About this blog

My photo
Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

A nice cardie

I live in Ceredigion, also known as Cardiganshire, so most of the locals could accurately be described as nice Cardies, but they are not the subject of this post. What I'm talking about is a woolly jacket.

When I went to a spinning class last year, I browsed other stalls at the festival and spotted some pure Shetland wool priced at £1.50 per 50g ball. What a bargain! I asked the advice of the more experienced knitters around me as to how much I'd need for a jumper (that's sweater to those of you living across the pond. I tried looking up transatlantic translations for cardigan, too, but it got very confusing. You'll see what I mean by the end of the post). No-one was keen to commit on quantity of wool required, but the best guess was twelve balls, so that's what I bought.

Then followed a long period of doing nothing much, but pondering design. I definitely wanted a cardigan rather than an over-the-head jumper, I want it as long as possible with the wool available, and I want it nice. I have smart office clothes left over from my old life, but those are rarely suitable these days, and I have scruffy clothes for working around the house and garden, but I don't have much in between. This isn't too much to ask from my first big knooking project, is it?

I started by making up a sample piece, trying out different knit stitches and practising buttonholes. I fancied a chunky knit but the wool was fairly thin, so I wasn't getting what I wanted. After a while it occurred to me that crochet would give a thicker fabric, so I tried a few crochet stitches and settled for counterpane stitch, taking just one loop from the previous row (as opposed to both sides of the loop. The difference is that the half-loops left behind make a line along the fabric.) Experiments with decorative stitches revealed them to be not very visible, so I abandoned those. I used up the whole ball of wool in my sample to give me an idea of how much fabric a ball would make. Ah. Not very much.

Knit stitches to the left, crochet to the right. The extra bit bottom right is crochet buttonholes.

As I was working with the wool it struck me that it's not very soft. I didn't think I'd want that against my neck, so I'd make the neck wide and add a collar in a softer yarn at the end. On the other hand, Pebble liked this little bit of woolliness very much.

Mine now.

A bit of investigation with holding this piece against my back and wrapping it round my arms indicated that twelve balls of wool would be enough, but only just. That was going to influence the design quite a lot. Firstly, this cardie would have to be quite tight, with fairly short, tight sleeves. I decided to knook the sleeves, as I'm quite happy to have them thinner than the rest, and stocking stitch will use less wool than counterpane stitch. I wondered if I could save some wool by adding some decoration in a different colour. I have some white that I bought for socks... stars! It has to be stars!

Once I'd had that thought, I then had to find out how to crochet stars. I found this tutorial which was good, but not quite what I was after. I took that as a basis and played around until I'd figured out a way of making individual stars. It's very fiddly and involves two stitch holders (twist ties). I'm sure there's a better way, but this works well enough for this project.

Test stars. Yes, Pebble sat on it again as I was taking the picture.

That was about as far as I could go with my test piece, it was now time to move on to the real thing. Since I wanted the cardigan to be as long as possible, that meant starting at the top. I also wanted to avoid sewing it together at the end, so each piece would be joined as I went along. I did have a look at patterns, but didn't see anything that particularly grabbed me and in any case, I can't read patterns. Making it up as I went along went like this:

Step 1. Make a foundation chain (I read about this somewhere, but can't remember where. You end up with the first row of stitches already in the chain and it's easier to carry on from there) for the neckline. This included a double row (there and back) along the top of each shoulder, where the seam would be if you were making it in pieces. I judged the length by draping it around my neck.

Step... um, I can't remember what order I did the next bits in. The front two pieces and the back were worked in turn, each starting from the top seam, with the front pieces increasing from the shoulders across the front. For simplicity, I decided on square-set sleeves.

Step 5. Continue those three pieces until they're long enough to join up under the arms. Rather than shaping round the sleeves, I decided to make the body pieces straight then add a gusset between waist and armpit. This meant the body pieces had to get all the way to the waist before they could be joined up. Since the stitch I'm using looks different on alternate rows, I had to be careful to make sure I was on an even row (or an odd row. It didn't matter so long as they were all the same) for all three pieces.

Step 6. Once I'd done a few rows of the joined-up section, I turned my attention to the gussets and sleeves. For these I switched from crochet to knooking, and chose a fairly loose stocking stitch for the gusset, then tighter stocking stitch for the sleeves. The first attempt at a sleeve went a bit wrong. I was reducing the number of stitches at a rate of one per round, which resulted in a pointed shape at the join, making a bulge in the armpit. I unravelled and started again, this time working back and forth round almost all of the sleeve, picking up an extra stitch from the gusset at the end of each row until there were none left and I could switch to working in the round. I'm not sure whether that makes sense or not - it's basically the same technique that I used for the heels when I made socks. The end result looked like this:

Armpit of the cardigan with sleeve at the top.
What looks like a seam is where I reduced the stitches.

Step 7. Shaping the sleeves involved much trying-on to determine how much I needed to reduce the rows as I went. Once I got past the elbow I did a couple of rows of stars, which was even more fiddly in knooking than in crochet. I then finished with a few rows of crochet for the cuff, for consistency with the body of the cardigan.

Step 8. After a few rows at the waist, I needed to start increasing the stitches. I measured, I calculated, I calculated some more, I largely ignored the results of the calculations, I forgot where I measured from, then the whole thing got messed up by the stars anyway. One way or another, stitches got increased by a couple per row, and stars were introduced shortly after that.

Step... ah, there's a bit I did earlier, but forgot to mention. I wanted an edging added for the buttons and buttonholes, but couldn't do this until the very end, when I'd have something to add it to. This somewhat disrupted my plan to keep going until I ran out of wool. I solved this by making up a section of buttonhole edging, unravelling it, and measuring out suitable multiples of that length of wool, which I then put aside.

