Cardigans for first-timers: Or, how button bands happen

Cardigan patterns for first-timers

Ever since putting together the Pullovers for first-timers post, I’ve been laboring over a cardigan version! And here it finally is: good starter cardigan patterns, whether you’re a beginning knitter or have been knitting for years and have just never tackled a cardigan before. Cardigans simply are trickier than pullovers. (Much trickier to write about; potentially trickier to knit.) And since the pullovers post includes an overview of sweater construction methods, I’ve organized this one according to the key distinguishing factor amongst cardigans, which is the button bands. Throughout those categories, I’ve included a mix of the basic sweater types (top-down seamless, bottom-up seamless, seamed). All of which provides a fairly broad sampling of the many approaches to cardigan construction. As before, I’m giving you one very basic option in each category, followed by options that involve fancier knitting. If you are already comfortable with cables, lace, short rows, etc., there’s no reason your first cardigan can’t include those things.

If you haven’t read the pullovers post and/or don’t already have a basic familiarity with sweater construction types, you might want to take a minute to read that post before proceeding with this one.

Cardigan patterns for first-timers

MODIFIED SHRUGS / INVERTIBLES

Just like the drop-shoulder group in the pullovers post, these sweaters (a step up from the simple partially seamed rectangle known as a shrug) skirt the complications altogether. They don’t really hew to sweater construction in general and don’t have buttons or bands. Because they’re fairly abstract shapes to begin with, some of them can also be worn upside down.

suggested pattern:
Prewrapped Wrap from the Purl Bee — one T-shaped piece with picked-up ribbing along two edges, plus two little seams (free pattern)

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Cocoon Shrug by Nancy Ricci — three or four rectangles seamed into a cardigan with a double-thick collar (should be downloadable soon)
Stranger by Michiyo — five rectangles; involves grafting two front rectangles together at back neck, picking up stitches for the rectangular back, plus two more rectangles for the sleeves (see also Inversion Cardigan by Jared Flood)

pros: simpler to knit in many regards; the varieties of construction can be fascinating; potential for getting multiple looks from one sweater
cons: because they aren’t really shaped to the human form like a traditional sweater, they can sometimes look a little ill-fitting no matter which direction you wear them; won’t really teach you anything about true cardigan construction

Cardigan patterns for first-timers

NO BANDS / FAUX BANDS

Whether or not they have buttons, not all cardigans have button bands. Sometimes the collar or band is simply a swath of stitches along the fronts worked in a contrasting stitch pattern to the rest of the body.

suggested pattern:
Casco Bay Cardi by Carrie Bostick Hoge — no bands or collar (or cuffs, or waistband!); buttonholes worked right into the top-down seamless, garter-stitch body

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Purl Soho Cardigan Coat from Purl Soho — bottom-up seamless construction wherein a simple mix of garter and stockinette stitches create the illusion of bands; garter continues upwards for the yoke and neck (see also: Park Street by Pam Allen)
East Matunuck Cardigan by Amy Christoffers — also bottom-up seamless, joined at the underarms; a cable-and-lace motif worked along the fronts creates the collar; with this type of bottom-up integral collar, once you get to the yoke the “collar” stitches are worked separately from the body and joined at the end (see also: the fully seamed Sun Prairie cardigan; free pattern)

pros: none of the additional knitting/seaming of a button band; bands are structurally unnecessary for an open-front cardigan
cons: if you do want buttons, lack of structural bands can exacerbate the gaping-closure problem common to handknit sweaters

Cardigan patterns for first-timers

PICKED UP BANDS

Crewneck cardigans have straight front edges. V-neck cardigans have fronts that slope away from each other at the neck. Either one lends itself to button bands worked from picked-up stitches, knitted perpendicular to the body fabric. For a crewneck, you simply pick up along each front edge and knit; the neckband is worked separately from stitches picked up around the neckline. For V-necks (like Fable and Uniform), you pick up one set of stitches all the way around — starting at the right front bottom and working up the right side, around the neck and back down the left front. Common stitch pattern options for picked-up bands include ribbing (twisted rib, garter rib), garter stitch and seed stitch.

