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Pocket Power! How to Add Pockets to Any Sweater You Like

July 15, 2021

Who doesn’t love a good pocket? We certainly do! It’s always nice to have a handy spot to keep your keys close on the go or to warm your hands on a chilly day – or to have the hand sanitizer within reach when you’re out and about with little ones who like to touch everything. If you’d like to add pockets to your favourite sweater, check out our tips below. We’ve described six different ways to create pockets for cardigans and pullovers – and you can add them as you go or after the fact!

Click a link to skip directly to the section that’s relevant to your needs:

Just follow the pattern – or add your own pockets

If you’re following a pattern that includes pocket instructions, you can simply follow the instructions, and this tutorial will help you visualize how the process works. If you’re adding pockets to a knitting pattern that doesn’t already include them, think about:

  • Type: Will you add them on the outside (patch pockets) or inside?
  • Size: How wide and deep will you make the pockets? To figure out how many stitches to cast on and how many rows to work, multiply your your stitch and row gauge by the desired dimensions. For example: If your gauge is 5 sts per inch and 6.5 rows per inch, you’ll cast on (or pick up) about 25 sts and work about 32 rows to make a 5″ square pocket (5″ x 5 sts/inch = 25, 5″ x 6.5 rows/inch = 32.5).
  • Location: Where will the pocket will be located on the garment? Think both horizontally (approximately in the middle of each side front) and vertically (high enough above the hem so the pocket can sit inside without falling below it).

Bottom-up cardigan pockets

When you’re working a cardigan bottom-up in rows, you can follow these steps to add pockets into your garment as you work. This is the technique we use in the Clayoquot and Playdate cardigans. You can also use this method to add pockets to Antler and Boardwalk, too!

  1. Knit the pocket linings first. Leave the live stitches on waste yarn and set them aside.
  2. Work the body piece to the length where the top of pockets will be, and then mark your pocket locations (the same number of stitches as your pockets are wide).
  3. Work a few more rows, working in ribbing (or a different stitch pattern) at the pocket locations between the markers.
  4. Pocket opening bind-off row (RS): Work to pocket location, bind off stitches across the pocket opening, and then knit the remainder of the row (binding off any further pockets).
  5. Pocket joining row (WS): Work to pocket location (where you’ve got a gap of bound-off stitches) and then slip all of the held stitches from your pocket onto the left-hand needle tip, with the WS of the pocket facing you. Next, knit across the pocket stitches and knit to the end of the round (or to the second pocket placement).
  6. Once your sweater is complete, you can sew down the pocket linings.
Diagram
Knit the pockets first. Leave the live stitches on waste yarn and set them aside. We usually just use stockinette stitch, knitting and purling until the pocket measures the desired length.
Diagram
Work the body piece to the length where top of pockets will be, and then mark your pocket locations (the same number of stitches as your pockets are wide).
Diagram
Work a few more rows, working in ribbing (or a different stitch pattern) at the pocket locations between the markers.
Diagram
Pocket opening bind-off row (RS): Work to pocket location, bind off stitches across the pocket opening, and then knit the remainder of the row (binding off any further pockets).
Diagram
Pocket joining row (WS): Work to pocket location (where you’ve got a gap of bound-off stitches) and then slip all of the held stitches from your pocket onto the left-hand needle tip, with the WS of the pocket facing you. Next, knit across the pocket stitches and knit to the end of the round (or to the second pocket placement).

Top-down cardigan pockets

If you’re knitting a cardigan top-down (in rows at the body), follow these steps to add pockets into your garment as you work. This technique will work for adding pockets to the Harvest (free pattern), Lush, and Caribou cardigans.

  1. Work cardigan to the point where you will place the top of the pockets.
  2. Place four markers, one at the beginning and end of where each pocket will go.
  3. Pocket opening row (RS): Work to marker, place pocket sts on waste yarn, and then cast on the same number of stitches. Work remainder of row, placing on hold and casting on for any additional pockets. We suggest casting those extra stitches to the right-hand needle using the backwards loop cast on or turning the work to use the knitted-on cast-on.
  4. Work pocket ribbing for a few rows at the pocket locations and then work the rest of the cardigan to the hem.
  5. Place the held pocket stitches back on your needles. Work pocket linings to the desired pocket depth then bind off.
  6. Sew down the pockets linings to the back of the work using a whip stitch.
Work cardigan to the point where you will place the top of the pockets, and then place four markers, one at the beginning and end of where each pocket will go.
Pocket opening row (RS): Work to marker, place pocket sts on waste yarn, and then cast on the same number of stitches. Work remainder of row, placing on hold and casting on for any additional pockets.
Work pocket ribbing for a few rows at the pocket locations, and then work the rest of the cardigan to the hem.
Place the held pocket stitches back on your needles. Work pocket linings to the desired pocket depth and then bind off. Sew down the pocket linings to the back of the work using a whip stitch.

Pockets in bottom-up or top-down pullovers

If you’re working a seamless pullover in rounds, you will follow nearly all the same steps as for a cardigan. The only difference is that as you are knitting in rounds, you will always have the right-side of the work facing you.

For a bottom-up pullover, bind off on the first round (across the pocket ribbing). On the second round, add in the pocket by slipping held stitches to the left-hand needle, with the right side of the pocket facing you.

After knitting the bottom of the pullover to a suitable length and working ribbing across the pocket stitches for a few rounds, bind off on the first pocket joining round.
On the following round, when you reach the bound-off stitches, slip the live stitches from your pocket lining piece onto the left-hand needle, with the right-side of the pocket lining facing you. Knit across these stitches, joining them into the work. Continue knitting your garment; you will sew the pocket lining to the inside of the garment later on.

