In the morning, as you ready to greet the day, you reach for your favourite cardigan. It’s cozy and warm – and made by you!
Our Classic Cardigan is the most basic of basics, but to keep it interesting, the pattern is available in our inclusive baby-to-big size range, PLUS it includes instructions for three different yarn weights. You can knit in your favourite yarn and needles!
First step: get yourself a copy of the Classic Cardigan pattern…or get the entire Basics Collection, for even better value!
This pattern is EVEN BETTER in the Tin Can Knits app!
- see only the instructions you need
- tick through the pattern and make notes
- support is just a tap away
- adjust the settings to suit you!
We’ll guide you through everything you need to know to make your very own Classic Cardigan:
- Select the right yarn and size, and then swatch for satisfaction!
- Preview the garment construction
- Cast on
- Work the short row back-of-neck shaping
- Knit the seamless raglan yoke
- Separate for body and sleeves at the underarm
- Work that body!
- Knit the sleeves
- Finish it up!
Select your yarn and your size, and then swatch for satisfaction!
The Classic Cardigan pattern has three yarn weights and LOTS of sizes, so before you get started, you’ll need to think about which yarn you’ll use and which size is right for you…and then you’ll swatch for satisfaction (sorry)!
Select a yarn weight: sock (or sport), DK, or worsted (aran)
The first thing you’ll decide is what yarn to use. Since the pattern is written for three yarn weights, you’ll have a wide variety of options! A worsted or aran weight sweater knits up quite a bit more quickly, and it’s warm and cozy. A sock- or sport-weight garment is lighter and more versatile over the in-between seasons, but it takes many more stitches per square inch and thus is a slower knit. DK is smack in between! It’s for you to decide what you’re looking to make, taking into consideration what works best for your wardrobe and your climate.
Still not sure which yarn to use? Check out our tutorial on choosing a sweater yarn here. The most important thing is that you select a yarn that you are happy working with and one that will be able to meet one of the three pattern gauges.
Select your size and consider lengths
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to garment fit. As a knitter, you’ll get to know your own preferences over time, and you’ll learn to select your pattern size with your preferences in mind. If this is your first sweater project, I’d suggest reviewing our in-depth tutorials on how to select a size and what ‘ease’ is.
What about lengths? While you’ll likely select your size based on the finished chest dimension, consider how the lengths at the body and sleeves for this size will suit you. Remember, if you plan to lengthen any of the garment dimensions, you’ll probably need extra yarn.
Swatch for satisfaction (for a garment, gauge is critical)!
The next step is the swatch. We’ve written a bit about swatching here. Suffice to say that if your large, blocked swatch doesn’t match the garment design gauge, your cardigan will not end up the size that you picked – it’ll be bigger or smaller. You may still love it, but I don’t think I’d take that risk.
Since you’re swatching for a cardigan, the most critical gauge is your stockinette gauge worked back and forth in rows. This calls for a flat swatch. You’ll want to cast on about 6-8″ worth of stitches, work a few rows in garter, work a few edge stitches in garter, and then do the rest of your stitches in stockinette. When you’ve got about 5-6″ of fabric, work a few more garter stitch rows and bind off.
Don’t forget to block your swatch! Lots of yarns change significantly with blocking, so skipping this step is NOT recommended. You’ll want to treat your swatch exactly like you’ll treat your finished garment. If you plan to toss it in the washer and dryer, do that with your swatch, too.
There are LOADS of situations where Alexa and I skip the swatch, but knitting adult garments is NOT one of those situations. However, if you’re knitting a baby, toddler, or kid sweater, I suppose you could go ahead and skip the swatch. It’s bound to come out fitting somebody…!
Understanding what needles you’ll need
When you’re a newer knitter, one of the things that can be confusing is understanding which needles you’ll need for a project – and why the pattern lists SO MANY. Cardigans are a little more flexible than pullovers in this regard, since you’re knitting back and forth for most of it, rather than in the round.
For this project, you’ll need smaller diameter needles for the ribbing at neckline, cuffs, hem, and button bands; you’ll need larger diameter needles for the remainder of the knit. The yoke and body are knit back and forth in rows, while the sleeves are worked in the round.
