The cuffs on a sweatshirt, hoodie, or sweater tend to get a lot more wear than the rest of the garment, and the ribbing and neckband can often end up looking really rough when most of the sweatshirt is still in fine shape. How do you replace them, quickly and easily, and make the garment look like new again?
My mother has owned this chickadee cardigan sweatshirt for almost as long as I can remember. It was a gift, and apparently she’s quite attached to it, because she asked me to fix it up instead of throwing it out. The cuffs were falling apart, and some of those stains are from roofing cement (my mother is hardcore).
Well, I couldn’t get all of the stains out, and I don’t think I quite made it look like new again. But I did it a lot of favors by giving it new cuffs and a matching neckband. This tutorial will tell you how I did it, so that you can replace the worn-out cuffs or neckband on a sweater, hoodie, or sweatshirt of your own. And if you like mending and remaking worn garments, check out some of my other tutorials on that topic!
I would have done most of this on the serger (overlock machine), but I know that a lot of people just own a standard sewing machine. For many years, that was all I owned too, and I thought the tutorial would be useful to more people if I avoided the serger entirely. If you do want to use a serger, you should use it for all of the stitching in the tutorial where I’m using dark green thread. You can use the differential feed to curve the neckband if you need to, and topstitch (everything I did with light gray thread) using a conventional machine.
But you truly don’t need a serger to do this project, especially if your new cuff fabric only stretches in one direction. A standard sewing machine will sometimes stretch a knit fabric out of shape along a stitching line, and that can be tricky to manage. But with this particular project, the only seams you will be making are seams that go along with the non-stretchy direction of the fabric, and seams that you actually WANT to stretch out as you sew. So don’t be afraid to give this technique a try, even if knit fabrics have frustrated you in the past.
Choose a sturdy knit fabric for the new cuffs that coordinates with the rest of the garment. Ideally, the fabric should only stretch in one direction. I chose this dark green knit fabric that complemented the color of the pine needles on the front of the cardigan. It’s actually leftover yardage from the first (or second?) garment I ever made! So it’s pretty old, but hey, it’s not as old as the sweatshirt.
You can also get ready-made ribbing on Amazon that comes in lots of different colors, and this may be a good option for you, particularly if you don’t have any leftover knit fabric hanging around. (One of the 100 cm strips in that link would have been plenty to do the cuffs and neckband.) But since I have so many scraps lying around, I have never bought ribbing. I just cut strips of knit fabric like I’m doing here.
I started by using a seam ripper to remove the old cuffs. The original cuffs were smaller than the ends of the sleeves, to gather the sleeves in at your wrists. This is pretty typical of ready-to-wear sweatshirts, and if it were my sweatshirt, I’d make the new cuffs a little wider, just because that’s my preference. But I asked my mother, and she said she wanted the cuffs to be smaller and tighter like they were originally, so that the sleeves would stay put when she pulled them up to wash her hands or whatever.
The pieces for the new cuffs were each cut 4″ by 10″ (10 cm by 25 cm). Here’s how I determined the dimensions I’d use:
The cuff will end up folded (the fold will sit against your hand) to give a nice, clean finish to the sweatshirt. So you need to cut the cuffs twice as long as you want them to end up, plus about 1/2″ for seam allowances. The old cuffs were a little under two inches (5 cm) long, so I cut my fabric 4″ long. Two inches is a pretty standard finished length for a sweatshirt cuff, but you can make the cuffs as long or as short as you’d like.
To figure out the width of the cuff pieces, I measured the end of the sleeve while it was lying flat. Then cut the cuff pieces 1″ narrower than the end of the sleeve, making sure that the cuff fabric was folded. My sleeve end measured 6″ (15 cm) when it was flattened out, so my cuff pieces were cut 5″ wide on the fold (so really they are each 10″ wide).
The “one inch shorter on the fold” thing is a good starting point, but as long as you can get your hand through them, the exact length and width of your cuff pieces is up to you. However, make sure you cut them on the crosswise grain of the fabric, so that the stretch of the fabric will go around your wrist. This is important! The picture also has the grainline marked on it, so you can make sure that you aren’t cutting the cuff pieces out sideways.
Prepare your sewing machine with a size 14 ballpoint needle (it might be called a size 90 stretch needle, depending on where you live). Thread it with thread that matches your cuff pieces, and use the widest zigzag with a stitch length of about 1.3 mm (20 stitches per inch). Fold the cuff pieces in half, right sides together, with the 4″ edges meeting each other. Then sew the two 4″ sides together, so that you have two tubes. You should be sewing in the non-stretchy direction of the fabric for this seam.
Now fold the cut edges of the cuff pieces to meet each other, so that you have kind of a doughnut shape, with the seam you just made on the inside. In the picture above, the cuff on the left has been folded, and the one on the right has not. The cut edges are going to be sewn to the sweatshirt sleeve, and the folded edge will be the finished edge of the new cuff.
Now you need to “quartermark” the ends of the sleeves and the cut edges of your cuff pieces. Quartermarking just means to place a pin (or other mark) at the 1/4, halfway, and 3/4 points of the cut edges. The seams will be your starting and ending points. Flatten the fabric so that the seam is at one edge, and place a pin at the opposite edge. Now meet the seam and the pin together, and place pins at the two new folds.
Place the end of the sleeve inside the cuff piece, with all 3 of the cut edges meeting. The sleeve should be right-side out, and the cuff should be on the outside of the sleeve, like in the picture above. Line up the cuff seam with the seam on the sweatshirt sleeve. If your sewing machine has a free-arm feature, you should definitely use it here.
