Some holiday rehab for old sweaters

We all probably have at least one of them hanging in a corner of the closet -- an embroidered, bedazzled or puff-painted holiday sweater from a Christmas past.

We may shake off the dust once a year for a "tacky holiday sweater" contest at work or an "'80s Christmas sweater" party with friends.

We may hang on to them for sentimental reasons, or we may still think they're quite cute. But if they're not seeing the light of Christmas Day, they're not doing us any good.

The doors for sweater rehab are now open. Get ruthless with your scissors and give these knits a new lease on life.

I'll admit -- it was incredibly hard removing the arms of the red sweater I never wear. And cutting into the vintage pink one that I kept in my closet like a museum piece (and that I actually bought at an estate sale) was very challenging. But I took the step and now, these sweaters will have front-and-center play in my house during the holidays every year.

Here are four fun, festive projects using old holiday sweaters: wine-bottle koozies, leg warmers, throw-pillows and party invitations.

Some require some basic sewing techniques and some do not. Have fun, and happy sweater-hunting in your closet!

Sweater wine-zies

To make a cute koozie for a wine gift, I took a red sweater with a holly leaf and ribbon yoke and, with all kinds of reluctance, I snipped off the arms. Then, I simply fitted the sweater arm over a wine bottle.

I left the long part of the arm loose -- and loved how it looked like a cowl-neck to the bottle's wintery dressing. You can also cut the arm shorter and hot-glue or sew the edge for a more tailored, smoother finish. If you have some ribbon or charms from gift wrap left over from last year, you can use them around the neck of the bottle to hold up the sweater wrap. I used some little mittens from last year's gift-wrap supply, and they coordinated very nicely. A simple red or green grosgrain ribbon will not take too much away from your sweater's pattern.

Voilà -- a great hostess gift with "wrap" that will be the talk of the party.

Festive, snuggly leg warmers

In case you haven't been to a store like Gap Body lately to see for yourself, take it from us: Leg warmers are back from the '80s.

For this project, you will again use the arms of a sweater. Simple rule to follow: Make sure the sweater you want to use for this has arms that are large enough to fit your legs. You can also do this with kids' sweaters, and they can be adorable for children to wear over their ankles with boots.

Just neatly cut the arms off of the sweater and pull them on over your calves and ankles to fit. Leave the sleeves as long as you can for bunching.

There are several ways to hem the top of the leg warmer. You can use a zigzag machine stitch to fold the top edge in, or you can stitch on a little ribbon or trim to the top edge of the arm. You might need to feed a little elastic into the fold before stitching to make the top edge fit tightly, but this isn't needed for a slouchier, loose fit.

I used a tiny bit of no-fray spray and folded the leg warmer so that the raw edge was tucked in. I don't plan to launder them that much, but if I need to, I'll hand-wash them and lay them flat to dry.

You can also use fabric glue on the cut end to keep the knit from unraveling. Sewing will make them last longer, but of course, gluing may be quicker and easier for you.

If you knit, you can un-stitch the bottom row of yarns and then unravel the rows to the length you want the edge to be and bind off the stitches at that row.

Now you've got some totally awesome new accessories to wear for winter.

Cozy accent pillows

Nothing says cozy in holiday decor like a custom throw pillow. They can be used on chairs, benches, sofas and beds.

I love to set a holiday pillow on a wooden bench in a kitchen or covered patio when guests are in my home.

I used the bodice portion of the red holly-leaf sweater (the same one I used for the wine koozies). I bought a pillow form from the fabric store and tried to match it to the approximate width of the sweater lying flat. (Take the sweater to the fabric store to help find the right size pillow form.)

Then, I cut off the bottom of the sweater so that the vertical measurement was closer. I set this scrap of material aside because I would need it to complete the project.

I turned the sweater inside out and stitched, very tightly, a simple square pillow shape, leaving about 3 to 5 inches at the bottom to turn the sweater right side out. This gives you a square pillow "pocket." Leave enough of an opening to squeeze the pillow form in.

Then, I hand-cut and stitched in a placket of knit from the extra material to fill in the neck opening. I used red thread so that you can't see where I filled in this space with the remnant. I closed the opening, and the pillow was complete.

You can always hot-glue or sew on a fringe or beaded trim for extra bling. Every December, I will drag this out knowing that I love the sweater's color and embroidery more as a pillow.

If you're working with a sweater that has beading, it takes a little extra time and attention. This luscious pink knit sweater has garlands of white beading. I made it exactly as I did the red holly-leafed one, except that I paid very close attention to the beads when cutting it. I tried to work with the fold of the sweater on one side instead of a seam, and then I closed the neck of the top side. I had to do some tucking to make sure that I got as smooth an edge as possible. But with some pinning and manipulating of the edges, I kept it looking square and smooth.

Remember: With beading, tie off anything you cut, so it doesn't unravel, of course.

Warm and fuzzy party invitations

A friend of a Star-Telegram staffer recently sent out invitations to a "Cosby sweater Christmas party," and to the staffer's delight they were made out of -- yep! -- sweaters.

That got my creative juices revved up since I had sweater projects on the mind. Here's how I made mine:

I used a piece of a sweater that had a pretty poinsettia on it. I trimmed it so that a little of the red part of the knit was included, framing the poinsettia image.

I fitted, cut and placed a printed vellum sheet as my holiday invite. Using a hole punch, I made two holes in the top of the vellum sheet and punched two into the sweater piece. (If your hole punch is dull, you might have to snip a small cut into the sweater just large enough to thread the ribbon through it, to bind the layers.)

You can hem the edges or hot-glue on a little ribbon to keep them from fraying or unraveling. I just sprayed a little No-Fray Spray on the edges, let them dry and then slid the invitation right into an envelope.

An extra bonus? The square patch of recycled sweater can double as a little coaster if you take the invitation apart after the party.