how to alter a sweater


I’ve always loved little jobs that can adapt a piece of clothing or improve it. I’ve adjusted knitwear in the past to narrow it, as well as put darts in shirts, and it’s probably the reason I love polishing shoes so much.

One task I perfected recently was stretching the sleeves of sweaters. Most knitwear is too baggy for me – or anyone in even half-decent shape. I often end up buying a size too small so it’s fits in the waist, and compromise on the sleeve length. This isn’t too bad if you have a shirt underneath it, to take up the last inch or so.

However, it is possible to stretch the sleeves to the perfect length. The key is to start conservatively, so that there is no risk of overstretching or deforming them.

Place the sweater on a table, spray it on both sides with water until moist, then stretch it with your hand and hold for a minute or two before releasing. There are three variables here: saturation, stretch and time, each of which you should take a cautious approach to at the start.

After much experimentation, I found that my mid-weight cashmeres from Loro Piana and Johnston’s lengthened by an inch if I stretched each sleeve by five inches and held them for two minutes. But if you are unsure at all about the material, start more conservatively. Softer, lighter and more open-weave wools will stretch more.

Initially, the sleeve will look as if it has stretched a lot, but it will gradually shrink as it dries. Leave it for a long time – preferably overnight – before trying the length. As with washing a sweater, the best way to dry it is to roll it up in a towel and then place it on a rack, so air can circulate all around it.

The same trick can work with the length of a sweater’s body, but it is very hard to avoid distorting the shape.

Image: Edited from visit to Loro Piana factory, with Andy Barnham. Check out his new site here