If you’ve completed a few knitting projects and are feeling pretty confident in your knitting skills, it’s time to graduate beyond the humble scarf. Why not try to knit a cardigan? 

This kind of sweater opens at the front and usually has some kind of fastening, whether buttons, a sash, or a tie. Knitting a cardigan isn’t inherently more difficult than knitting a pullover sweater, but it does require some different and additional steps.

Here’s everything you need to know about knitting a gorgeous cardigan.

Knitting Supplies

If you’ve been knitting for a while, you’ll likely have everything you need to knit a cardigan, but check your specific pattern to see if any special supplies are required.

Knitting Pattern for Cardigan Sweater

You’ll need to follow a pattern to complete any intermediate or advanced-level knitting project, cardigans included. Patterns list all the materials you’ll need, detail the types of stitches and other skills you’ll need to know before getting started, and provide step-by-step instructions on what to do at each point. Make sure to follow the cardigan sweater knitting pattern carefully to ensure the right fit. 

Knitting Needles

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Knitting a cardigan sweater requires circular needles.

Cardigan patterns usually require straight and circular knitting needles. Circular needles are necessary for knitting “in the round” as well as for knitting longer pieces that won’t fit on regular straight needles. If you haven’t knit with circular needles before, check out Davina Choy’s Skillshare class, Knitting III: Learn Knitting in the Round with a Slouchy Hat.

Different patterns call for differently sized needles, so make sure to take note of what you’ll need.

Knitting Yarn

Cardigans are meant to be cozy and to keep you warm. They’re also worn close to the skin. Choose a yarn that feels good to you, in a color and texture you like. Knitting your own clothes means you can get creative and let your personality shine through. 

Aside from individual style preferences, select your yarn according to your pattern’s suggestions. If a cardigan is designed to be made with bulky weight yarn, for example, then using a fingering weight yarn will produce a cardigan in the wrong size and fit. 

Buttons

Cardigans, as opposed to pullovers, open at the front. Some designs require a button or other fastening to close the two sides of the front. Patterns will usually suggest a size, but buttons are as individual as yarn; choose something you like and that makes you happy.

Learn to Knit a Simple Raglan Sweater

Next Level Knitting: Knit a Sweater

What Stitches to Use

red cardigan
Cardigans can be made with many different stitches.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to the stitches you can use for knitting a cardigan sweater. If you’re an advanced knitter and know lots of different stitches, you can absolutely showcase these in a cardigan. Cables, as in the above photo, are a lovely way to add decoration. 

If you’d rather keep things simple, it’s possible to knit a cardigan just with the basic knitting stitches. Choose a pattern that suits your level of knitting experience and existing skill set.

Knit Stitch

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Garter stitch is made up of lots of knit stitches.

Knit stitches are the foundational stitch of knitting. If you don’t know this one yet, you may want to tackle a project aimed at beginners before advancing to knitting a cardigan.

When knit stitch is repeated across multiple rows, the result is called garter stitch. Any cardigan pattern will call for knit stitches, but you may or may not end up with garter stitch, depending on the individual design.

Purl Stitch

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Stockinette stitch is made by alternating rows of knit and purl stitches.

Purl stitch is another foundational stitch. It’s sort of the opposite of knit stitch, as you push your right-hand needle through the stitch from back to front, rather than front to back.

When you alternate one row of purl with one row of knit stitches, you end up with stockinette stitch. This is very common in cardigan patterns. Stockinette stitch creates the little Vs that are common on hand or machine-knitted items.

Rib Stitch

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Rib stitch.

Ribbed bands are often used for cuffs, collars, and other parts of clothing that need a bit of stretch. There are different types of ribbing, but they’re usually formed by alternating one or more knit stitches with one or more purl stitches on the same row. Ribs can be decorative as well as functional, and some cardigan knitting patterns might use ribbing in the main part of the fabric, not just on the stretchy cuffs.

Buttonhole Stitch

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Buttons need buttonholes.

If your cardigan will be fastened with buttons, you’ll need to know how to knit buttonhole stitch. Buttons are inserted into holes, but you can’t just cut a hole in knitted fabric. Buttonhole stitches finish off the edges around the hole so they don’t unravel.

Increases and Decreases

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Increases are important for shaping knitted fabric.