Sew a few tacking stitches, and then (with the needle down) stretch the cuff so that the first pin on the cuff lines up with the first pin on the sleeve. Make sure that you’re not sewing the sleeve closed; you want to be going through three layers of fabric, not six. Sew with the cuff stretched, making sure that the first two pins stay lined up. Then, just before you reach the pins, remove them and stretch the cuff so that the next two pins line up. Continue sewing all the way around each cuff this way, always making sure that the 3 cut edges stay lined up so that they will all be caught in the stitching.
When you’re done, you should have something that looks like this.
Now fold the cuff outwards, to conceal the seam and flip the cuff off of the sleeve. Ta-daa! It looks much better now.
You can stop here if you want to, but I’m going to topstitch the cuff seam allowances down in a minute, to keep them flat and out of the way so that the sweatshirt is a little more comfortable to put on and wear. I’m going to be using gray thread to do the topstitching, so first I will make the new neckband and finish sewing with the dark green thread.
The ends of the old neckband were integrated into the placket (the front edge of the sweatshirt where the buttons and buttonholes are) at the top, and serged to several pieces that I wasn’t going to be removing. I decided to just cut the old neckband out without removing any stitches whatsoever. The old outer ribbing is in bad shape, and I was hoping to leave that in place to preserve the layered look of the cardigan. The more I un-pick and re-sew the stitches, the worse the old ribbing is going to look.
You will want to make the new neckband quite a bit shorter than the neckline of the sweatshirt… usually four inches (10 cm) shorter than the neckline is reasonable, but it does depend on the stretchiness of your fabric. (Make sure that the stretch of the fabric will be going around your neck!) If your sweatshirt is a pullover, take a minute to make sure that you can get the new neckband over your head. And you might want to do a test fit in the neckline of the sweatshirt, using lots of pins. If the neckline is saggy and gaping, then shorten the neckband. And if it’s pulled too tight and puckered, then cut a longer neckband.
If your sweatshirt is a pullover, you can replace the neckband the same way I replaced the cuffs. Sew the neckband into a circle, and then fold it in half and quartermark the neckband and sweatshirt neck. Usually, the neckband seam is matched to one of the shoulder seams of the sweatshirt, but you can also put the neckband seam in the center back if you’d like. And you can’t use each shoulder seam as one of your quartermarks, because the front edge of the neckline is always longer, and the two shoulder seams will not be equal distances apart. So use one shoulder seam as your starting point, and fold the neckline to place pins for the three remaining quartermarks.
Since my mother’s sweatshirt was a cardigan, I needed a long neckband with two finished edges. The neckband piece for my mother’s sweatshirt was cut 2.5″ (6.35 cm) by 17″ (43 cm), again on the crosswise grain, so that the stretch of the fabric would go around the neck.
Then, the fabric was folded in half (right sides together) so that the strip was 1.25″ by 17″, and the two short ends were sewn from the fold to the cut edge. Now the piece was flipped, so that the right sides were facing out, and the short seams ended up on the inside, which gives us a nice neat finish for the two ends. In the picture above, you can see that one end is still wrong-side out, and the other seam has been flipped and looks nice and finished.
With the neckband piece right-side out, I sewed the long cut edges together with that same wide zigzag I’ve been using the whole time. Since you’re sewing in the stretchy direction of the fabric, the stitches will cause the fabric to stretch out of shape and form a curve. But this is exactly what we want to happen. The now-curved piece is going to fit the shape of the neckline a lot better.
See how it folds? It kind of looks like a collar! Now the edges of the new neckband are finished, without needing to stitch through the old neckline ribbing more than necessary. (If your sweatshirt is a pullover, remember you won’t need to do this step. You will be sewing the neckband on just like the cuffs.)
I lined up the new neckband piece on the inside of the collar, so that the cut edges were just above the edge of the old ribbing that I’d sliced off. The new piece of fabric was pinned in place through the old gray ribbing every couple of inches.
The two worn ends of the gray ribbing were folded under at an angle, to make them look a little neater and hide the ragged edges.
Now I topstitched through all of the layers. I used the old seam as a guide to keep my stitches straight, and moved the fabric so that the edge of the presser foot stayed along that line. I removed the pins as I came to them, and tacked down the angled folds I made on the ends of the old ribbing. There is an extra line of gray stitching on the ribbing now, as you can see in the picture above. But I feel like that was the better option instead of un-sewing the whole neckline and the top of the placket. The topstitching is hardly visible, and really, it looks better than all of those stains I couldn’t get out. Lol!
One last thing: remember how I was going to topstitch the seam allowances on the cuffs down? This isn’t really necessary, and the original cuffs on a sweatshirt are hardly ever topstitched, so nobody expects you to bother. But it will make the inside a little flatter and smoother. I folded the seam allowances so that they were going towards the gray fabric instead of the green (you can press them if you want to). Then I sewed a line of straight stitching on the gray fabric, very close to the edge of the cuffs. If you have a seaming guide or a stitch-in-the-ditch foot, you might want to use it to keep your stitches straight. See how the gray stitches on the inside of the sleeve are keeping the seam allowance lying flat?
That’s it! It doesn’t look like new, but it sure looks a lot better. I called my mother and she said it was perfect, so I think we can call this one a win. And if you’ve got a favorite hoodie or sweatshirt that’s looking a little worn, I hope you give this a try, or check out some of my other refashioning tutorials. Happy sewing!