For a top-down pullover, place pocket stitches on hold and and cast on in a single round. Continue in the round, as you would for the top-down cardigan pockets described above. In the same way as for the cardigan, the pocket linings are worked in rows to the desired depth later and sewn down to the back of the work.

This is the method we use in the Clayoquot cardigan because it is knit top-down in the round and steeked. It would work well on any steeked cardigan – or any pullover you want to add pockets to.

Knit-in, afterthought pockets

In any kind of garment (or accessory!), you can add pockets after the fact. Knit-in, afterthought pockets are one methods you can use to do this.

If you are planning ahead (rather than working in true ‘afterthought’ style), decide your pocket size and location ahead of time. When you arrive at the right point in your garment for the top-of-pocket opening, follow these steps:

  1. Drop working yarn and knit across the pocket stitches using waste yarn instead.
  2. Slip all the stitches worked in waste yarn back, one at a time, from the right hand needle to the left hand needle (working from the last to the first of the waste yarn sts). Leave 6″ yarn tails on both ends of the waste yarn part-row).
  3. Pick up working yarn once more and knit across the waste yarn stitches. Continue on to end of round (or any other pocket locations).

This places a strand of waste yarn in the work, which you can unpick later.

Knit to the spot where you want your pockets.
Knit with waste yarn where pocket will go later.
Slip stitches knit with waste yarn back to the left hand needle.
Knit across these stitches again with working yarn and continue on your way!

Expose the stitches on top and bottom of the pocket opening

If you planned ahead and placed a strand of waste yarn in the work, pick the piece of waste yarn out of the sweater (gently, one stitch at a time), which will leave you with two sets of live stitches. Pop them on one needle each (or a needle and a stitch holder).

If you’re working pockets that are genuinely an afterthought, locate the row and edge points for each pocket on the garment fabric itself (i.e., instead of having waste yarn in the work marking pocket placement). Pick the stitch that’s right in the middle of that section and snip one leg of the stitch. (I know…terrifying right?! I promise it’s okay!) Unpick to the left and right from the snip point, pulling the snipped strand out until the correct number of stitches are exposed on top and bottom of the pocket opening.

Unpick the waste yarn to expose the live stitches.
You can be bold like me and leave those live stitches hanging, OR you can put one set on the needles and one set on waste yarn.
The live sts are ready to be worked!

Work the pocket ribbing and lining, and then sew them in place

From the live stitches on the bottom side of the pocket opening, knit in rows (in ribbing or other stitch pattern) to the desired edging length and then bind off.

From the live stitches on the top side of the pocket opening, knit in rows (in stockinette or other stitch pattern) to the desired pocket lining depth and then bind off.

Sew down the edges of the pocket lining to the inside of the garment and the edges of the edging to the outside of the garment. Weave in any ends.

Here I have worked the pocket ribbing back and forth in rows. (I’ve worked the ribbing in a different colour for clarity)
Live sts are on the needles, ready to work the pocket lining.
Pocket lining is worked back and forth in rows.
The last step is to sew down the edges of the ribbing and the pocket lining.

Applied Patch Pockets

If you’ve knit a sweater or cardigan and want to add pockets after the fact, you have a couple options. One nice, clean method is to mark the pocket locations with pins or locking stitch markers, pick up and work patch pockets in rows, and then bind off and sew the edges down. We use this option in the Gramps cardigan, and you can see all the details of the process in our Gramps Tutorial.

Another option is to knit the pockets separately and then sew them on. This means you can decide the precise location once you have completed the pockets; however, this approach may be bit untidy, depending on your seaming skills!

Time to add pockets!

If you love pockets, let us know! Flex your pocket power and then share your work with us on your favourite social spot using #TinCanKnits.

~ Emily and Alexa

Pocket friendly knits from TCK

6 Comments leave one →
  1. whofilets permalink
    August 31, 2021 10:17 am

    I think I’m going to add a kangaroo pocket to a sweater I’m knitting. I measured carefully and thought I would be short a ball of yarn, but I actually have almost a full ball leftover. It might be a very small kangaroo pouch, but hey, it’ll keep my belly extra warm. Thanks for this article, I think picking up stitches for the bottom of the pocket might be my best bet. I don’t think I’ll be holding a ton of things in it so it doesn’t need to be particularly strong.

  2. sixineverycolor permalink
    July 20, 2021 4:41 pm

    your (free!!) tutorials are terrrific! I’ve sent many a new knitter to your site. thanks for sharing your work :}}

  3. May permalink
    July 20, 2021 3:56 pm

    Thank you for the excellent and comprehensive tutorial. I love pockets and now I feel confident I can add them to any sweater pattern.

  4. Krista permalink
    July 16, 2021 7:50 am

    This was such an informative article. Very well explained and the photos and diagrams made it super clear. Now I just want to knit sweaters with pockets to try all these ways. Thank you.

  5. July 15, 2021 3:16 pm

    This is excellent!! Thanks

  6. Nadege Armour permalink
    July 15, 2021 7:06 am

    Wow, thank you!! What a valuable resource you have provided for us.

    You are very much like the hero Elizaberh Zimmermann. She, much like Tin Can Knits deconstructed knitting and gave me the confidence to not be fearful and try different things.

    So many of my knits NEED pockets Lol.

    Thank you! ❤

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