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How to Get Started Knitting Colourwork

September 24, 2021
A sweater yoke in progress with all of the yarns used beside it

Knitting colourwork (also known as stranded colourwork or Fair Isle knitting) may seem difficult, but it’s actually quite simple. When knitting colourwork patterns, you use two colours (sometimes more) in a single row or round. This looks tricky to the uninitiated; however, the pattern is formed using only knit stitches, so it’s not nearly as complicated as it looks! If you’ve been too intimidated to give colourwork a try, this tutorial will demystify the process and take you through it step by step.

The basics of colourwork knitting

  • First, you knit a stitch (or several) in one colour – let’s call it the main colour (MC).
  • Then you knit a stitch (or several) in another colour – let’s call it the contrast colour (CC).

Simply follow the colourwork chart, and the pattern appears! The mechanics are REALLY that simple, and if you know how to follow a chart, then you can stop reading, grab one of our free colourwork patterns (like the Anthology hat and cowl or the Clayoquot toque), and start knitting right now.

The rest is just details! But since you’re here – and maybe you’re in the mood – let’s talk about some of those details…

How do I read a colourwork chart?

Typically, stranded colourwork is knit in the round, rather than back and forth in rows. This is convenient because you’re always looking at the knit side of the work – and thus can ensure that the pattern is forming correctly. A colourwork chart is typically read right to left, starting from round 1 at the bottom of the chart and working your way up to the top, one round at a time.

As you work following the chart, the fabric grows to create the pattern shown, so you can look at the colourwork chart and make a fair guess at what the finished product will look like – they’re closely related.

Morse Code Yoke blog post
This Strange Brew sweater was knit from the top down using the chart shown below. For all the details on this sweater, check out our blog post here.
Morse Code Yoke blog post

But how do I hold two yarns when knitting colourwork?

Try the first timer’s easy-peasy method (just drop the yarns when changing colours)

For YEARS, well into her career as a pattern designer, Emily knit colourwork this way: Knit with the MC colour and then drop that strand. Pick up the CC strand, knit with it, and then drop it. Pick up the other strand and knit with it…and so forth. It’s not as slow as you might think (though it’s also not fast 🤣).

Try holding one yarn in each hand

I like to knit stranded colourwork holding one yarn in each hand. When knitting the MC with my right hand, I throw (English style), and when knitting the CC with my left hand, I pick (Continental style).

I’ve taught countless colourwork classes and literally NEVER had a student who couldn’t learn to do colourwork using this method – but they did find it difficult it at first (there’s always a bit of cursing). But after a couple of hours of practice, everybody manages to get the hang of it.

Other techniques for holding yarn when knitting colourwork

There are about as many ways to knit colourwork as there are ways to knit, so feel free to experiment and find the technique that works for you. There’s no wrong way to knit, and there’s no wrong way to knit colourwork. There’s only what you prefer.

And what’s this about floats and tension?


The yarn that’s not currently being used is drawn across the back of the work, and those strands are called ‘floats’. It’s important to draw this yarn LOOSELY across the back of the work. Otherwise, the fabric will be tight and compressed horizontally, which is NOT fun as you knit it – and it doesn’t look good when it’s done, either.

The inside of a colourwork yoke with a hand showing the float


Because you have floats making a straight line across the back of the work, the fabric formed by stranded colourwork is much less stretchy than that formed with a regular knitted fabric. You’ll want to keep this in mind when choosing the right size if you’re knitting a sweater with a colourwork body (get more info on choosing a colourwork sweater size here). And before embarking on a sweater-sized project, it’s wise to do a swatch first. Check out our tutorial on swatching for colourwork here.

Trapping floats

You may have heard of trapping floats, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: Emily and I almost never trap our floats! Some folks will tell you to trap floats every 3, 5, 7, 10+ stitches, but we almost never do (mittens are the exception). If you do want to trap your floats, it’s as simple as twisting your two yarns together. If you hold your yarns in each hand, check out this video for a slightly fancier way of trapping:

That’s it? C’mon! I still have a million more questions… 

How do I join a new yarn?

To join a new yarn, just leave a yarn tail and then get started with the new yarn from the beginning of the next round. You’ll weave in the ends later.

an inside out colourwork hat with yarn tails showing

What about increases and decreases? 

When there’s an increase or a decrease in a colourwork pattern (like in a colourwork round yoke), you’ll simply work it in the colour shown on the chart. You can work any increase or decrease stitch in the colour shown.

Almanac sweater pattern
For the Almanac, a top-down colourwork yoke sweater, the increases are incorporated into the chart.

What is ‘yarn dominance’?

When you knit colourwork, the stitches sit a little differently than in regular stockinette. When you go from knitting one stitch in the MC to one in the CC, they don’t sit as perfectly as they might if they were done in the same colour. For some knitters, the difference is glaring, while others hardly notice it at all.

