How To: Modern To 1890s Sweater – Refashion Video Tutorial

If you love the look of late Victorian and Edwardian sweaters, but don’t want to knit a whole sweater with those big leg-o’-mutton sleeves: here’s my tutorial on how to turn a modern into an Edwardian-style sweater!

1890s Sweater Refashion Video Tutorial

My refashioned 1890s sweater is inspired by the famous 1890s cycling sweater at the MET museum! 😍 I’ve always wanted a sweater like this with those voluminous sleeves without having to knit the whole sweater!

So over the last few years, I’ve often taken apart modern sweaters and refashioned them into Edwardian-style sweaters. But the problem with most modern sweaters is that there isn’t enough fabric for the huge leg-o’-mutton sleeves that were so popular around the turn of the century! 😆

Related: Edwardian Sweater Refashion & Tam Hat

This refashion is already my 5th historical sweater refashion. And I’m so happy with how my 1890s sweater turned out: this refashioned sweater is finally very close to the original MET cycling sweater. Yay! 😀

1890s Sweater Refashion Before After

Sweater Sleeves & Body Switched!

For my 1890s sweater refashion I used a modern pure cotton knit sweater with an interesting knit pattern from my grandpa.

‘Last year the sleeves were large and bulging at the wrist; this year they are big and loose at the shoulders, down to the elbow. This particular change of fashion […] is a convenient one, for all that is necessary to be done is to take out the sleeves and reverse them, “end for end.”‘ (San Francisco Call, 1905)

For my Edwardian-style cardigan sweater refashion, I’ve already used this tip from the Edwardian era and reversed the sleeves: so the wrist part is now at the shoulder and the shoulder at the wrist. The sleeves turned out cute: like the fashionable bishop sleeves of the early Edwardian era. But it didn’t make the sleeves big enough like the sleeves of the 1890s MET sweater! 😆

Related: Gibson Girl Cardigan Sweater – Refashion Tutorial

So this time, to make the sleeves of my 1890s sweater big enough, I switched the sleeves and body of the sweater! 😄 So the body of the old sweater are now the sleeves of the new sweater, and the sleeves of the old sweater are now the body of the new sweater. To make the new 1890s-style sleeves extra wide and long, I used almost all of the body for the new sleeves. In the 1890s, sleeves that were wide at the upper sleeve and close at the wrist, like leg-o’-mutton sleeves, were very popular. I used the front of the sweater body for one sleeve, and the back of the body for the other sleeve.

And I used the upper part of the old sweater sleeves for the new sweater body. In contrast to Edwardian sweaters (from 1901 onward) with the fashionable pouter pigeon shape, the body of late Victorian sweaters often fitted close to the body.

Related: The Edwardian Sweater Girl + 25 Free Edwardian Sweater Patterns

1890s Sweater Refashion Edwardian Tartan Plaid Wool Walking Skirt
Left: 1890s sweater worn over the skirt & right: refashioned sweater tucked into the skirt and worn with a belt

Zigzagged Seams To Prevent Fraying

I finished all seams of the refashioned sweater with two parallel rows of zigzag stitches. I used zigzag stitches because they’re elastic and stretch with the knit sweater. And I used two rows of zigzag stitches because the first row of zigzag stitches is the actual seam to join the two pieces of fabric together. And I added a second row of zigzag stitches because this makes the seam extra secure and prevents further fraying of the edges, even though store-bought knit fabric doesn’t fray much after the first wash.

Waist-Length Sweater

After making hip-length Edwardian sweaters in the past, I noticed that the peplum isn’t that good. The peplum is the piece of the sweater below the waist. On the one hand, the peplum adds width to the hips and butt which is a good thing in the Edwardian era because wide hips and a big butt were very fashionable in the 1900s! On the other hand, the peplum also adds width to the waist making the waist appear much larger than it actually is: And that’s not a good thing because a small waist was all the rage in the late Victorian and Edwardian era!

So after making countless of refashioned Edwardian sweaters with a peplum in the past, this in now my first refashioned sweater without a peplum: So it’s a fitted waist-length sweater. And this so much better than a hip-length sweater! You wouldn’t expect it but the hip-length sweaters with a peplum never stayed in place: no matter if I wore them over the skirt or tucked into the skirt. Usually, a peplum helps to keep a bodice tucked into the skirt. But the knitted peplum of sweaters never stayed in place. But this tightly fitted rib knit waist of my refashioned 1890s sweater finally stays in place: over the skirt or tucked into the skirt, when I move, and even without a belt – yay! 😀 So all my future late Victorian and Edwardian sweaters will have a fitted waist without a peplum.

To finish the waist and also the sleeves at the wrists, I used matching cotton rib knitted cuffs. I finished the store-bought knit cuffs with a crochet hook. Then I attached the cuffs with two parallel rows of zigzag stitches.

‘Since the college girl adopted her big brother’s sweater […] it has been so feminized […] it has assumed a becoming shape, clinging snugly to the lines of the figure, almost as affectionately as did the old time “Jersey,” […]

The back fits to the figure with hardly a wrinkle and neatly fits to the waist, being held in place by a narrow band that is usually of a finer stitch than the body of the sweater, but matching the collar and cuffs.’  (Los Angeles Herald, January 1906)

Pleated Sleeves

Apart from the 1890s MET cycling sweater, the sleeves of my refashioned sweater are also inspired by this 1900-3 cardigan sweater at the MET museum (this Edwardian sweater also has a fitted waistband), this late Victorian knit sweater at the DAR museum, the knit sweaters in the 1897 book “Fancy And Practical Knitting” and this 1895 knitted sweater from the Delineator.

I attached the sleeves at the shoulder with a box pleat in the center and 4 knife pleats on each side of the box pleat like the sleeves of the 1897 sweater in “Fancy And Practical Knitting” were attached:

‘Lay the top of the sleeve in a box-plait and four side plaits at each side turning from the box-plait. Sew the sleeve in, placing the center of the box-plait at the shoulder seam’ (Fancy And Practical Knitting, 1897).

1890s Sweater Refashion Tutorial Pleated Wide Leg O Mutton Sleeves Shoulder Buttons

Buttons At The Shoulders

To mimic the look of the antique 1890s sweater at the MET museum, I added four buttons at each shoulder. Late Victorian and Edwardian sweaters often had a real opening with button closure at the shoulders to make it easier to pull the sweater over the head without destroying the pompadour hairstyle.

Related: Edwardian Pompadour Hairstyle Tutorial

My next Edwardian sweater will definitely have an opening at the shoulder because you can never pull the sweater over the head after arranging the elaborate Edwardian pompadour that took so long because of the hair waving, arranging the hair over hair rats etc. 😆

Related: Edwardian No-Heat Zig-Zag Waves Tutorial & DIY Edwardian Wire Hair Rat

And you can also never pull the sweater over the head to change clothes during a photoshoot without destroying the pompadour hairstyle. An opening with a button closure at the shoulder would make changing the sweater so much easier! That’s why my next refashioned, knitted or crocheted Edwardian sweater will definitely have a shoulder opening. 😊

Related: Men’s Shirt To Edwardian Blouse Refashion

For the buttons at the shoulder, I tried what type of buttons I liked best. Metal, fabric-covered and mother-of-pearl buttons were popular button choices around the turn of the century. I finally decided to use faux mother-of-pearl buttons because they looked better with the sweater than real mother-of-pearl buttons.

By the way, in the photos I wear my refashioned 1890s sweater with my Edwardian plaid walking skirt that I made from only 1.5 meters of fabric! 😀

Related: Edwardian Plaid Walking Skirt – From 1.5m Fabric

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