Ugly Sweater Tutorial

Because the store bought sweaters are just so basic.

A few years ago I made an ugly Christmas sweater, and it was a sight to behold. It’s not machine washable, so it’s had to go to the sweater drawer in the sky. It’s alright, I picked a base sweater that was basically made of tinsel, and the few times I wore it, a trail of golden floss followed me around. Last year I bought a Christmas sweater just for fun, but it just didn’t have the same spark as the one I made. So this year I’m diving back in and making my own! It’s really not that difficult, and you can do it without a sewing machine if you choose!

Here’s the supplies you’ll need:

  • A clean sweatshirt – Solid colors work best, I used a Fruit of the Loom
  • Printable holiday shapes (I chose to make my ugly sweater a sweater of ugly sweaters) Here are a few links to get you started: Christmas Shapes Simple Shapes Fancy Deer Leaping Deer Various Sized Mittens (These are all various shapes I found on Pinterest, there are tons of them for any kind of look or holiday you’re going for!)
  • Heat and Bond Lite Iron on Adhesive
  • Fabric – You can use printed cotton if you want “one piece” pieces, or you can use felt to make layered, multi color pieces. If you’re using felt, you’ll also need a pressing cloth. A dish cloth or scrap piece of cotton fabric will work.
  • A pen or marker (for tracing on heat and bond)
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • *If you want these items to be 100% washable, you will also need to sew these items down, so you’ll also need coordinating thread, a sewing machine with a zigzag sewing capability, a zigzag foot
  • Optional: random extra items: tinsel for accents, jingle bells, etc.
  • Optional 2: If you can’t find heat and bond and are really confident in your free hand cutting out, you could also use fabric adhesive spray. I’ll go over this option as well.

First thing you’ll need to do is pick out the items you’d like on your sweater. What kind of a theme are you going to have? Is it going to be cute? Maybe even toeing the line on if it’s really ugly or just a work of art?! Once you get an idea of what you’re going for, head on over to the trusty internet for some printables. What I find works best are “coloring sheets” that are mostly simple shapes for most anything you can think of. Go ahead and plug up your iron, so it’ll be nice and warm and ready to go.


Hi Holiday Friends! Look at that little gingerbread man, GOD so CUTE!



Decide what kind of fabric you want your items to be made from, I use felt because I like layering the felt colors together and making more complex looking items. I think things would look great using regular cotton as well for solid shapes! Use your printables to trace onto the flat paper side of the heat and bond. If you’re doing something that is directional, keep in mind that your stuff will be backwards! (I.E. if you’re cutting out letters, trace them backwards!) Trace as many into a tight space that you can to maximize your heat and bond. Follow along with the heat and bond directions. If you’re using cotton, put the bumpy side of the heat and bond on the wrong side of the fabric. If you’re using felt, it doesn’t matter. I typically use a hot/warm iron (not blazing hot, but not too middle of the road warm) and press, not iron. (hold down in a spot, pick up and put in a different spot, press, repeat until you’ve got it all heated)


My sweaters are sewn down, I’m getting ready stitch down the “sweater ugly parts” and accents.

Next you’ll need to cut out your items. Be careful to trim them out carefully, maybe using smaller scissors. Then before you iron them down, arrange your items on your sweater to make sure you like your layout! You won’t easily be able to move them once they’re ironed down, so make sure you like them as they are!

Typically when I iron down pieces, I like to do it from the back side so I don’t have to worry about melting fleece, but that isn’t very easy to do with this!

Once your settled on your placement, peel the white paper backing off, (leaving behind the adhesive “shiny” side) and put them back where you want them, adhesive side down. If you’re using cotton, you can press these using your iron directly onto the sweatshirt. If you’re using felt, use a pressing cloth. I like to press using five to ten second intervals. I will normally start with five and if that doesn’t give me the hold I like, I’ll move to ten. Always remember to press, DO NOT DRAG THE IRON, only press! Your items will move before they’re fully adhered. If you’re layering items, think of it like you’re building a house; you start with the foundation and build on top! For example, I am putting a decorated tree on mine, so I’m putting the tree down first, then the “tinsel” and then the ornaments.

At first I thought I wanted this gingerbread man on this shirt, but then I decided to put part of this deer silhouette on it, and now I wish this was a real shirt!!

If you want to use the spray adhesive route, you brave soul, here’s some tips I have. Once your fabric/felt parts are cut out, use the spray adhesive on the wrong side of the fabric. Do this in a “spray safe” area, because it’s not the easiest stuff to control. You can then place the items down and you can give them a good press. If you’re using this method, you will need to sew them down to ensure that they will not fall off later. If you’re REALLY good with fabric glue (not hot glue!) then you could probably use fabric glue, but it blobs out too much for me, and it bleeds through fabric and it’s just, not my jam.


Just keep adding, just keep adding!

Once your pieces are all ironed on, you could call it finished here! If you’d like to be able to wash your items without fear of anything falling off, get your sewing machine ready! (If you’re a brave soul and want to hand sew these things down, you just knock yourself out!) Zigzag applique is not rocket science. I used to worry a lot about it, but I do it so often now that I’m not worried about it at all anymore. You can use your standard setting for zigzag, mine is 2.5 for the width. You want the “outside” stitch (I don’t know if that’s the zig or the zag) to fall just along the edge of the fabric, and then the “inside” stitch to go on the fabric. You don’t want too short of a stitch length, or it’ll be really thick and may be hard to get through the machine. Just take your time, there’s a lot of picking up the foot, rotating, all kinds of stuff. Also, make sure that you’re not sewing through the back of your sweatshirt! There is nothing worse than getting to the end and realizing that you’ve stitched the front and back together! After you’re finished with all the applique pieces, you could go out of your way to make things a little extra; add some jingle bells, hand stitch some tinsel on there, or even make little loops and hang some candy canes on there! Really, just go all out.

And then you’re done! If you’re using felt, I’d wash this cold and tumble dry low (probably with some towels) because the felt might shrink some in the heat. If you’re not sewing them down, well, maybe don’t wash? I’m not sure how they’d hold up in dry cleaning…but if you want to wear this more than once, just sew it on down! And then you’ll have a fun sweater for multiple years to come! You don’t have to be 1 of 3 people wearing the same “namasleigh” santa sweater from Target at the party.

Are you having any ugly sweater parties this year? I mean, personally I think it should be “work of art sweater party” but that’s just me. If you do end up using these tips, I’d love to see them! Feel free to tag @cutefluffinstitch on Instagram, or using the hashtag #cutefluffinsweaters so I can see!

Until next time, happy sewing!

Tell me what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.