Is blocking different for colourwork pieces? 

Blocking colourwork isn’t really different from any other kind of blocking, but it is CRITICAL! You’ll definitely want to block your colourwork piece after you complete it, and regular wet blocking works just fine. It’ll make the finished knit look a lot better because it will even out the stitches and help the yarn ‘bloom’.

How do I keep my yarns from getting all tangled up? 

When you begin knitting stranded colourwork, you may find that your yarns get all tangled up around and around each other, which can be annoying, but this is simple to prevent. If you place the CC ball to the left of your body and the MC ball to the right of your body (and always keep them in those positions), they will not tangle. You will always draw the CC yarn (the one on your left) up from underneath the other colour, so it will create slightly longer ‘dominant’ stitches.

What about all the yarn tails? 

Suck it up, buttercup – those yarn tails aren’t gonna weave in themselves! Or, you can be a lazy ass like me… I just tie them to the next colour, trim them fairly short, and then hope that, with plenty of time and wear, they’ll eventually felt themselves together into a nice, solid, woolly mess.

A colourwork yoke sweater inside out with yarn tails showing.

What kind of yarns should I use? 

We’ve got an opinion (or three) on this topic! Check out our posts about: 

Choosing a palette for the Sunshine Sweater or Hat

How do I choose colours for a colourwork project?

You sure you really wanna open that can of worms? Okay, excellent, so do I! 

We’ve got a long list of posts that are all about picking palettes and combining colours. Here they are in order of relative usefulness (just my opinion!): 

  1. Week of Colour: Strategies for Designing a Palette – picking a palette can be easier when you choose a strategy
  2. Applying Colour to Stranded Knitting Motifs – because there are MANY ways you can do it!
  3. Swatching Colourwork – we detail several methods for you.
  4. Collect Your Favourite Colour Combos – beg, borrow, and steal!
  5. Colour Theory for Knitters – key terms like saturation and contrast.
Strange Brew colourwork yoke recipe project directory
Pretty soon you’ll be ready to design your own Strange Brew colourwork yokes, like these ones!

Ready, Set, Go!

While all this can seem like a lot of info, you won’t figure any of it out unless you get going. We recommend starting with a hat and only two colours – just dive in and enjoy the learning process! Once you’ve knit a project or two, you’ll be ready to tackle any colourful knit. Check out the pics below for a little inspiration and click your favourite to get the pattern!

~ Alexa

Mix and Match: Combining Yarn Weights and Types in Stranded Colourwork

September 16, 2021

Have you always wanted to knit stranded colourwork or Fair Isle projects, but felt like you had to buy the whole yarn shop before you could even begin? Not so! If you’re planning to try this kind of pattern, let me dispel the myth that you need to buy exactly what the designer used. It’s simply not true.

When knitting colourwork projects, it IS possible (and FUN) to choose from your stash of odds and ends and leftovers. You CAN mix different yarns and still get a lovely match! Here are my best tips for getting started…

1. Colourwork yarns don’t have to be the same weight

While it’s best to follow pattern instructions for the weight of the main colour (MC) yarn, the contrast colour (CC) yarns don’t have to match precisely. For example, for CCs in a DK weight project, you could use sport, DK, worsted, or aran-weight yarns successfully. You could also hold a sock yarn doubled or a lace-weight yarn tripled.

Anthology Hat pattern
For Max’s Anthology hat, I combined one worsted weight, two sport weights, and two DK weight yarns – and they all play nicely together! For Max’s North Shore sweater, I used a DK weight MC, but I but worked the trees in a plump aran weight and the mountains in a light-weight angora 4-ply held doubled.

2. Colourwork yarns don’t have to be the same brand or type

A card wrapped in yarns with different textures and constructions, and strands of different yarns laid alongside.
This wrapped yarn card shows three of the yarns I used in the Anthology hat shown in the photo above. From left to right, they are a worsted-weight single ply yarn, a sport weight 3-ply, and a DK weight superwash 2-ply. Although they have different qualities, but when combined made a beautiful finished knit!

You’re entitled to your doubts, but I encourage you to try it and see! When working colourwork projects, there’s no reason you can’t combine yarns that are fluffy, hairy, crunchy, or single-ply with plied and superwash yarns. Of course, each yarn will lend something of its own quality to the finished knit, but this can be an exciting benefit. We’ve written more about this in Choosing a Yarn for Your Colourwork Sweater and Swatching for Colourwork.

Embers Sweater Pattern
For this Embers hat, I used a commercially made 4-ply yarn for the MC, but for the CC, I used a DK-weight, 2-ply handspun that is a little thick-and-thin with slubs and changing colours.