Step 9. Once I'd got fed up of making stars, I put the white wool aside and carried on in blue until I ran out. This wasn't quite at the end of a row, but near enough that I felt safe pinching a bit of the reserved wool to finish it off. Front edging was then completed, leaving just this little bit of wool:

I felt quite smug to have used up my wool so precisely

Step 10. I raided Grandma's button collection for a suitable selection of buttons...

... and sewed them on.

At this point, I should have had just the collar left to do. Then I tried it on... it was way too tight. I'd known it was going to be tight, but thought the extra panels I added at the end would be enough for a comfortable fit. They weren't. I also discovered a flaw in the way I'd done the buttonholes, which was simply a row of triples. Effectively, I had a buttonhole between each two stitches and I just had to pick one that lined up with each button. That proved more difficult than I'd anticipated.

At this point it would have been very easy to get demoralised and give up. To avoid this, I quickly sought out my next door neighbour and showed her the (un)finished cardigan. She said all the right things about it being not that bad, and she was sure it wouldn't take much extra on the front edges to fix the problem, and how nice it would look when it was finished.

Thus encouraged, I went off to one of the wool shops in town to seek extra yarn. I wanted something soft for the collar, and thought it would be best to have the same yarn for the extra strips down the front, even though soft isn't ideal for buttonholes. I found some nice yarn (50/50 wool/acrylic) and asked the shopkeeper's advice on how much to get. I had in mind that two balls would probably be enough; she said four; I bought three. I actually used one and a half. I intend to take the last ball back for a refund, as a matter of principle.

Although the new yarn was thicker than what I had been using, I stuck with the same small crochet hook for the front panels, as I thought tighter stitching would probably be stronger for the buttons. I also changed the way I did the buttonholes so I wouldn't have the lining up problems that had emerged in the first attempt (which I'd unravelled and redone in plain stitch to match the other side).

For the collar I'd decided on double rib stitch and actually used knitting needles for this (larger, to suit the yarn). With knooking, rib stitch either comes out very loose, or is a right pain to do. Knooking turns out to be not such a great technique when you're switching between knit and purl stitches within the row. I found I didn't mind actual knitting as much as I'd expected. In fact, I might even go as far as to say I enjoyed it, though I did switch back to a crochet hook for the cast off.

Trying on the finished garment, I found that my neighbour was quite right - the fairly small strips I'd added made all the difference between not fitting and an excellent fit. Here I am modelling my creation in classic catalogue pose:

And here is a closer view:

I have to say, I'm absolutely delighted with how this has turned out. Not bad for a first big project, making it up as I go along, eh?


  1. It looks fab! I love the contrasting colour you chose for the collar and button band. I would never have guessed (from looking) that you'd made it up as you went along, if you hadn't told me.

    1. Thanks :-)

      Button band! I knew there must be a term for that strip down the front.

  2. That's amazing! I knit a lot, but I am a follower of patterns, so I am in awe of you making it up as you go along!

    1. Ah, but for me to follow a pattern, I'd have to learn how to read it first.

      Cheers :-)

  3. I am seriously beyond impressed, both with your ability to produce something wearable (and, amazingly, good-looking!) without a pattern, and by your patience in unravelling and re-working. I don't exaggerate when I say that had it been me, there would have been one more (very small) unfinished object in my cupboard weeks ago.
    I've tried knooking, I bought a knooking hook. I can't do it. It's so slow and cumbersome, and I've been crocheting for years, so I can usually handle a hook. You have my gobsmacked admiration. You have a *serious* talent here. Really.

    1. Thanks :-)

      Willingness to unravel and redo is essential when working without a pattern. It's a lot less frustrating when it goes wrong because there's no great expectation that it should come out right - "I've followed the instructions, WHY isn't it right?!" - just disappointment - "Oh, that didn't work then. Try again."

      I'm surprised to hear you didn't get on with knooking. I'd have expected it to be a fairly easy switch from crochet, but maybe it isn't actually that similar, maybe it's a new skill to be learnt like any other.

  4. That's beautiful! I love the little stars.

  5. How lovely, so individual I must say you always impress me with your thoroughness I tend to fly right in and then wonder why nothing works out right, I will have to take your cue and take my time over things, it really looks fab.

    1. Thanks :-)

      Allowing lots of time is essential. I guessed three months for this and it took nearly two, with some fairly intensive work on it at the beginning, when I couldn't face doing anything else. I also try to keep my expectations fairly low - although I was aiming for 'nice' I would have settled for 'wearable'.

  6. Rachel, you are incredible. I look at patterns and then sit looking at a bundle of, oh, just say orange sock yarn, hoping I'm going to wake up one morning suddenly able to knit socks.
    Think I need to pull my finger out and have a go.
    The cardigan's amazing, well done.

    1. Maybe you can knit socks - you'll never know until you try ;-)

      Thank you :-)

    2. Let's hope so- I've got an orange mad boy who's quite sure his mum will produce handknitted socks in his favourite colour on Christmas Day!

  7. Wow that is beautiful. I don't know how you do it, I can only 'do' scarves which are nice but not a patch on a good cardie. Well done


I don't know why Facebook thinks this is the most interesting text on the page - it's not, I assure you!

If you'd like to leave a comment, but it asks you to "Comment as" a load of options that don't relate to you, choose "Name/URL". You can type in your name and leave the URL blank.

Do leave a comment (unless the main point of your comment is to advertise your business, in which case it will be deleted). It's always nice to know I'm not talking to myself ;-)