Making a cardigan

posted in: knitting, Style advice | 33

I wear cardigans.

Or “cardis” as we say in Lancashire. In fact the cardi is essentially a bit of a sad item. Workwear of black trousers, a teal T shirt and a black cardi with plastic gold buttons. A white cardi for your holidays “in case it gets a bit chilly” (it always does in Blackpool or Abersoch). A school cardi in maroon acrylic, worn with a polyester pleated skirt – if the static doesn’t get you, you may go up in flames. A man in a cardi – often with a pipe. Something bedraggled and misshaped in a drawer or damp on a camping trip. For me these associations are drab, dreary, baggy and unstylish.

Apparently the cardigan is ripe for a comeback!

Historically the cardigan was a military garment, knitted up to keep the army warm. It was said to have been invented by James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan, although the idea of a jersey with an opening with buttons down the front is probably older. The Earl wore a sleeveless cardigan and made them available for his men. They became fashionable and associated with the man who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. (I will have to do a post on balaclavas one day!)

Then of course, the cardigan was popularised by Chanel who made it into a fashion item rather than a practical extra layer.

And then there is the handknitted cardi. If you look at Ravelry there are a quite few examples of lumpy, bumpy and grotty.  Below are Zimmermann specials – nicely knitted I give you – but which leave a little to be desired on the style stakes.


A cardigan is actually a great alternative to a jacket in that it covers (to keep us warm) but also reveals (the blouse or top underneath).

So we need a stylish cardi. A colourful, snappy, shapely cardi. In my wardrobe I have a few nice, cashmere cardis that work well for me – turquoise, yellow, pink. If I wear something plain like a navy dress I find a colourful cardigan can be a nice contrast. These Boden cardigans are the sort of look I prefer.

I am going to make one. So far I have made the Purl Alpaca jacket which isn’t a true cardigan, but does have two buttons. I want something like this, but I don’t want to use a pattern. Elizabeth Zimmerman has proved to me that I find a pattern that tells me exactly what to do, stitch by stitch, is not for me. And although it sounds arrogant I know I don’t need one. I can make it up as I go along and even if it goes wrong with knitting you can unravel and reincarnate it!

My idea is to knit a seamless sweater – basically from my Zimmermann book – then slice it up the front and knit on a button band and stand. Would this work? Has anyone tried it? This feels pretty scary, not least the idea of cutting into knitting. But I suppose the great advantage is that it allows me to continue developing my circular knitting skills and I know I have a shape and style I like.

I am feeling anxious about the cutting, known as steeking. I shouldn’t be, but of course this renders any unravelling impossible. It is an irreversible mistake if I get it wrong. I also think the button bands on hand knits can look a bit terrible and I don’t know the best way. I will need to research it. Although ribbing is a great finish to provide solidity I like the look of moss stitch (like deliberately uneven ribbing if you don’t know much about knitting). So lots for me think about, and maybe you will be generous with your advice.

I bought some yarn in the Colourmart sale. I love this violet colour. It is merino with 30% cashmere. It is not as soft as the pure Merino, nor as expensive as the pure cashmere at about $13, around £10 for 150 grms, or less than £20 for the cardigan. I think I was inspired by that violet evening coat! I have tried some co-ordinating shades next to it, but I think this time I may try what Sue Stoney and Aida have done and put some patterned stitches into the yoke rather than using colour. Plenty of cogitating time!

And in other news (you may have seen it on Instagram) my dear daughter in law Melanie gave birth to a little boy last week. He’s called William Dexter and he is adorable. So much so that he got 389 likes on Instagram! More than I have ever had, even for the swankiest outfit. So welcome little boy! We are delighted to have a fourth grandchild and very much look forward to meeting up IRL, as they say.

33 Responses

  1. Linde

    Congratulations a granny four times over now. As for a cardi comeback mine never went! I love my cardigans and the old faithfuls come out every Autumn. I agree it is scary cutting a knitted garment, I held my breath when I took the scissors to my fair isle which needed to be altered. It was fine and I am sure you will be ok as well.

  2. Tina Olsson

    Hello, what a lovely purple color! My favorite method is to make a buttonband out of fabric, sewn on. This is the method used in traditional norwegian lusekoftor for example. You can use fabric or nice ribbons, velvet and grosgrain are good examples. You will have to do some experimenting to get it right, but it will look better than a lumpy knitted one for sure. I really like your blog, and good luck with the knitting!