3. Colourwork yarns can be doubled

You can hold yarns doubled in colourwork to get a suitable weight. For example, if you have a lot of odds and ends in sock weight but want to knit a colourwork yoke sweater in worsted or aran weight, you can hold the sock-weight yarns doubled to get a similar weight. This opens up even more of your yarn stash to be used in your next colourwork project! If this interests you, read our posts on holding yarns doubled and creating marls.

In this Sunshine hat, Alexa used sock-weight yarns held double for some of the contrast colours.

Sunshine Hat Pattern

More quick tips for combining yarns of different weights and types in stranded colourwork projects

  • When using a CC yarn that’s a different weight than your MC, choose a yarn that’s a little bit thicker or thiner than the MC, but not TOO much thinner – or the pattern won’t show up well. I’d estimate that the CC yarn shouldn’t be more than one weight off your MC. Check out the Craft Yarn Council Standard Yarn Weight System for more info.
  • If you want to use your sock-weight yarn as the CC in a DK, worsted, or aran-weight project, I’d suggest you hold it doubled, so it’s plump enough to hold up to the MC yarn.
  • Hold the thinner of two yarns in the ‘dominant’ position – that is, allow it to be pulled up from underneath the other yarn when working the pattern.

Don’t just take my word for it

Combining yarns across weights and types in colourwork projects is one of my FAVOURITE ways to play in knitting, but YOU won’t know for sure until you try! You’re gonna have to get your yarn combination on the needles to know how it works, so go for it! Like everything else in life, you won’t know for sure until you know for sure. Even after a decade of designing knits, I still don’t know FOR SURE if a combination is going to work until I get it on the needles.

Embers Sweater Pattern
Embers is an excellent design for playing with combinations because each motif only takes a little yarn. I held a strand of mohair silk laceweight alongside the sock-weight contrast colours, which added some extra delicious halo to the colourwork yoke.
Embers Sweater Pattern
You can see from this photo of the yoke-join that each contrast colour has an extra strand of lace-weight mohair alongside it, giving it that extra delicious halo!
Sunshine Sweater Pattern
Because the Sunshine Sweater requires SO MANY contrast colours (I know, it’s a bit over the top!), it’s a perfect design for playing around with using leftovers you have that are a little thinner or thicker than the DK weight yarn called for in the design. We also put together an in-depth tutorial to help you select a palette for the Sunshine sweater or hat.

Get to it!

I hope these tips expand the possibilities you see in your yarn stash and give you the confidence you need to begin working some stranded colourwork projects using yarn you already have. There’s really no need to buy the whole yarn shop before you begin!

Perhaps you’re like me – an avid yarn collector who can’t bear to throw away the quarter or half skeins that pile up after projects are finished. If this is the case for you, I’d recommend getting started with some simple colourwork projects to use up those odd balls. We’ve got a few lovelies for you – just click a photo to get the pattern!

~ Emily

Picking a Creative Colour Palette for the Sunshine Sweater or Hat

August 31, 2021
Two colourwork hats on a wall

Whether you’re planning a Sunshine sweater or hat – or planning to use the hat as a swatch for the sweater – let’s take a look at how this playful colourwork design works! Understanding the nature of a colourwork pattern and analyzing its structure and relationships can help you modify the colour palette to suit your preferences and yarn stash. Grab your copy of the Sunshine sweater or Sunshine hat pattern, and let’s get started!

While the Sunshine sweater and hat can be worked using either a light or dark main colour (MC), we’ll analyze the dark MC palette in this tutorial. See how the pattern reads differently with a dark vs. light MC? This is just another way colourwork knitting is a playful joy!

Sunshine hat pattern
Sunshine hat pattern

Colourwork palette notes

In the Sunshine sweater and Sunshine hat patterns, we included something NEW: a palette notes section. Palette notes describe the relationships between the colours in the design. We hope this helps you select colours with a little more confidence. If the colour terms used here (like hue, contrast, and saturation) are unfamiliar to you, read Colour Theory for Knitters. Remember that MC means main colour, and CC means contrast colour.

Palette A notes (dark MC):

  • MC (dark) and CC1 (light) are two shades of the same colour. 
  • CC2 (dark) and CC3 (light) are also two shades of the same colour. 
  • CC4 is darker than CC5; the saturation and contrast of the palette through the central 6/8 rounds should increase.
  • CC6 should be a colour with strong contrast that really ‘pops’ against the other CCs.

Take a look at the hat in colour, as compared to black and white. When you view the photo (or the chart) in black and white, it becomes clear how the overall pattern is formed from primary columns with dotty columns between them, and how the CCs stack up light over light, and dark over dark, to create these columns.