Any knitted garment that is shaped and not just one long tube of fabric will need to incorporate increases and decreases. There are different ways of increasing or decreasing the number of stitches that appear on your needles, and individual patterns let you know which to use. For an introduction to increases, check out Davina Choy’s Skillshare class, Knitting II: Learn Stitch Widths with a Triangle Scarf.

How to Knit a Cardigan Sweater

wool and the gang
Source: wool and the gang
The “Lights Up” Cardigan by Wool and the Gang.

The following step-by-step instructions are for knitting a color-blocked cardigan, the “Lights Up” cardigan, by Skillshare instructor Wool and the Gang. The pattern is currently free to download on the Wool and the Gang site (as of January 2022).

While this one is blocked in different colors, you could simplify things by knitting in just one or a couple of colors. The pattern asks you to knit panel by panel and then stitch them together at the end.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

For this cardigan sweater knitting pattern, you’ll need the following:

  • The pattern
  • Yarn in six different colors
  • 6.5 mm circular needles
  • 8 mm straight needles
  • A tapestry needle
  • Scrap paper or writable stickers.

Step 2: Make a Gauge Swatch

It’s important to do a gauge swatch before starting any knitting project where the size and fit matters. Everyone knits with a different tension in their hands, meaning that the size of everyone’s stitches and the overall fabric will be different. Knitwear pattern designers make their patterns according to a particular size, and you need to know before you get started whether the size you knit aligns with the pattern. 

A knitting pattern for cardigan sweaters will note the required gauge. If yours is off, you’ll need to adjust your needle size or your yarn type to accommodate for this.

Need some further guidance in calculating gauge? Davina Choy provides a comprehensive and easy-to-understand description in her sweater-knitting class

Step 3: Determine Your Size

One size does not always fit all, so knitting patterns include directions for knitting in various sizes. This particular pattern includes four different sizes. Measure yourself and determine which size you need to follow. 

Pro tip: Before you get knitting, go through the printed-out pattern and highlight the instructions for your size so you don’t get them mixed up. 

Step 4: Cast On and Begin Knitting

Cast on the number of stitches required for your size. 

This cardigan is made in 12 different panels. The size of each panel and the combination of stitches you’ll need depends on your size, so follow the pattern carefully. 

Knit the front and back panels first, then move on to the sleeves. Label each panel as you finish it so you don’t get them mixed up. A sticker or a piece of paper attached with a pin both work well.

Step 5: Stitch the Panels Together

Once you’ve knitted all the panels, place them next to each other in the configuration outlined in the pattern. Stitch them together using a vertical invisible seam technique, with any color yarn as the stitching shouldn’t be visible. 

Stitch the front panels together first, followed by the back panels and sleeves.

Step 6: Add the Ribbing and Buttons

Ribbing is often the first part of a garment that you’ll knit, but in this pattern, it comes toward the end. Once all the panels have been stitched together into the main frame of the cardigan, add a ribbed edging along the cuffs, bottom front and back, the collar, and the opening at the front. The ribbing at the front will need buttonholes on one side and buttons on the other.

Step 7: Block the Cardigan

The final step in finishing off the cardigan is to “block” it. This actually has nothing to do with color blocking. Blocking refers to soaking the fabric in water and shaping it when wet. If you’ve made any mistakes along the way or if any of your sections look a bit uneven, blocking gives you the chance to reshape the cardigan slightly. When it’s dry, it’ll dry in the new remodeled shape.

Fill a sink with warm water and dunk the cardigan into it. Keep it submerged for about 15 minutes to soften the fibers. Gently squeeze excess water out (don’t wring it!) and lay the garment flat on a surface covered with towels. Then, shape it to your liking. 

The fabric might take a while to dry, depending on its thickness and the temperature in your home, so be patient. Don’t put it in the dryer under any circumstances. 

When it’s dry, your cardigan is ready to wear and be shown off with pride!

Knit a Cozy Wardrobe

fancy knitting lots of colors and patterns
Learn advanced knitting techniques for clothes you’ll enjoy wearing.

One of the joys of knitting is being able to make your own clothes and accessories, and to gift carefully crafted items to your friends and family. Once you’ve gained some essential beginner and intermediate-level knitting techniques, you’ll be able to create so many beautiful and unique items and follow all kinds of patterns. Enjoy the process!

Knit or Crochet an Easy Sweater

Knitting for Beginners

Written by:

Elen Turner