You could knit the body of the sweater on straight needles, but that’s a LOT of stitches to cram on there. I like to use my circular needles. If you’re knitting a small size, you won’t need very long circular needles – a 24″ or so will do. For bigger sizes, you’ll want longer needles. Now, the first thing I always consider is what needles I already have. If you’ve got a shorter or longer needle than you think you’ll need, it won’t hurt to give it a try!
For the sleeves, which are knit in the round, you’ll need either DPNs or a long circular needle for the Magic Loop method. Whichever style you prefer is just fine.
But which is MY cast-on number?
The pattern lists sizes in the following order: Newborn (3-6 mo, 6-12 mo, 1-2 yrs, 2-4 yrs, 4-6 yrs, 6-8 yrs, 8-10 yrs, Adult XS, S, SM, M, ML, L, XL, XXL, 3XL, 4XL, 5XL, 6XL). If you’re knitting the adult L (42″), then you’ll look for the 6th bolded value within the comma-separated set of numbers. Learn more about how to read multi-size patterns here, if this is new to you.
In addition to finding your size, you’ll also need to look at the right yarn weight. In the pattern, the instructions for each yarn weight have a different background colour: blue for worsted/aran, pink for DK, and yellow for sock. You’ll follow one of those instructions, so be sure to look for the highlight colour that applies to you. For example, the background colour for DK weight yarn is pink, so every time I get to a pattern section that has instructions that vary by yarn weight, I’ll use the PINK instructions.
Thus, when you’re working – say the 6-8 year old size in DK weight yarn – you’ll look for the pink background and follow the second-to-last of the non-bolded child sizes.
Preview garment construction
This cardigan is worked back and forth in rows from the top–down. The yoke is knit, the sleeve stitches are placed on hold on waste yarn, the body is worked to the hem, and then the sleeves are knit in the round to the cuffs. The button band and optional pockets are picked up and worked last.
Cast on at the neckline
At the cast-on, you’ve got two options for the neckline ribbing. You can save it for last or work it first (directly after casting on) and then proceed immediately to the rest of the yoke, seamlessly. This is the simpler way.
Following the ribbing-last instructions, you’ll pick up and knit a ribbed neckline after completing the remainder of the cardigan. This creates more structure for the rest of the garment to hang from; it’s especially useful for larger sizes and heavier yarn weights. Working the ribbing last also makes it easy to adjust the neckline stitch count, gauge, and bind-off tension for a perfect fit. For more details, check out our tutorial all about neckline adjustments.
The first step is an increase row, then it’s time to set up your markers (see our tutorial on how to use markers). Now you’re ready to shape the back of neck using a few little easy peasy short rows, so don’t stop now!
Work the short row back-of-neck shaping
I used German short rows here, but you can substitute with another method if you prefer! The only tricky bit is that while you’re working these short rows, you’re also increasing one stitch on either side of each marker. This begins the raglan shaping that continues through the cardigan yoke.
Short rows create a wedge of fabric at the back of the sweater, so it sits a bit higher than the front. This will give your sweater a better fit.
At the same time you’re working the short rows, you’re also increasing on either side of all four markers on each right side (RS) row. While there are many ways to work an m1, my favourite is this method: How to work an m1 increase. I like to work a paired increase with a make 1 right (m1R) before the marker and a make 1 left (m1L) after the marker.
Knit the seamless raglan yoke
Phew, you did those short rows – congratulations! The good news is the cardigan only gets easier from here!
Now you’ll work the yoke in two sections. At first, you’ll increase at the cardigan fronts, sleeves, and back every RS row, adding a total of eight stitches. Work this two-row repeat as many times as the pattern indicates for your yarn weight and size, and then check your stitch count.
Next, you’ll work a four-row repeat. Increase in all sections on the first RS row and at the sleeves only on the second RS (third) row. Each time you work this four-row repeat, you’ll add a total of 12 stitches.
As the yoke grows, you can begin to imagine that this funny shape might actually become a garment! You’ll note the wedge-shaped sections that will become sleeves…the fronts and the backs that will grow gradually, until there are enough stitches at each part. At this point, it’s worth taking the time to carefully check your stitch count, both in total and in each of the five sections.
