When I was in college, I received an assignment that required digging through the school archives. I found photos of past students wearing plaid skirts, fitted chenille shirts, saddle shoes, and oversized varsity cardigans — how much more collegiate cute can you get?
To express my affinity for that look, I created my own vintage-inspired cardigan. I learned the skills needed to pull of simple fabric appliqué from our June Book of the Month, and dove into embroidery after reading our interview with Jenny Hart, so I luckily had two skills that were perfect for this project.
So, welcome to Professor Angela’s Vintage Varsity Cardi 101!
DIY Vintage Varsity Cardigan
Oversized wool or wool-blend cardigan, solid color
Bbuttons in a contrasting color to the cardigan
One to two 8″ x 10″ swatches of felt in same color as buttons
One to two 8″ x 10″ swatches of white felt
Two to four 8″ x 10″ sheets of iron-on fusible web
White 6-ply embroidery thread
5-inch embroidery hoop
I started with a thrifted cardigan. The radiant, red wool number above was purchased from the men’s section of one of my favorite second-hand stores. It has hole on the right arm, but for $3, who cares! I’ll talk about what I did with the hole later. I chose my contrast color based on this red and went with a regal navy-grey.
First, I replaced the cardigan’s red buttons with navy-grey buttons. You can do that any ol’ time, but I wanted to get those little buttons out of the way before I lost them. Okay, I still lost one.
Then, I started creating the patches. If you are using two letters for your school, say for ModCloth University, you’d want at least 2 pieces of felt in the main contrasting color and also in white. You can find yourself a block letter stencil, but I simply used a clear ruler to draft a sans serif “A” on the paper side of the fusible web. If you’re not familiar with fusible web, see the images below. It’s simply thick tracing paper over a sticky “web” that fully adheres when heated. Just firmly pat your felt to a sticky side of the web and use the paper side to draw your creation.
After cutting out all of my appliqué pieces, I arranged them on the cardigan. The sticky side of the fusible web won’t permanently stick to your fabric until you iron it, but it can stick on temporarily. This is where you can see what I chose to do with the hole. You can add your school’s team mascot on an arm, if you like. I went for a simple cat face silhouette because I had a sports team, we’d be the Cats.
Next, I added a bit of character to my cat patch. For whiskers, I used what’s called a back stitch. This creates a clean line. For a nose, I used one of the original red buttons.
Then, I ironed ‘em on! I set my iron to its “wool/synthetic” setting and gently ran the iron over the entire area. It helped to iron both sides of the fabric to ensure total fusion. Once the area cooled, patches were secure.
Now that I had the cardigan with some varsity pride, I wanted to sign my work by adding my name on the right top front of the cardigan. I wrote my name first in white tailor pencil, but since it was very hard to see I used a water-based marker to plot the path. I placed the section I wished to stitch in the embroidery hoop, making sure not to stretch the fabric. With an outline stitch, I followed the lines laid out. Now, I’m new to embroidery, so my stitches aren’t as elegant as they could be. It’s not perfect, but that’s DIY to me!
And that’s that! Wear your cardigan to this fall’s football games, your team’s matches, or for studying in your cozy dorm. Of course, you can personalize your favorite sweater with whatever your heart desires. I’d love to see your own cardi creations, so feel free to share them on any of our social media communities!