suggested pattern:
Louise by Carrie Bostick Hoge — worked bottom-up or top-down, an ultra-basic crewneck cardigan (with optional color-blocking); bands picked up along the two straight front edges and worked in garter stitch (see also: Uniform Cardigan for an ultra-basic boyfriend cardigan)

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Fable Cardigan by Kate Gagnon Osborn — an equally basic stockinette cardigan but this one’s fully seamed with set-in sleeves and has a shawl collar shaped with short rows
Trillium by Michele Wang (see blueprint at top of post) — bottom-up circular yoke with subtle chevrons and nupps and an intriguing series of short rows for back/neck shaping; button bands in twisted broken rib (hey, mine’s finally on Ravelry!)

pros: Picked-up edge provides some structure; less work than a seamed-on band (assuming you find picking up stitches easier than seaming)
cons: Arguably less structure than a seamed-on band

Cardigan patterns for first-timers

VERTICAL BANDS

Whether for straight crewneck fronts or designed to run from the bottom front edge to the center back of a V-neck, vertical bands are typically 1×1 ribbing worked (on smaller needles) to the length of that edge and seamed into place.

suggested pattern:
Linney by Amy Christoffers (pictured as knitted by blackbun) — bottom-up one-piece body with set-in sleeves and seamed vertical bands

or if you’re feeling more ambitious:
Dwell by Martin Storey — fully seamed, with set-in sleeves and seamed bands, and the addition of cables and pockets! (see also: Broadstairs)
Amanda by Lene Holme Samsoe — I know! but vertical bands worked simultaneously with the waist ribbing then set aside, worked upwards independent of the body and seamed on; perfectly suitable first cardigan for anyone comfortable with a cable chart

pros: 1×1 ribbing at tight gauge creates a denser, firmer band; seams provide optimal structure; least likely to stretch out at a different rate than the sweater; arguably the most “professional” looking band
cons: slightly more work than picked-up bands

Cardigan patterns for first-timers

PROVISIONAL BANDS

I’m not distinguishing between basic and advanced here because this is the tricksiest set in the mix. I’m seeing this lately, though, so I wanted to throw in a couple for the more intrepid among you: top-down seamless sweaters that start with a provisionally cast-on collar/band and are worked outward and downward from there.

Cedarwood by Alicia Plummer — with the look of an integral shawl collar
Skygge by Olga Buraya-Kefelian — with the look of a seamed-on vertical band

pros: Seamless; fascinating knitting process
cons: No real structural underpinning as with a picked-up or seamed edge

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Hoodies, zippers, sideways kimonos, steeks … there are seriously countless kinds of cardigans out there, but if I didn’t keep this reasonably basic and first-timer-y, it could go on for days.

If you are knitting seamlessly (from the top or bottom), do consider adding a basting stitch wherever a seam would/should be, as described in How (and why) to seam a seamless sweater!

Helpful? Will one of these be your first cardigan? Let’s hear about it —

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PROFOUNDLY UNRELATED: I’m one of the guests on this week’s Woolful podcast (along with Felicia Semple), which I believe goes live at some point today. I’m scared to listen, so I’ll count on you to tell me how many different ways I put my foot in my mouth!

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PREVIOUSLY in Beginning to knit: Colorwork for first-timers

There is such a thing as knitting too quickly

There is such a thing as knitting too quickly

The speediness of Bellows has been backfiring on me a little bit. I went racing into it without the kind of care and consideration I try to exercise, and as a result, mistakes have been made. Before I cast on the first stitch on that plane two weeks ago, I did study the schematic and strategize about size, with my swatch’s gauge in mind. What I hadn’t done is blocked my swatch. I guess I thought I knew what it would do when soaked because I knitted my Amanda in this yarn. But was Amanda held double? On 11s? With this textured stitch? Nope.