How to choose a colour palette, step-by-step

Tip your box of yarn odds and ends out onto the floor. Grab the sport, DK, worsted, and even aran weight yarns, and get ready to have some fun! Sunshine is designed for DK weight yarn, so your MC should be DK weight; however, this project is great for combining yarn weights within the colourwork pattern. It works (trust me and try it!).

First, select your MC and then choose CC1, which will be a lighter shade in the same (or similar) hue as the MC.

A ball of dark grey-blue yarn and a ball of light grey-blue yarn

Second, select CC2 and CC3. These should also be dark and light shades of the same or similar hue. I prefer a strong contrast between the MC/CC1 hue and the hue used for the CC2 and CC3 pair. In other words, make it interesting – don’t just use another two blues!

A ball of dark grey-blue yarn and a ball of light grey-blue yarn, with balls of dark purple and light purple above.

Third, select CC4 and CC5. In this case, I used a lighter and a darker colour, but I chose hues from different colour families. In the sweater palette, I used a vivid red as CC4 (darker) with vivid yellow as CC5 (lighter). The saturation and contrast of the colours in this section are increasing, as mentioned in the palette notes.

Two columns of yarns; on the left are dark blue, dark purple, and vivid green, on the right are light blue, light purple, and vivid neon pink

Fourth, select CC6. The key here is to choose a colour that really ‘pops’ and contrasts strongly with both CC4 and CC5. You can see in the palettes I designed that I used a new hue (a totally new colour family) that hadn’t been used in the palette so far.

A colourwork hat with the yarns that it was made from alongside it

Are you ready to get creative?

For me, the joyful thing about playing with colour in this way is that it makes me feel incredibly creative, even though I only have to make a few choices. I simply need to be willing to experiment, and a hat isn’t too much of a commitment, really. And I love it when I can adventure a little bit outside my ‘comfort zone’ to seek a combination that really pleases me.

Which is your favourite of these colour combinations – one of the hats or one of the sweaters? What colour combinations will you try? Let us know in the comments!

~ Emily

Sunshine Hat Pattern
Sunshine Sweater Pattern
Sunshine Hat Pattern
Sunshine Sweater Pattern

My Sunshine

August 26, 2021
Sunshine Sweater Pattern
Our new Sunshine sweater is a warm ray of light when the day is grey.

You Are My Sunshine

You are my sunshine, 
my only sunshine, 
you make me happy, 
when skies are grey.

You’ll never know dear,
how much I love you,
please don’t take
my sunshine

~ 1930s Georgia, USA, authorship disputed

At Christmas last year, I was missing my family in Canada hard, and my urge to knit my love for them was greater than ever. So I decided to design a special new sweater pattern and knit it up for my nephews. This was a huge change for me. Unlike Alexa, I’ve never been much of a gift knitter. I thought it was ‘impractical’. (Hahaha that’s me – skipping right through life and almost always missing the point!)

Sunshine Sweater pattern
Sunshine Hat pattern
Because we couldn’t resist, we designed a matching Sunshine Hat pattern too!

Following my love of knitting

When developing this design, I got swallowed up by the creative urge. I went all in and enjoyed myself, letting the joy of knitting consume my energies for a few weeks. This year’s theme at Tin Can Knits is ‘For the Love of Knitting’, and I think that as I age and gain more experience as a designer, I become more comfortable chasing my ‘love’ – knitting the things that bring me the most joy, and hoping other knitters feel the same way.

Before I shipped the Sunshine sweater off to my nephew Sawyer, I photographed it on Max in a frosty winter wood. Now, I know this is how parenthood works, but Max is just so beautiful to me! Even in a crisp and cloudy wintery setting, seeing him in something I knit warmed my heart. When he was a baby, the lullaby I sang most often to him was ‘You Are My Sunshine’, and that’s part of why I named this design Sunshine – for the loved ones who make me happy when skies are grey.

Sunshine Sweater Pattern
Sunshine Sweater pattern
Alexa knit a newborn size for her nephew! Cute eh?!
Sunshine Hat Pattern
Sunshine Sweater Pattern

But there are TOO MANY COLOURS! Be reasonable!

For my Sunshine sweater, I used the delicious Rainbow Heirloom Sweater in Evergreen as the main colour. For the yoke, I mined my stash of scraps and oddballs, and pulled out seven vibrant contrast colours. Seven colours, you say?! Yes…I know this will seem unreasonable to many knitters.

If you’re doubtful, give me a chance to convince you! Next week I’ll guide you in putting together a palette for this design, and you can make decisions step-by-step, rather than figuring it all out in advance. Cast on. Trust me. This sweater will add a little extra joy and sunshine to your knitting basket – I promise!

~ Emily

Sunshine Sweater Pattern

Why Do We Knit?

