Getting a cardigan right

I have a cardigan for you today! We have a new president and narrowly avoided what felt like the potential end of our democracy! One of those pieces of news is important and one is not, but I’m here to chat about the unimportant one. 😉

Before we get rolling, these photos were taken in December so you’re just going to have to excuse my Christmas decorations. I took photos of this project at the same time as my flannel poinsettia dress. Look at me being all prepared like I still know how to do this or something. Except I forgot to fully button the top button in some of these photos. Typical.

Early this winter, I had the idea to try to recreate the fit of a couple of vintage ready-to-wear cardigans in my closet, by the brand Kimberly Knitwear. Both have stylistic differences but overall the same fit: they hit me at a good spot when buttoned up, have about the same body fit, and have very deep armholes. The shaping resembles a batwing sleeve, but it’s just a set-in sleeve with a deep armhole! Here’s one of them laying flat so you can see the shape:

After close examination I decided I could knit it with a modified drop shoulder—there’s a bit of underarm shaping, but with the depth of the armscye, you avoid knitting a shaped sleeve cap. My typical armsyce depth for knitwear is about 7.5″, these are more like 10-11″. You can just pick up the sleeve from the armhole and knit down the sleeve, like you would for a drop shoulder sweater. Brilliant! I have no problem knitting a seamless set-in sleeve cap, in fact I have a popular tutorial on that technique from several years ago) But sometimes simplicity is a nice bonus.

I was happy with my first version trying to emulate this shape, which was kind of my ‘test’ version, show below. I knit it in some Wollmeise dk in Herzblut from my yarn stash, while I waited for my yarn to arrive for the green one. You can see the nice roomy armholes, which do indeed have a bit of a batwing sleeve vibe. (Oh and yes, I did make the buttons for it! I talked about it on Instagram.)

For the second one, the green one, I wanted to kind of emulate the collar of the beige vintage one I showed above. That cardigan also has deeper shoulder shaping so I thought why not, I’ll do that too. Due in part to that and then knitting the body a little longer than the first one, I ended up with a sweater that looked like it would be great! But…

Oops, it was too long in the end. I don’t have any photo to show you, because I was annoyed and in the zone to fix it. I ranted about it in my Instagram stories, and then tried to figure out what to do about it. It was fine, it fit, it was cute, it just felt a little bunchy. I could have left it and still worn it, but I went through all this planning so I wanted it to be right. Being short-waisted and busty, it can be a fine line between my opinion being “I love this on me!” and “I don’t love this on me”. I’ve walked that line a lot.

My preference is to knit sweaters from the bottom up, but the peril of that is if you find out the length is too long or short, you really have no choice but to cut your knitting, unravel one row stitch by stitch, rip off the part you don’t want, and knit down from there. Because you can’t rip out knitting backward, except unraveling stitch by stitch in every single you want to remove, and just no. No.

That being said, cutting it and knitting down… well it’s not like I’d recommend it unless you have to. But I’ve done it before (baggy sleeve cuffs, remember?). I redeemed myself on one spot though, since I knit the button bands in with the sweater, and I didn’t have to remove those and re-knit them too.

I ripped out the last few inches of the side seams of the body, then carefully removed about 3 inches off each piece, put the stitches back on the needle, and knit down from there.

I took out two pattern repeats and then started the ribbing, totaling about 1″ removed from the overall length. Then I seamed it back up. And then, I was happy with it!

Okay actually wait, no I wasn’t, I was mostly happy. But the buttons were doing that thing that annoys me, where they pull to the edge of the button band. So I faced the bands with ribbon. I do that a lot, but sometimes I don’t because it’s a pain, and usually I regret it when I don’t, and I went through all this trouble already, so why not deal with one more annoying thing. So I did.

You’ll notice yes, the last two buttons are closer to each other because I cut the bottom of the sweater off and re-knit it at a shorter length. I don’t mind at all, and actually that’s a design feature of many vintage RTW cardigans.

The only thing that’s a bit funny about the ribbon facing is that I didn’t have enough room on the ribbon to sew the buttonholes horizontally like the knit button holes, so I sewed them vertically. That means that if you look into the buttonhole you can see the colored threads from the back of the ribbon, since it’s a multi-color vintage jacquard ribbon. But I don’t care, I will never wear this cardigan unbuttoned.

So now we’re past all the issues, and I really love the finished cardigan. I knit it in Harrisville Shetland in Spruce. It’s another hearty wool that I really like working with. It’s a fingering weight, but for me, it knits up at a bit of a looser gauge than maybe you’d expect. For example, this was knit on size 3mm needles (US 2.5) and my gauge was 5.6 stitches an inch (I knit loose, so my needle size is often 1-2 needles sizes down than you may get).