So hasty mistake number one: I cast on a larger size, the third size, because of my apparent smaller gauge. Sped through the first sleeve. Soaked it. Blocked it, and was impressed that, with only a little coaxing, it pinned out to the third-size dimensions just fine. “Oh, so I needn’t have worried about any significant difference in gauge,” I blithely mused … without completing that thought. I sped through the second sleeve, and only then realized — duh! — that if my blocked gauge is pattern gauge after all, my sweater will be the third-size dimensions, not smaller as I had wanted. So what I had on my hands was two sleeves for a sweater with almost 10 inches of ease, when what I wanted was 4-5 inches. What to do? Well, Balance is machine washable, so I crossed my fingers and threw them in the wash to see what might happen.

They came out beautifully and I laid them out gently closer to my desired dimensions, so I think all is well. But I confess these embarrassments to you guys in the hope that someone (if not me) will learn from my mistakes. Block your swatch!

Hasty mistake number two: I forgot to mirror the cables on the second sleeve, so both sleeves have right-twisting cables. I think this one is partially haste and partially ambivalence. As much as I love and want this sweater, I don’t think this is the most compelling cable motif. But, eh, so they all twist one direction — not the end of the world.

The one other “mistake” I made on purpose. When I knitted the first sleeve, I worked the cable in the cuff ribbing, even though I don’t like that. I almost never like that. I thought about not doing it, and I’m not sure why I went ahead with it, but it bugs me. So I didn’t do it on the second sleeve. I may leave it alone and call it asymmetry, or perhaps I’ll rip out the first cuff and re-knit it downwards without the cable.  I’ve never done that sort of surgery before and have huge admiration for all who do, and here’s a good small-scale opportunity to try it. Right?

I’m taking at least one day off this weekend, hoping for a fair chunk of knitting time, and that’s what I’ll be working on! How about you?

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p.s. that great flat Bookhou pouch is coming back to the shop soon.

Next of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Moody blues

Next of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Moody blues

These two knits make me dizzy. Literally and in a drunk-with-joyful-inspiration sort of way. At the top is MM6 Maison Martin Margiela’s crazy sweatshirt. I do think it’s some kind of tapestried jersey and not sweater knit, but it gives me Linden ideas, and also makes me want to attach marled sleeves to a stranded sweater body. (As long as someone else knits the body for me. Tag Team, anyone?) And then we have Mulberry’s insane colorwork-meets-stockinette coat. The stranded portion includes some kind of extreme mohair that makes the patterning look like a painting that’s been splashed with water and is beginning to bleed. Oh so beautifully.

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PREVIOUSLY in Pre-Fall 2015: Camel sweaters

New Favorites: the other Lene Holme Samsoe sweaters

New Favorites: the other Lena Holme Samsoe sweaters

Now that my Amanda is finally finished, I was about to put the book, Essentially Feminine Knits, back on the shelf. But the problem with patterns in books is it’s easy to forget you have them. So I wanted to put a pin in a couple of them by posting them here—

TOP: Nikita is a much girlier sweater than I am typically drawn to, but I have a soft spot for cable-and-lace combos and I’m intrigued by the counterpane construction of this one.

BOTTOM: Lana is the cover sweater, more of a sweater coat, and though I think I would change all of the edging, I too would like to have that to wear with my sweatpants on a lazy Sunday someday.

There are three or four others under consideration as well, but these are the ones I have stared at the most.

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IN HOT SHOP NEWS: A lot of sold-out favorites have been restocked in the past few days (bonsai scissors, bone crochet hooks, rosewood crochet hooks, bone DPNs …) but I specifically wanted to note, because so many have asked, that I got another small batch of Knit Wit magazine in last night. Get ‘em while they’re hot!

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

This is pretty silly, but since I’ve been doing all of the other #fringeandfriendsknitalong panelist FO posts as interviews — and to help me organize my copious thoughts on this — I’ve interviewed myself for today’s post! Please forgive me—

Your sweater looks a lot like the pattern photo but you actually made several modifications. Can you summarize them?