August 17, 2021

This year I’ve been feeling particularly…existential. I’ve been questioning all my habits and routines, my favourite (and least favourite) things, my ‘whys’ and ‘why nots’. With all this introspection, I’ve been looking a little differently at how I spend my time, and one of the questions I put to myself is: why do I knit? What brings me back time and again to this craft I hold so dear? This is the theme we’ll be exploring at Tin Can Knits throughout the coming year.

Savouring rhythmic joy

My personal love of knitting begins with the process. I love to see beautiful materials pass through my fingers stitch by stitch. I adore the feeling of accomplishment as a piece grows from a little cast-on to a full-grown sweater, created with nothing but my hands, some sticks, and some string. I love taking these simple things and turning them into something amazing.

4 skeins of yarn in a line.
Skeins of yarn represent endless possibilities!

As someone who brings her yarn bag everywhere, I use my knitting in many different ways. Sometimes it keeps my nervous hands busy while I wait at appointments or sit on the sidelines of my kids’ sports. Sometimes it’s ‘conversational’. I like to have something simple on the needles as I while away the evening with friends, just knitting round and round while chatting and laughing. There’s also the kind of knitting that lets my mind wander – stitches happening seemingly by themselves, while I take the time to ponder other things.

Knitting connections

Then there’s the joy of meeting other knitters – or even those who haven’t picked up the craft yet. Knitting in public is often a conversation starter. Some people are fascinated by the fact that I can knit without looking at the work, and they just have to ask about it. Others can’t wait to tell me about the amazing things their grandparents knit for them many years ago. In this way, knitting brings a little bit of connection.

Practicing possibility one stitch at a time

Knitting is a simple but repetitive process. Stitch by stitch, you build. But you’re not only building a knitted item – you’re also building your knitting skills. With each stitch, you get a little closer to that finished object, and you become a slightly better knitter. For me, this brings a bit of confidence that translates to other areas of my life. If I can build a sweater one stitch at a time, so many other things seem possible. Maybe I can hike that mountain, read that book, or bake that fancy cake!

Five children in a rainbow of handknit sweaters.
An epic feat of knitting and photography skills: all the cuzzies in Gramps sweaters!

Making beautiful, meaningful things

While I thoroughly enjoy the process of knitting, the finished product is also a source of great pride, happiness, and love. Knitting allows me to create something beautiful that contains a lot of meaning for me. I know about all the materials that went into it, the story of the project-planning, where I knit it, and all the trials and tribulations I encountered along the way. I know where the mistakes are and where I learned something new. I know that particular thing inside and out.

A woman in a white sweater with a colourwork yoke.
My latest finished sweater just for ME! This is the Embers sweater, and I’m pleased as punch with it!

Gifting woolly love

One of my greatest joys is giving things I make to people I love. I like to think about the recipient as I plan my project, and I like to think I knit a little bit of love into each stitch. I take particular pride and joy in seeing my children clothed in my knits. They’re still young enough to proudly tell anyone who will listen that their Mum MADE their sweater for them. When they leave the house and venture out into the world, I know they are clad in a woolly little armour imbued with love. The same goes for any knits I gift. I hope the recipient remembers how much I care each time they put on their toque, scarf, or socks.

A stack of knit hats.
A stack of Barley hats, ready to be gifted.

Why do you love knitting?

Now that I’ve waxed poetic about my own reasons for knitting, I put the question to you: why do you knit? Leave a comment and let us know your very favourite things about knitting. Emily and I would LOVE to hear from you!

~ Alexa

Sweater Construction: The Many Ways to Knit a Sweater

July 29, 2021

There are MANY ways to knit a sweater. Let’s learn about some of them!

Jump directly to:

What does ‘construction’ mean?

In the context of knitting, ‘construction’ means the way that an item is knit. It describes which pieces are knit first, whether they are knit in rows or rounds, and in which direction the finished knit grows. We always describe the construction of our designs, so you can visualize how the project will come together.

Construction diagram for the Wheat Scarf, showing how it is knit from end to end in rows.

For example, most scarves are knit in rows, from end to end. Most hats are knit in the round, starting at the brim and eventually decreasing at the crown.

Sweaters are a bit more complex. A sweater is made of four ‘tubes’ that cover your torso, arms, and yoke or shoulder section. These tubes can be made and joined together in several different ways, that is, using several different construction methods. This tutorial provides a broad overview of common sweater construction methods.

Sleeves and body in progress, this little sweater is knit in the round from the bottom up.
The start of a bottom-up sweater knit in the round: two sleeve tubes and one body tube. Next they’ll be joined for working the yoke section, which is just another tube that decreases from shoulders to neckline.

On our website, we describe the construction method for each and every one of our designs! On any pattern page, click the View Pattern Details button and then navigate to the construction section. To see some examples, check out the free Flax sweater construction, the Lush cardigan construction, and the Vivid blanket construction.

