Cardigan and again and again…

Cardigans are enjoying a prolonged reign at the top of our knitting baskets. I came of age in the grunge years where beautiful long haired Kurt Cobain messed with our idea of what a rock star should look like:

It was his cool cardigan that drove me to pick up knitting needles and attempt to make a slouchy black sweater of my own. Today I watch as cardigans beat out all the other patterns we put out in a season time and time again. In 2009, people couldn’t get enough of flyaway shapes that only closed at the top. 2010 was all about cozy draped fronts and grandpa cardigans not unlike the thrift store score sweaters of the 1990s.

They remain one of my favorite items to knit and wear and I thought I’d offer a few tips for successful cardigan knitting.

  • First things first: when knitting two cardigan fronts you’ll often run into a direction that says “Knit as Right (or Left) Front, reversing all shaping.” This can throw a lot of knitters off! We don’t do it to be tricky, we usually have to do it to save space. I came across a wonderful answer to this stumper on Bonne Marie Burns’ blog.
  • Seaming is easy! Really! It just takes patience and know-how. You should never rush the finishing just because you’re eager to wear the sweater (unless you’re me and you’re finishing a sweater moments before it’s about to be photographed…). While you’re slogging through the boring parts, watch our video tutorials:

Mattress Stitch

Shoulder Seam

Seaming a Set-in Sleeve

  • Consider your closures. Do you like the pattern as is, or do you want to change it up? This is an area that can always be improved and personalized, and I am always on a mission to improve the button bands. I’ve finally settled on a favorite buttonhole (the one-row buttonhole) and I’ve been favoring Norah’s standard, the sewn-on ribbed buttonband. It requires a bit of extra work, but the neat look is very, very worth it. Here are some videos that cover closures:

Installing a Zipper

Sewn-on Buttonband

Button Loop

  • Buttons! One of the very best parts of a cardigan are the buttons! Buying the perfect buttons, super fun, sewing them on? Not as much fun. I have some tips for that too! My first tip is to pick a button before you finish your sweater. You’ll need to coordinate the size of your buttonholes with the size of your buttons. Seems obvious, but is easily forgotten. Try to pick buttons that aren’t too heavy. They might be gorgeous, but heavy buttons will quickly pull your sweater out of shape. If you’re using a heavy button, use a flat plastic button as a backing button: sandwich the sweater fabric between the two buttons and sew through the buttons. This will keep the strain on the backing button and not the fabric. A row of grosgrain ribbon can also serve as a supportive backing.
  • As for sewing the buttons on, debate rages on what to use. Often the yarn you’ve knit with will be too thick to pass through a regular needle eye or a button. Some people suggest using sewing thread, but others feel that this can eventually cut through the  yarn. Using yarn to attach the buttons might work but a rough button might eventually cut through the yarn! My favorite compromise is using a sock yarn, or a thin yarn that contains silk, mohair or nylon. These are naturally strong fibers and will stand up to lots of wear. UPDATE: Kathleen left a brilliant suggestion in the comments–she uses embroidery floss!
  • Which reminds me! Buy an extra button!! Buy two!  And have fun with them! Buttons are a delightful adornment and thoughtful buttons will set your sweater apart from mass produced garments. Use a contrasting thread color to sew them on, or make your own buttons using fabric and inexpensive button cover kits(this is a favorite trick of mine: Americano, Miroux and Double Decker all feature homemade buttons).

That is it for now, I have gone on long enough! If you have any specific cardigan questions, leave them in the comments! Norah and I are headed off to TNNA this week, where the weather is in the 60s! I’ll still be wearing cardigans–lightweight and belted, maybe over a sundress. In January!


16 thoughts on “Cardigan and again and again…

  1. Ah, Kurt. How I miss you.

    If only you had knitted more, I think you would have found this life more bearable.

  2. For sewing on buttons I like to use embroidery floss. It’s thicker than sewing thread and comes in so many colors. 🙂

  3. LOTS of good tips here, esp since I need to finish a cardigan that’s just sitting in my knitting bag!

  4. At a darling knit shop in Juneau, AK, I found hand crafted buttons to go on a one-button cardigan in progress. Couldn’t make up my mind, so I bought TWO! I double-stranded a piece of the sweater yarn and ran it through the button back-to-front-to-back, having some length on the “tails.” Pulled those tails through the sweater (a crochet hook worked well for that) and tied them in a neat little bow. Now I can remove the button for washing, or just change it so I can enjoy both of those wonderful buttons! The judge at the county fair liked the idea…

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