– Minor details: tubular cast-on, and I worked the diamond cables so they twist toward each other instead of all one direction
– Knitted it at a tighter gauge, so I knitted a larger size to get the finished dimensions I wanted
– Added a pair of reverse-stockinette stitches flanking each diamond panel (in other words, one stitch to the outside of each of those slipped-stitch borders) to give me a little more wiggle room in my final measurements
– Also added extra stitches in the lower back, to give me the extra width I need across the hips
– Because my row gauge was also smaller, I re-charted the yoke to give me more rows (to meet the schematic’s yoke depth) and re-charted the neck shaping while I was at it
– And I did not cast on the button bands along with the waist ribbing — I left that out and did picked-up button bands instead

Weren’t you hell-bent on doing vertical button bands with a ribbon backing and all that?

I was. Then I knitted this sweater — and nothing but this sweater — for four straight months, and to be honest, I wanted to be done. And specifically I wanted to wear it to TNNA, the trade show, and the only way that was going to happen in the time allotted was to pick up the bands rather than seaming them on. I can always pull them out and change them, but I’m actually really happy with how they turned out.

With all the stitch patterning, I thought it would be nice for the bands to have a distinctive edge, so instead of binding off in pattern, I bound off all stitches knitwise from the wrong side, so what you see is just the edge of that row of bound-off stitches. I love it.

What happened to that whole shawl-collar idea?

I’m super jealous of all the shawl-collar versions that came out of this knitalong — Meg really should lock hers up when I visit. But it became clear that this sweater was going to be somewhere between fitted and too small, and I think a shawl-collar sweater wants to be a little slouchy. Plus I thought back to the impetus for all of this and what I wanted was an ivory crewneck cardigan to replace a retired one, so that’s what I did.

You were knitting for Team Seam, yeah? Are you happy you chose that path?

Yes, I knitted the five separate pieces (two fronts, two sleeves, one back) and then, as written in the pattern, joined them at the underarm and worked the yoke seamlessly. Like Kate, I’m a little puzzled at this approach, since the raglan seams are maybe the most important ones, structurally. And if you’re seaming, why not seam the whole thing? But I was planning to rewrite the neck shaping and, if I didn’t get it right on the first try, it was going to be a million times easier to rip back and adjust if it was one seamless piece. So I went ahead and did that. But then I did something I’ve never done before (although surely someone, somewhere has) — I went back in and seamed the seamless raglan.

Sorry, you did what now?

The raglan “seam” for this sweater is just one stitch in reverse stockinette, which seems really vulnerable to me. It looks nice as you’re knitting it, but I could just imagine it stretching out and looking, um, less good over time. I think it’s more a concern with my fabric than for those who used light, fluffy wools at pattern gauge. Rather than go any further into how or why I did that, I’ll save it for a separate post, because it’s a concept I’m really excited about and will be doing some pontificating about.

But meanwhile, yes, I’m very happy the sweater is fully seamed because I want it to last and keep its shape as long as it possibly can, especially given the time I’ve invested. Like, I hope my great-nieces wear it someday.

You mentioned your fabric — you opted to knit this is in a wool-cotton blend, O-Wool Balance. Are you happy with that choice?

Totally! I wanted this to be a 3-season sweater, and I’m so glad I did that because I would hate to be limited to wearing this only in the depths of winter. It’s too good to be packed away! Cotton is weightier and less elastic than wool, and because I also knitted it at finer gauge, my sweater looks really different from the wooly ones. I might need a wooly one someday. But I love the Balance and how it turned out — the fabric is cozy and lovely without being dense or hot. Exactly what I wanted.

So is there anything you’d change?

If I had it to do over again, I would have been less impatient by the time I got to the neck. I specifically charted the neck shaping (see below) in such a way that the slant of the decreases could be maintained beyond the fronts and into the sleeve tops. So if I felt like the neck needed to be higher and smaller, I could just keep knitting and decreasing. I don’t like it when the back neck of a sweater is too wide — I think that’s when it slides around while you’re wearing it. I’m happy with my neck shaping — the actual curve of it — I just wish I had kept going for a few more rows to keep raising and narrowing it at the back. But it’s a minor complaint in the grand scheme of how happy I am with this sweater.