    • fabrickated

      Tina – thank you so much for your advice. I had been thinking of exactly this approach. I love both velvet and grosgrain ribbon and it would be a way to bring in a nice second colour. I will have to experiment, as you say – it always takes me a few times to get things right.

  3. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    Congrats, and I love the colour of your latest plan…blimey missus all this knitting!
    I used to wear cardis a lot [mum made them comulsory when I was a kid] and later switched to those lightweight cotton jersey ones, and even short sleeved ones just for a little extra warmth or cover when a coat wasn’t needed. Post-menopause however, my central heating is turned so high I rarely need to dress for warmth.
    I’m more likely to wear very light layers for work so that I can deal with the overheated classrooms and FREEZING cold corridors that seem to be obligatory in college.
    I’ll be interested to see how your brave knit-and-hack plans go!

    • fabrickated

      I have always felt the cold, except when I was pregnant. I have had a sweater on most days during this rather damp summer. Cardis were quite good for kids and for women with beehives who didn’t want to undermine their “do”.

  4. eimear

    I didn’t know they fell out of favour or were due a comeback – I would be lost without mine as I seem to get cold easily…. and my now fave is a yellow one I recut from a mens cardi and I adore the pop of colour – there is a piece of knit software (and crochet) but the knit part is better where you can put in the technique and your measurements and it drafts up a pattern for you. it looks rather dated (like the cardis above) but its very effective – I think you can still get it somewhere – but I just looked for it and I keep getting directed to a casino website (the software is called knitware sweaters) I have on my other pc here and can get further details ….. I found it useful for getting it to figure the stitch count and increases for crochet dresses as I would just input it for single crochet and then after the count etc, I could change the stitch.

    • fabrickated

      Eimear – don’t worry looking for it. Someone previously suggested it – Annie L I think. I found it but the styles were not my cup of tea. I am finding EZ good enough for me at the moment. I have just finished a New Zealand sweater which I will write up soon. It is very exciting!

      And I will come to crochet in due course.

  5. Jenny

    Go for it Kate! I did my first steek in the spring with trepidation. The result was amazing, I love it and will do all cardis this way in future. Cutting the steek was such fun, like unwrapping a present. There are loads of instructions out there – I used Kate Davies’ website (surprised you’re not already a fan!). She recommends a row of crochet on each side before cutting. I didn’t use her ribbon finish as I liked the crochet finish and it was very secure. The button band was easy to pick up too, the neatest I’ve ever done. I don’t know how this would work with an alternative style of rib. You do need to use a ‘sticky’ yarn rather than something silky, and, if you’re using two colours, knit alternate stitches of the steek in the colours to avoid lots of ends to weave in when you cut.

    Congratulations on the new baby!

  6. ceci

    Who wouldn’t be inspired by the violet velvet coat! What a tactile experience it is to look at, much less wear. I’m having a hard time wrenching my mind away from it to cardigans. Steeks – the friend who first showed me how to knit was from Glasgow and I watched her cut down the front of a beautiful cable knit thing, I was cringing and saying that it would be great without the opening, don’t DO it….and of course there was not a bit of trouble, she wouldn’t have tolerated yarn disobedience. The confidence…..

    And congratulations on the new grandson! They picked a terrific name, too.


  7. Ellen

    Congrats on the baby! Have you looked at Cocoknits patterns? She has developed a very nicely tailored detail for knitting from the top down, which I think would appeal to you. (Her new book is excellent.) Basic approach can be adapted a zillion different ways. The sweaters I reach for first are all adapted from her approach.

    Unrelated: steeking scares me! Might have to try it.

  8. Mary Collins

    The steek is very freeing! Once you have intentionally cut your knitting, what’s left? My only thought is to use a machined steek instead of a crocheted one, since it looks like your yarn isn’t very “sticky”. Crocheted steeks work beautifully when you are working with a really wooly yarn that will grab on to itself and hold everything in place. If your yarn is a little slippy though, I would use the sewing machine for that extra security. Slice on! Oh, and congrats on the new grand baby!

    • fabrickated

      Mary thank you so much for your reassuring cheer leading. You are right my yarn is stick-free. I will look at machining – I had no idea it was supposed to be crocheted. I assumed it was just pick up the stitches with the knitting needles. Oh dear I have so much to learn….