The resulting fabric is light with a nice drape, but feels warmer than I’d kind of normally associate with fingering weight sweaters I’ve made in the past, which is great. I’ve avoided knitting fingering weight sweaters for a long time, but now I’m on a kick and have sweater quantities in two more colors of this yarn! One is red and um, I really don’t need to knit another red sweater buuut I will anyway. There’s always some slight style difference right? Right.

Now the length is perfect, and I love the roomy armholes. I’ve always loved batwing sleeves, but this kind of pseudo-look has been a fun new style exploration. Other than the very 50s feel of it all of course, it’s also super comfy. Historically, many of my cardigans have had higher armscyes, which don’t bother me wearing them over something sleeveless or something like a t-shirt, but they drive me absolutely bananas over a cut-on sleeve, which I’m fond of in 50s sewing patterns. Teaming them together is basically shoving a bunch of fabric up into your armpit.

Not happening here! Plenty of room there for any type of sleeve that might be under it!

The back view is nice too, and you can see how the collar is just on the front. It took a bit to work out how to do the collar but I’m happy with the results. Like the original sweater I modeled it slightly off of, I tacked down the end of the collar.

Anyway, I pretty much love everything about this cardigan. I paired it in these photos with a flannel skirt I made in November or December, which has been in heavy rotation since. Not much to say about it other than flannel has been making me really happy this winter. I used vintage McCall’s 3853, the same pattern as this flannel skirt, from five years ago. I still love that one, too. I’ve used that pattern to make four flannel skirts at this point, two this winter alone.

In a winter where we can’t really go anywhere or do anything, I’m really happy I’ve been able to make items for my wardrobe to wear right now. I’ve always sewn more vintage casual than anything else, and I’m sure leaning into it right now. I may just be sitting around watching tv or knitting, but I’ve enjoyed the tiny pleasure of getting dressed in a nice outfit most days. I’ve worn the above outfit at least three times. The only thing I did different was wearing it with slippers, ha ha.

More from me soon—and this time, it is a promise. Okay fine fine, you dragged it out of me, I already took photos of another outfit. So see you soon. ❤

(Find my red and green cardigans on Ravelry.)

Filed: Knitting, Vintage Wardrobe

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Golly, 8 Comments!

  • Dam, Tasha, you’re on a roll with these blog posts! And I am very happy you are. these cardigans are super pretty, and I am in love with that shade of red.
    And I can relate to your comment about armscye depth! I don’t have a lot of cut in sleeves, but I have made a few short-sleeves blouses with a boxy “T” shape, think 80s does 40s with a standless collar) and these don’t wokr very well with my tight fitting cardigans…

    And in an unrelated note, I love your vintage Christmas decor, these pastel trees are calling my name… and I have a burning question about the mini house: do you consider it Christmas decor? winter decor? will it stay out all year long?

    have a great week-end!

    Cynthia

    Reply

    • Thanks, Cynthia! Yes, it’s sometimes difficult pairing sleeves in winter! I’m glad to be starting to figure out something that works better than what I’ve typically been doing.

      I love those pastel ceramic trees! A I-need-more-joy-during-pandemic purchase. 😉 The mini house is packed away with the Christmas decorations, mainly because I put those little glittery trees on them. I think it will make it a bit more special too, to pull it out every Christmastime!

      Reply

      • Wow this is so useful! I have never thought of cutting and knitting down! I have a cardi that I knit from a vintage pattern which is named the ‘gin’ cardigan as I would knit in the evening after work and have a gin . The next day I would realise the pattern had gone wrong so would have to unpick …. it took me years to knit as I kept getting fed up and would put away for a while! I have been thinking of trying a batwing cardigan and this has motivated me to get cracking. Thanks for a great post!

        Reply

  • As a fellow short-waisted person, I feel you on getting the waist length of garments just right. The cardigan looks fantastic! Gorgeous colour and beautiful style!

    Reply

  • Maggie Campbell January 25, 2021 at 1:25am

    Congrats on your new President. I’ve never quite found a name for efoe for the feeling I had when, after the joy of Obama, Trump was elected. I desperately hope that Biden will help build trust and community and repair the damage that the poisoned cheeto happily caused.

    Reply

  • Great post.
    1) don’t apologize for Christmas decorations. They match the sweater.
    2) what a nice yarn. I would never have guessed it had blue in it.
    3). Knitting down: thanks for the reminder. I have a sweater in the UFO pile that needs this treatment. I’ve been resisting.

    Reply

  • Such a fantastic cardigan. It was interesting to read about how you went about making it like the ready to wear one. I admire your dedication to getting the exact fit and style you want.

    Reply

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