Fifteen years ago, I learned to knit with a pair of wooden chopsticks. I still remember how they felt— not entirely round, oblong instead of circular, which wasn’t great for even tension. My first project was a soft blue scarf for my brother, which, after hours of garter stitch, I became very bored with and ended way too soon. Luckily, he wore the hole-filled, super short accessory anyway. I knitted a few hats as well but abandoned the pastime soon after.

It wasn’t until winter came and the pandemic kept us still in our homes that I decided knitting might be fun to pick up again. By December, I’d been furiously embroidering for nearly six months. My eyes were strained and my fingers constantly pricked. I also had begun to grow tired of the precise, constant attention needed for every stitch to be placed right. I needed something warmer, more meditative. Ever since the rise of the sweater vest trend in the fall, I’d been thinking that it couldn’t possibly be that difficult to knit a garment, and once that thought entered my mind, it wouldn’t leave.

How I Made It

I fell in love with this Hope Macaulay cardigan on Instagram, but it was both out of stock and way over my budget. Since the design seemed fairly simple in stitch pattern and shape, I decided to attempt this as my first knitted garment. Here’s how I did it— any knitter with a basic understanding can do it too!

Materials

The original cardigan is made of wool roving yarn— the thick, non-twisted fibers create the chunky effect of the garment. However, as I researched this material, the general consensus among seasoned knitters is that roving, although cute and fluffy, is ultimately a wasteful material for garments. Unfortunately, the nature of roving makes it not very durable or long-lasting. Knitters everywhere online warned that garments made of roving only last a few wears before starting to fall apart.

All this is to say, I was warned away and chose to buy traditional yarn. I still wanted a fairly chunky look, so I went with super bulky (6) weight yarn. To get the colors I wanted, I used Loops & Threads Cozy Wool and Lion Brand Wool Ease Thick And Quick yarns. Although the gauge did match on these, however, I noticed that the Lion Brand was slightly thicker and much more matte than the Loops & Threads. I’d recommend using same brand yarn for a more cohesive look.

I used about 6 skeins of yarn, 540 yards total, on US size 13 (9.0 mm) circular needles. Total yardage may vary for you depending on sizing. You’ll also need a yarn needle for seaming.

Pattern Drafting

I knitted the cardigan in three pieces— the sleeves in the round and the body flat. To visualize the finished pieces better, I drew out this sketch.

Pattern sketch

I started knitting the sleeves first, but I would actually recommend knitting the body piece first so you know exactly how long your sleeves should be. Because I didn’t think to make measurements for the body beforehand, the shoulder seam of the body dropped much farther on my arm than I’d planned, and I had to frog the entire body and reknit it smaller.

For measurements, I planned everything in length rather than stitches because I frankly wasn’t very experienced with pattern drafting. Because the colorwork is not my own design, I won’t be leaving anything here about it. However, I think the color-blocking is pretty straightforward and easily customizable. To measure myself, I took my shoulder-to-shoulder measurement and made it the width of the body. The length was just the top of my shoulder to where I wanted the sweater to end multiplied by two. My own dimensions ended up being nearly a square, so not exactly the way it’s drawn. I measured from the underside of my armpit to just above my wrist bone for the sleeve length, and then around my wrist for the cuff circumference.

Knitting Process

In terms of crafting the garment, I knitted everything in stockinette stitch besides an inch on both hems of the body in double stockinette to prevent curling. The inspiration cardigan has some other sort of hemming to prevent the curl, but I couldn’t figure out what that was. The double stockinette is pretty seamless and really easy to learn. You could also do a rib stitch or whatever you prefer.

For the big balloon sleeve, I knitted the sleeve bottom-up, starting with the cuff and dramatically increasing stitches evenly. There wasn’t really a technique to my method— I picked a number of stitches I wanted to end up with, and worked either k1 inc1 or k2 inc1 by row (depending on whether my starting total stitches were even or odd) until I got there. Then I replicated what I did on the other sleeve. I’m sure there’s a more professional way to do this; I just didn’t know it.

Knitting the body is much simpler. I started from the back bottom-up, worked until my desired length, then cast off stitches from the middle for the neck. I then worked the front top-down. One thing to remember while doing this is that your total number of stitches must accommodate the neck cast-off so that each front panel is the same number of stitches. Mine was 48 stitches for the back, 12 stitches for the neck, and 18 stitches each for the front panels. Since I was working double stockinette on the hems, I had to also make sure that the number of stitches on all panels was even. If you work a hem stitch like garter, this doesn’t matter.

Finishing

When I initially finished these pieces to the correct size, I was so excited to try it on that I just whip stitched the pieces together. This didn’t hold them together well, though, since the heavy wool pulled at the weak stitching. So I undid the pieces and learned the mattress stitch. Not only does this hold the garment together much more effectively, but it’s also really satisfying to do.

What I Learned

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past year of quarantine, it’s that there’s nothing in the world of DIY that you can’t learn on the internet. There are so many great resources online, written and video alike, for the curious maker. Making my first knitted garment taught me a lot about the craft, and I’ve happily launched myself into knitting more clothes and accessories since. If you’re a novice knitter, I would highly recommend this as a first-garment project. It’s a fairly quick knit because of the bulky yarn and simple stitches, so it’s a really gratifying process.

Many knitters find the act therapeutic, and I wholeheartedly agree. There’s also something incredibly special about wanting a garment and making it. Lockdown has turned me into a grandma, and I’m loving it. Stay tuned for more knitting projects and high-end recreations to come.

This cardigan was inspired by the Hope Macaulay product. I take no credit for the concept or design and will not be selling my recreation or drafted pattern.