Knit in the round (seamlessly) or knit in pieces and seamed

Garments can be separated into two broad categories:

  1. Garments knit in the round by working a series of tubes that are joined together with minimal seaming
  2. Garments knit flat (in rows) and seamed together after the pieces are complete
Seamless and seamed sweater construction methods. Illustration.

Depending on the garment shape you’re looking for, one or the other method might be better suited for your project. However, many shapes can be worked either way – by knitting seamlessly in the round OR by knitting flat pieces and seaming them together. Alexa and I like to knit and publish seamless knitting patterns because we find them simpler. Some knitters prefer to knit in pieces and seam; perhaps they prefer to work on straight needles or perhaps they like the firmness and structure that seams can add to a finished knit.

Is there one way to make a sweater that’s BETTER than the others?

There are a LOT of opinions out there, but let’s not get blue in the face arguing about whether the toilet paper should run off the top or the bottom of the roll, folks!

Whatever method brings you pleasure, whatever way you can manage, whatever construction results in a finished garment that works for you or your loved ones – that is the ‘best’ way for you…at least for now. If you’re like Alexa and me, you’re continually learning and experimenting to expand your knowledge of garment construction. The method that works best for you today may change tomorrow, as you continue to learn and to grow your skills. Our best advice? Try a couple different methods and see what YOU think!

Bottom-up and top-down construction

Direction is another aspect of garment construction. When a sweater is knit from the neckline downward to hems and cuffs, we say it’s knit top-down. When it’s knit from the hem and cuffs upward to the underarm and through the yoke, we say it’s knit bottom-up.


Yoke sweater construction diagram. illustration.
The Embers sweater is knit top-down. From the neckline, you work in increasing rounds from the yoke. At the underarms, the work is separated into three tubes (body, right sleeve, and left sleeve). Each of these tubes is knit from underarm down to the hem or cuff.

Working top-down is great because you can easily adjust the body and sleeve lengths after the fact – and it’s a bit easier to try it on as you go, which gives you a rough idea of how your sweater will fit.


Bottom up raglan cardigan construction. Illustration.
The Boardwalk cardigan is knit bottom-up. With this pattern, you cast on each sleeve at the cuff and work tubes in the round to underarms. You cast on the body at the hem and work in long rows up to the underarm point. At the underarm, you join sleeve tubes to the body and work in decreasing rows through the yoke to the neckline. The button bands are picked up and worked last.

Working bottom-up is great because it’s very easy to adjust the neckline, which is worked last. The neckline is a very critical point in a sweater because it can make all the difference in how well the garment fits. (Read How to Get the Perfect Neckline for more tips!) I also love working bottom-up sleeves because they’re easy to take with me for knitting at the park or coffee shop!

To see photos and descriptions that cover each step of top-down construction, check out our free Flax Sweater tutorial. For all the details on bottom-up construction, read our in-depth tutorial, Let’s Knit a Bottom-Up Sweater.


A garment with raglan shaping has seam lines (or shaping lines) separating the sleeves, front, and back parts of the garment through the yoke. These lines extend from the underarm up to the neckline finish.

Bottom up raglan and top don raglan pullover construction. Illustration.

A raglan can be worked either bottom-up (with decreases to shape the pieces) or top-down (with increases to shape the pieces). It can also be worked seamlessly (knit in the round) or in pieces and then seamed.

We’ve designed more than a few seamless raglan sweaters and cardigans over the years! Click your favorite to get the pattern.

Circular yoke

A circular yoke has a seamless ‘circle’ that expands (or decreases) to shape the yoke. This type of garment is usually worked seamlessly in the round, at least through the yoke section. If a circular yoke is worked from the top down, then the yoke is shaped with increases. Worked from the bottom up, it is shaped with decreases.

Bottom up and top down circular yoke pullover construction. Illustration.

The Cartography sweater is a circular yoke knit from the top down, with increase rounds placed between charming little bands of colourwork.

Cartography Sweater pattern

The Compass sweater is also knit from the top down; however, instead of discrete rounds of increase between the pattern, the yoke is made with a wedge-shaped chart with increases within the pattern itself.

Compass Sweater Pattern

We love circular yokes so much that we designed an entire ebook full of them! PLUS, we created a recipe that guides you step-by-step in designing your own! Get a copy of Strange Brew and check out our in-depth tutorial on knitting a yoke sweater to get started on your own yoke design.

Set-in sleeve and drop-shoulder sweaters

Set-in sleeve and drop-shoulder constructions are quite similar. Drop-shoulder garments have little to no underarm shaping; the body is a box, and the sleeves are picked up and knit from openings on either side. Set-in sleeves have a little more shaping in the front and back body pieces, as well as in the sleeve cap itself.