I learned to knit so I could make this sweater — this is what I wanted to be able to do. The fact that it was knitted in the virtual company of so many good friends and readers is icing on the cake. As I was binding off the neck in a hotel room in Phoenix, I became aware of the fact that the sweater started with Anna and me accosting a stranger at Midway last summer on our way to Squam, and ended with me knitting the neck while at TNNA again with Anna, with lots else in between. So I really don’t have words for what all is knitted into this sweater. The difference between it and some anonymous factory-made sweater is genuinely indescribable.

Knitalong FO No. 4: Karen Templer

There are more photos on my Ravelry project page. And Anna and Rebekka are still knitting, so stay tuned! (I can’t believe I’m not last!)

Bleached horn buttons and Knitters Graph Paper Journal from Fringe Supply Co., of course. Photos by my darling husband.

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PREVIOUSLY in #fringeandfriendsknitalong: A different way to shape a sweater

First of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Camel sweaters

First of the Best of Pre-Fall 2015: Camel sweaters

One of the things I believed about knitting before I learned to knit was that I would never again have trouble finding camel sweaters because I could just make them myself! And then, as I was lamenting the other day, I discovered that camel-colored yarn is harder to come by than it should be. There is truly nothing more classic, versatile or timeless than camel (not even grey!), as demonstrated by these very different looks from very different fashion houses for Pre-Fall 2015: Michael Kors sending out the epitome of the camel sweater over a long-cuffed white shirt and cropped dark jeans with the most amazing coat of all time, all of it very Mad Men; Chloé doing badass chic with a sleek camel turtleneck under a biker jacket with navy flares; See by Chloé showing us camel’s demure side in a simple pullover with an ironic toile skirt and matching handbag; and TSE putting together a more contemporary allover camel look built around a lattice-stitch funnel-neck sweater.

Anyone who doesn’t have a good camel sweater in their closet should knit one post haste, and there really are good camel-colored yarns out there — they’re just not in every yarn company’s palette like I might have imagined. The core, American-wool Quince and Co. yarns (Finch, Chickadee, Lark, Osprey and Puffin) all come in a seemingly perfect shade called Camel. (How did I not see that till now?) Most of the Fibre Company yarns come in some shade of camel — notably, Canopy Fingering and Canopy Worsted in Wild Ginger (a very light camel), worsted-weight Knightsbridge in Goldfirth and bulky Tundra in Larch. Woolfolk has a slightly light-brownish camel in Color 7 of both worsted-weight Far and fingering-weight Tynd. Blue Sky Alpacas fingering-weight Metalico in Gold Dust is one of the prettiest yarns I’ve ever seen. (I have a beloved super-bulky cable hat knit in Blue Sky Bulky in a nice camel that looks like it’s no longer available. So sad!) So they do exist — this is just a small sampling. And perhaps if we all knit with them there will be more added — and fewer removed — from the yarn palettes of the world.

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New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

Nobody does “simple” like Carrie Bostick Hoge. And nobody has quite the same finesse in taking existing patterns and changing them up — flipping the construction, changing the gauge, etc. — to make you look at them anew. She’s just released her Madder Anthology 2: Simple Pleasures collection and, as with others before it, it’s a combination of new patterns and reimagined favorites. Eleven sweaters and six accessories, all of them in spare but gorgeous combinations of garter stitch, ribbing and stockinette. And like a good caprese salad, where those three ingredients better each be perfection, she’s pretty much nailed it. My favorites:

ABOVE
top: Lila Winter, a bulky, top-down version of her popular Lila
bottom left: Liv, making me rethink my position on open-front cardigans
bottom right: Lainey Cowl, in chunky garter rib

BELOW
top left: Charlotte Light Accessories, a finer version of her Charlotte set
top right: Lori Shawl, lovely asymmetric (I presume) garter triangle (named for the model’s mother?)
bottom: Lucia Hoodie, making me rethink my position on hoodies

New Favorites: from Madder Anthology 2

PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Mosaic scarves