  9. Karen

    I am delighted. Even though I haven’t quite finished my #EZYokeKAL and I plan to make another lighter weight one, maybe even with a spot of colour, I am Mrs Cardigan at heart. I will be following your progress closely. Knitting in the round is brilliant and I was intrigued by the cardigan possibilities but definitely not brave enough to venture down that road on my own. Congrutulations on arrival of new grandchild. X

  10. Bridget Meier

    You could have a look at Tin Can Knits ‘Harvest’ cardigan. It’s top down and seamless. It is also free so you might learn something without having to commit your dollars!

  11. Annie

    Congratulations and welcome to baby William.

    You are intrepid on your knitting journey. I’ve never attempted steeking but you’ve conquered a lot of techniques thus far and I don’t think you’ll have any problem with this either. Your purl alpaca jacket is lovely. I’m off to check out cocoknits.

  12. Sue

    I’ve done quite a bit of steeling and I tend to wash the knitting first because it felts together a bit. I don’t like ribbed bands added on very much, but there are lots of alternatives. I did once knit up a separate, very fine robbed band and sewed it on – it worked really well. I used snaps to fasten it. You’ve been given loads of good advice but perhaps play with swatches first? Looking forward to seeing what you do. Congratulations again on your newest grandson!

  13. Helen

    After being inspired by your recent knitting I bought myself a copy of the EZ ‘knitting without tears’ on Amazon for just over £5. It’s a great read! I was initially quite shocked at the thought of cutting your knitting so I will look forward to reading how you get on with it.
    Congratulations on the new arrival!

    • fabrickated

      I am glad you bought KWT Helen. As you say it’s a great read, the patterns are good and it’s terribly cheap when bought second hand. I don’t think you need her other books unless you are a very serious knitter. She wrote this one as a comprehensive book for beginners onwards. Looking forward to seeing you colourwork seamless yoked jumper!!

  14. Sarah Moran

    Steeking is a doddle with the right yarn, with Shetland or similar I don’t use a sewing machine or crochet I just block and cut, it won’t go anywhere. I’d be reluctant to do my first steel on your yarn, it may put you off. You could knit up a little swatch in the round in something more proper-sticky-wool-ish and cut that as a warm up, I’t would give you a better idea of what you are letting yourself in for. Also, I sometimes pick up the stitches for the button band on a circular – just a thin one so I know I have my required stitches – on each side and just let them lie there and then cut, I think it put less stress on the stitches/fabric.
    Re. button bands, I recently did a plain garter cardigan with no button band as such but I stitched on a ribbon band on both undersides and machined buttonholes, I’d obviously knit in buttonholes to the garment in the first instance. It gives a much sharper edge. (To see button band photos I’m ‘didyoumakeit’ on Ravelry and the pattern I knit is Sweet Olivia.
    I really enjoy your blog, thank you.

  15. Marianne

    Your steeking plans remind me of the time I knitted a very oversized pullover and didn’t like the look. Didn’t want to start over and took it in with my overlocker. It’s knit fabric after all, right? I love making my own rules. That violet is gorgeous. I’m waiting for the arrival of a similar colour merino wool that I ordered over four weeks ago. So tired of waiting!

  16. Katja Obring

    Steeking is totally doable. Generally it is easier with a stickier yarn, like Shetland, but there are ways around that (all mentioned before).
    What I would add is to maybe try a small sample, to get a feel for it and see how the yarn behaves, and look at these tutorials, which I found rather comprehensive:
    You’ll have to scroll down a bit to find the series on steeking.

  17. Melanie

    Steeking only makes sense if you do have some color work with floats in the yoke. It makes it possible to knit in the round and not mess up your color work pattern on two or three different pieces. You could get around the quality of the stickiness of the yarn by machine sewing either side of the steek–you’re a whiz on the sewing machine and probably very experienced sewing knits. Then it’s an experiment in guage and stitch count to create the button bands. Good luck with it, and be sure and post progress pictures and notes!

  18. Caroline

    I’ve cut into ready to wear knits to change the shape. I’ve not heard of the term steeking and I didn’t know it was an ‘official’ approach. What I do is – take to my sewing machine and do a dense zigzag where I want to cut (say around a sleeve to shorten it) then slice off just below and repeat the zig zag. It gives a fluted effect which I quite like. I use this fairly often on cardigans to shorten them.
    I once met a very inspiring upcycler in Lyme Regis who uses a free sew setting on her machine to create wonderful effects on second hand woollies – completely changing their shape and impact. Sadly I can’t remember her name – but she has/had a shop.

Leave a Reply