprisingly easy, even if your sewing skills are more amateur than professional. In fact, it’s possible to shorten a cardigan without sewing a single stitch.

The No-Sew Method - For this method, you’re going to need some hemming tape, a pair of scissors, a ruler or yardstick, a fabric pen, some pins, and an iron.

  • Step 1 - Try the cardigan on for size. It helps if you stand in front of a full-length mirror for this part. Try folding the hem to different lengths to see which looks best. Once you find a length that suits, mark where you’d like the new edge of the cardigan to sit with a pin.
  • Step 2 - Remove the cardigan and lay it flat on a level surface. Move the pin from where you placed it in the last step down by at least 2 inches up (always be conservative with your measurement – you can always cut more off later, but the same can’t be said for adding more back on). If the cardigan is buttoned, make sure to leave enough space between the last button and where the new hem will sit.
  • Step 3 - Using your ruler, measure from the hem of the cardigan up to the pin. Then, measure this same amount along the outer side seams, starting from the bottom hem. Once you’ve marked both sides, use the straight edge of the ruler to draw a line to connect both marks.
  • Step 4 - Cut a clean line from one side of the cardigan to the other, using the horizontal mark you made in step 3 as your guide.
  • Step 5 - Fold the raw edge of the cardigan up by around an inch. Slot hemming tape into the fold, then press with an iron to secure… and voila, a new length for your cardigan with not a stitch in sight.

Tip: If you only need to make a minor adjustment to the length of the cardigan, you can skip steps 2 – 4 and simply fold and tape the existing hemline.

The Sewing Method -

  • Step 1 - Start by cutting away the hem of the cardigan. Try the cardigan on in front of a mirror, folding the edge until you hit the right length. Place a pin where you want the edge to sit, then continue pinning all the way around the cardigan (it might help to drag a friend in for this part).
  • Step 2 - Take the cardigan off, turn it inside out and lay it flat on a level surface. Using a fabric pen or tailors chalk, dot a line around where the new hem should be. Once you’ve finished, remove the pins.
  • Step 3 - Fold the hem of the sweater up to the line you marked in the previous step, before ironing the fold.
  • Step 4 - Use a capstitch to sew along the hem edge. Tie the threads at the side seams to close the seam.

How do You Alter a Knitted Cardigan?


Making any kind of alteration to a knitted cardigan can be a little frustrating. The reason? The stretch in the knit.

Even the most advanced seamstress can be challenged by stretchy fabric, so it’s little wonder the task can seem daunting to amateurs. Of course, you could always take the easy route and ask a professional to deal with any alterations you need, but where’s the fun in that?

If you’ve got an adventurous spirit (or maybe just a tight budget), try the alterations yourself. While no-one’s going to claim it’s not going to test your sewing skills, it’ll probably be easier than you think.

The trick lies in knowing how knit fabrics are different from woven fabrics, and in understanding how best to manage that difference. Sometimes, it can be as simple as knowing what thread to use, and how you should always avoid working with straight pins... and how you should never, ever pull the knit as you run it through a sewing machine.

To get you started, here are a few golden rules.

Work out the direction of the knit - Some knits stretch in one direction. Others stretch in the opposite direction. Some stretch every which way to heaven.

Work out if the knit stretches horizontally, vertically, or both. Once you know, you’ll have an easier time working out the right type of stitch to use.

Use the right thread - A knit fabric is no place for a cotton thread. Unless you want the thread to snap when it stretches, stick to polyester thread.

Use ballpoint needles - If you want to damage your knit, use a universal needle. If you’d rather not, stick to ballpoint needles.

Use ballpoint pins - In the same way you should always use a ballpoint needle when you’re working with knit fabric, don’t be tempted to use anything other than ballpoint pins. Other pins risk tearing the knit.

Never stretch the fabric - When you’re working with knit fabric, be careful as you run it through your sewing machine. Let the fabric glide through the machine: if you pull it, not only could the stitches end up crooked, you could even damage the fabric.

Use a zig-zag stitch - When you’re sewing with knit fabric, it’s vital to choose the right stitch. A zig-zag stitch will let the knit fabric stretch in the way it’s designed to do, so always chose a zig-zag over a straight stitch.

Can you Shorten a Knitted Cardigan?

Can you shorten a knitted cardigan? Sure. Working with knit fabrics can be more challenging than working with woven fabrics, but it's still possible. Taking up the hem of a cardigan is actually one of the easiest alterations you can make.

Providing you remember the golden rules of working with knit fabrics, both you, and your cardigan, should emerge unscathed from the experience.

How to Shorten a Knitted Cardigan


A cardigan that’s too long can be just as unflattering as one that’s too short. But don’t rip it up for dusters just yet. If the cardigan’s made from a knit fabric, shortening is a little trickier than on other kinds of fabrics, but by no means impossible… as we demonstrate in the following method.

Before you start, grab your supplies. You’re going to need a handful of ballpoint pins, thread (choose one in a color that matches the existing thread), a sharp pair of fabric scissors, a ruler or yardstick, and a tailor’s chalk or fabric pen. The method can be done by hand, but it’ll be less time-consuming and far easier with a sewing machine.

The Method

  • Step 1 - Try the cardigan on in front of a mirror. Check the length from all sides, then mark where you’d like the new edge of the cardigan to sit with a pin.
  • Step 2 - Take the cardigan off and lay it flat. Remove the pin from the spot you marked earlier and move it down the cardigan’s length by around 2 inches. Make sure you have sufficient room between the last button and where the new hem will sit. If there’s not enough wiggle room, move the pin down a little more.
  • Step 3 - Take your ruler or yardstick and measure from the current edge of the cardigan up to the pin. Make a note of the measurement, then measure this much up the outer side seams, starting from the bottom hem. So, for example, if the pin is 4 inches up from the bottom of the hem, measure 4 inches up the side seams. Draw a horizontal line to connect the marks on both side seams.
  • Step 4 - Cut along the horizontal line, making sure to keep the cut as sharp and clean as possible.
  • Step 5 - If you have a serger, serge the raw edge to finish. If not, you can stop the hem unraveling by simply zig-zag stitching along the bottom. If you’d prefer a neater finish, fold the hem by around an inch, making sure there’s still plenty of room between the bottom button and the edge.

Pin the hem in place, then use a zig-zag stitch (or a stretch stitch if the knit fabric has a stretchy fiber like spandex in its blend) to sew along the entire breadth of the new hem.

Keep the hem as flat as possible as you sew, and be careful not to pull the fabric as it goes through the machine.

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