February 22, 2017

DIY Embellished 50's Sweater

Sometimes when you are watching a film, a costume will be so pretty that it will break your concentration on the story. Now some will say this is bad costuming, because it brings you out of the narrative, and it is indeed bad news when a costume is too over the top, awful, inaccurate, or otherwise distracting. However, some things are just really pretty though, and perhaps it is because I have my eye tuned to pick up on costuming anyways that this phenomenon happens for me more often then would otherwise be usual. 

Well, I fell for this lovely sweater in Brooklyn, and I immediately wished it would get in my closet!

Saoirse Ronan as “Eilis Lacey” in BROOKLYN. Photo by Kerry Brown. © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved
That is one cute sweater! I loved the costuming in Brooklyn in general, but this was one piece I could actually come close to recreating on the fly. I had two simple sweaters from Lindy Bop that I hadn't been wearing as much as I thought I would when I got them, so I decided it was meant to be-- one of them had to get embellished à la Brooklyn.

There are a few things to keep in mind before you dive into embellishing a sweater, so I took some photos along the way to show you all how I went about decorating mine. All you need is: a sweater, a needle and thread, and whichever beads/sequins/rhinestones/other jazzy stuff you want to sew on.

I think it is best to start out by laying everything flat and playing around with the design and placement. A good place to get some inspiration (as always) is on Pinterest looking at 1950's beaded cardigans, as there are plenty of pretty ones of those around! You could of course embellish a button down cardigan just as easily as a pullover sweater.

To start I knew I wanted to copy the tiny pearl lined neckline from the Brooklyn sweater. Using a length of thread (doubled and knotted) to match the color of my sweater, I sewed each small pearl bead on using the ribbing of the neckline as a guide to space the beads out evenly. The key with embellishing a knit garment though is this: remember this thing is still going to need to stretch! 

If I simply used one length of thread to sew on all of the beads around the neckline, the neckline would no longer be able to stretch when I tried to put on the sweater. So what does this mean? It means I sewed on three beads, tied a knot in the thread, cut the thread, then started over for the next three beads. This break in the line of thread every three beads ensured my neckline would still stretch when I went to wear my sweater!

This same remember-the-stretch principal should inform your other decisions about how many beads/sequins/what-have-you to sew on before tying off and starting a "new" thread. The more stitches (and the farther apart/longer they are) done with one piece of thread, the less that area will be able to stretch afterwards. So to be cautious, and help inform my design as I went, I sewed the next set of beads on individually, starting the thread and tying it off again after each bead. Yes this is a bit time consuming, but put on a podcast and lean into the activity of some good old fashioned hand sewing.

You can see in the photo above that instead of just eyeballing the placement of the rhinestone/beads I used a ruler to mark dots (with a colored pencil in this case) 1 inch down from the pearls and an inch and a half over from one another.

Sew-on rhinestones with a bezel like these have holes on the underside so you can sew them onto your projects.

After I had the rhinestones sewed on, I added some diamond shaped sequins in silver in gold on either side of the jewel. As you can see above these sequins have two holes which make them a snap to sew on. To sew on a single hole sequin by itself, you can stitch up from inside the center hole and then come back down on the outside of the sequin, or if you don't want to see a stitch like that, use a tiny seed bead threaded onto your needle before taking it back down the center hole again.

To create little daisy-ish round designs, simply sew on a bead or sequin and then thread the needle up through the material on one side, slide on some smaller beads (in my case seed beads, enough to reach around the pearl) to fit and then move the needle back down through the fabric in the same place you started, creating a little loop of beads next to the one you would like the smaller beads to surround.

Simply push this loop over the bead and then tack it in place with a few stitches! (See above)

I almost thought I was done at one point, but then I added a few more pearls, this time little rice shaped ones, in between the sequin embellishments. After the pearls I called it done and tried on the sweater to make sure everything looked all right. You can of course add as many or as few embellishments as you'd like!

I am really pleased with how this little project came out and I think I will wear this sweater more now that it is sparkly and fun! Do keep in mind that such embellishing work could render your sweater dry clean or hand wash only of course, especially with beads like faux pearls as heavy washing could remove the pearly finish from the beads.

I hope this was helpful for any of you thinking of embellishing some knitwear :) It's time for me to get back to some different sewing, as I finally try to fix my bodice pattern once and for all!


  1. That looks fab! It's such a great idea.

    1. Thanks Mim! It's a fun way to spend time listening to a podcast and drinking tea for sure <3

  2. I love it! Can't wait to try it out

  3. Beautiful work! Thanks for the tutorial. I haven't done much embellishing of knits, so your tips are very helpful.
    The Artyologist

  4. Such a good idea and it looks great. I'm glad you said about the need to still let the fabric stretch, I would probably have forgotten that!

  5. Love this sweater, so stunning! Would you ever consider to do a YouTube tutorial of this?


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