Measure the yoke depth now and work without any more increases, if you need a little extra depth to meet the pattern lengths.
Separate for body and sleeves at the underarm
This step is a lovely trick – you’ll convert the big, rectangular-ish blob of knitting you’ve done so far into the top of a cardigan! To do this, knit across the left front to the marker, place the stitches to the next marker on hold using waste yarn, cast on a few underarm stitches using the backwards loop cast-on method, knit across the back to the next marker, and then place the stitches on hold again. Next, cast on underarm stitches again and then knit the last section of stitches (right front) to the end of the row.
Separating body and sleeves video:
Et voilà! Take a moment to admire your work (and count to check you have the right number of body stitches!).
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Work that body!
You now have a LONG, juicy (or boring, depending on your perspective) stretch of body knitting in front of you. Just knit to the right length and then switch to smaller needles for working the hem ribbing. Bind off LOOSELY, so the hem doesn’t bind. I always like to bind off ribbing in pattern, but feel free to use whatever technique you prefer.
Knit the sleeves
You’re circling closer and closer to your cardigan completion party! For this next step, you’ll be putting your held stitches back on the larger diameter needles, picking up stitches at the underarm, and working your sleeve in the round. (For ALL the details, check out our post on beginning a sleeve on a top–down sweater.)
Adjustment note: if you plan to adjust the overall sleeve length, the ‘knit even’ section at the top of the sleeve is the place to shorten (or lengthen) your sleeve. Lately, I’ve been loving a doubled cuff. It gives kid sweaters an opportunity for just a little bit more wear, too!
Done sleeve number one and feeling like a hero? I’ve got bad news, baby: You have to go back to the beginning of this section, and do it all over again for the second sleeve. You’re on ‘sleeve island’, and you’ve gotta just keep on knitting to get back to shore…!
Finish it up: neckline, button band, and blocking
You’re so close…you can almost taste it! If you’ve already worked the neckline rib, skip down to the button band. If you cast on and saved the neckline for later, this is your moment. You’ll use smaller needles, and pick up and knit one stitch in each of the cast-on stitches.
You’ll work the ribbing just as described in the pattern and then bind-off. You can use a regular knitwise bind-off or bind off in pattern – whatever you prefer. After working the neckline ribbing, try on your cardigan. If you decide the fit isn’t quite right, now is the time to adjust your neckline for a perfect fit. (See our tutorial for a range of suggestions.)
You’re almost there…the button band is one of the very last details! If this is your first time, take it slowly and carefully. If you don’t like it the first time, don’t be afraid to rip it out and re-work it, because the button band is an important detail. Learn how to work a button band, check out our tips on choosing buttons, and see how to sew on buttons, too! If you’re not a fan of the pick up-and-knit method we use in this pattern, you can try the knit-and-sewn-on button band method by following our tutorial.
Want to add some cute pockets to your cardigan? It’s great without them…but even cuter with!
To work an afterthought pocket:
- Pick up stitches by sliding a DPN or circular needle through the specified stitches.
- Join new yarn and work back and forth in rows, knitting the pocket and adding ribbing at the top.
- Sew down the sides of the pocket to your cardigan.
Et voilá! One pocket down and one to go!
Block your cardigan
Is it done? Have you woven in all the ends? Alexa and I don’t consider a sweater done until it’s had a nice bath and been blocked. Of course, we’ve got a tutorial on how to block your hand-knit sweater with all the details!
Sew on those buttons
A little Classic Cardigan inspiration
Basic basic basic basic… you get the idea, right?!
The Classic Cardigan is one of four patterns in our Basics Collection that are, like the name says, BASIC. But when we do a basic, we try to REALLY do that basic. That’s why we’ve included multiple yarn weights AND multiple sizes in all the patterns. We believe they’re just what you need: a classic cardigan, a simple sweater, this basic beanie, and some everyday ribbed socks. Each comes with an in-depth tutorial to guide you through any and all sticking points, so you can FINISH THAT KNIT and start enjoying some seriously cozy vibes!
~ Emily & Alexa
Great basics from Tin Can Knits
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