Construction process for a mostly-seamless drop-shoulder cardigan. Illustration.

It is possible to work set-in sleeves and drop-shoulder garments mostly seamlessly.

  1. Working from the bottom up, work the body tube in the round for a pullover, or work back and forth in long rows for a cardigan.
  2. From the underarm point to shoulders, work the pieces for fronts and backs in rows.
  3. Next, seam the shoulders to join back to front.
  4. Finally, pick up and knit around the armhole opening, and work the sleeves in the round from shoulder down to cuffs, finishing with neckline and/or button bands.

As you can see, this construction incorporates both bottom-up (for the body) AND top-down (for the sleeves) construction methods. You can try out this kind of construction by knitting the Bowline pullover, Playdate cardigan, Jones cardigan, and Peanut vest!

Construction process for a seamed drop-shoulder pullover. Illustration.

Set-in sleeves and drop-shoulder constructions can also be knit in pieces and seamed. Typically pieces would be worked bottom-up, though top-down is also possible. When seaming the garment, you will join fronts to back at the shoulders, seam sleeves to body pieces at shoulder, and then seam body sides and sleeve underarms, finishing with neckline and/or button bands.

The drop-shoulder style is a classic. Check out some of our designs that feature this construction and click a pic to get the pattern!

Hybrid constructions

There are a wide array of hybrid constructions – methods that combine and mash-up aspects of the typical construction types described above. Of course, we have explored a few!

The Lush and Caribou cardigans share an enjoyable mash-up of methods. You work the patterned yoke band first and then pick up along the edges, working upward to to neckline and downward through sleeves and body to the hem and cuffs.

Detail of the Lush cardigan's leafy lace yoke band which is knit first.
Lush Cardigan Pattern

Our Low Tide top is knit bodice pieces first and then the body is worked in a single piece from a pick-up line along the bottom of the bodice pieces, with shaping that creates a swingy silhouette.

Low Tide Cardigan Pattern

One stitch at a time – you can do it!

Sweater knitting can feel a little daunting at times, but the truth of the matter is that your sweater will be made stitch by stitch, step by step. Just get started and continue one step at a time; you will (sooner or later) be enjoying your own hand-knit creation – or an entire sweater wardrobe! Still not convinced? Check out all our sweater knitting resources to learn more.

If you enjoyed this tutorial, sign up for email updates, so we can let you know when new tutorials and patterns are available! We send knitters a helpful and inspiring email once or twice a month (and it’s easy to unsubscribe if you discover they’re not for you).

~ Emily

Alexa’s wearing her Marshland sweater, and I’m wearing my Compass sweater!

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.
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.
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).
Work a few more rows, working in ribbing (or a different stitch pattern) at the pocket locations between the markers.
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).
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

Blankets and Love

June 30, 2021
A small baby sleeping on a rainbow patchwork blanket.
A brand new Max napping on the rainbow Vivid blanket Emily made for him. She dyed the yarn herself via Rainbow Heirloom.

Blankets are so much more than the sum of their parts. They are knit the same way as anything else – stitch by stitch – and yet they seem to possess a sort of magical quality once finished.

For grown ups, they are both practical (thrown over the shoulders on a chilly evening) and precious (a handmade symbol of love and care). For children, they can be anything – a cape, a fort, or something to snuggle under at nap time. And for grown kids heading out into the world, they can be a comforting reminder of someone back home who loves them.

Whether you knit a blankie for yourself or someone else, it always represents a little love and caring. We often keep this concept in mind as we design new blankets. Vivid came from Emily’s changing ideas about parenthood long before Max was born. Bonfire was created out of a desire for something big and cozy to keep loved ones warm in the outdoors. Fly Away represents that inevitable, bittersweet moment when children leave us to fly off and soar on their own. And our most recent blanket pattern, Lullaby, was designed to use up every drop of a cherished yarn, like Emily’s own handspun. No matter what inspires the knit, blankets are always a sweet adventure.

Bonfire blanket pattern
Hunter bundled up in her big Bonfire blanket.
Fly Away blanket pattern
Max and Bodhi modelling ALL the woollies when they were wee! The Fly Away blanket is the perfect warm barrier between the cool beach sand and these tiny, precious babes.

The scrapper

There are many ways to knit a blanket, but one of my favourites is by scraps. I love seeing knitters reminisce about projects past as they knit their leftovers into something new. One square might represent the remnants of a comfy, old sweater, another a cherished baby bonnet, and yet another newborn’s first blanket. It reminds me of a quilt my Mum once made, using all the little leftovers in her bin. She would take out each piece of fabric and tell the story of its original purpose. Sometimes it was about how wrong the project went, and sometimes it was about the person she made the item for – but each piece seemed to have a story of its own.

A woman holding a babe draped in a blue lace blanket.
Michelle, my sister-in-law, recently knit this tiny Vivid blanket for her new baby, Cody. It is made up of scraps from some of her projects past – and a few of mine!
Bounce blanket pattern
The Bounce blanket is a great place to use up those wee, colourful balls!
Bodhi's Baby Blanket blog post
Bodhi’s Vivid baby blanket recently got an upgrade; read all about Bodhi’s Vivid blanket here.

The handspun

Emily recently took up spinning with a passion. Taking an inspirational fibre through the process of spinning and creating yarn, and on to a beautiful blanket, has been a happy journey to watch indeed. Emily created our newest blanket pattern, Lullaby, from her desire to showcase and use up every last drop of some precious handspun yarn.

Striped wave blanket hanging over tree branch
An adventure from start to finish! Emily spun the yarn, designed the blanket, and knit it up! Read all about the Lullaby design process here.

The simple

Sometimes all you want is a little simplicity, like one of my first designs, the ever simple Waffles blanket. It’s an easy journey of just knits and purls, creating a delightful texture along the way. For me, it’s reminiscent of a Sunday morning breakfast at my house, with everyone savouring a delicious, unfussy meal and the lazy bliss of nowhere to be. We also have the Malt blanket as part of our Simple Collection. Like Waffles, it’s just knits and purls, making it a great first project for knitting newbies.

Waffles blanket pattern
Our Waffles blanket is all about the delicious texture!
Malt blanket pattern
The Malt blanket is all knits and purls, a great first project!

The process

If you’re ready to cast on a blanket of your own, I encourage you to embrace the journey! Blankets are a big project but not necessarily a complicated one. Enjoy the process, stitch by stitch, and knit a little bit of love into each one.

~ Alexa

Mad Colour Blankets
Our Mad Colour collection includes four blankets: Pop, Bounce, Polygon, and Marley.

Fly Away, Revisited

June 17, 2021
Fly Away blanket pattern
This beautiful blanket was knit and photographed by Tanis of Tanis Fiber Arts

A few years ago (it can’t possibly be six, can it?!), we created Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe, a collection inspired by two new babies in the TCK family. Part of that collection was the Fly Away blanket because even though her first babe was only a tiny thing at the time, Emily was already looking into the future, to that moment when Max would learn to fly on his own.

Six years later, Fly Away is still one of our most popular blankets, thanks to its deliciously simple garter, infinite colour options, and endless layout possibilities. So, what could possibly make this pattern better? (Drum roll, please…) Half squares!

Fly Away blanket pattern
The original Fly Away blanket features colourful stripes.

The original includes instructions for striped squares, but dyer/designer/all-around-great-human-being Tanis of Tanis Fiber Arts put her own spin on the pattern by creating half squares. Inspired by classic quilt motifs, and using her amazing eye for colour, Tanis knit up two of these beautiful blankets. A number of knitters have been asking for the details on this particular hack, so we decided to add them to the pattern!

What’s new?

The updated Fly Away pattern has all the same good stuff as the original, plus a little bit more:

  1. Instructions for the new half squares, in addition to the original striped squares.
  2. Yardages for both options.
  3. Layout suggestions for both striped squares and half squares.

Note: If you already have the Fly Away single pattern or Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe ebook, you should have received the updated pattern by now. If you purchased from our website, the update will have come via email. If you purchased via Ravelry, you can hit the little ‘update’ button in your Ravelry library to download it.

A little inspiration

If you’re looking for a little inspiration for your own Fly Away, here are a few of our favourite projects to give you some ideas!

Fly Away for Micah blog post.
This Fly Away by Tanis uses the striped layout with a few modifications. Check out all the details here.
Undone57's Ravelry Project Page
This gorgeous blanket from @undone57 showcases the half square option beautifully. All the details are on her Ravelry project page here.
For this lovely pastel, half square version, Tanis tapped into her stash of scraps to make something amazing.
Nina of Rainbow Heirloom made this fabulous pink and purple Fly Away. I love how moody it looks with a dark main colour!

Grab your favourite palette and cast on!

Summer is my favourite time for knitting blankets, especially something that’s simple and done in pieces, so I can take it with me everywhere I go. Emily and I are obviously partial to rainbows, but this blanket looks great in any palette that suits you. It makes the perfect scrappy blanket, too! PLEASE be sure to share your projects using #FlyAwayBlanket and #TinCanKnits. We love to see what knitters are creating!

~ Alexa

Other People’s Patterns

June 3, 2021

It’s a rare occurrence when I have time to knit other designers’ patterns, but it is a distinct joy. I love seeing where the patterns take me. Of course, I rarely make it easy on myself. I like to go a little (or a lot) off pattern to see what I can come up with. Two sweaters I started in the early days of lock down last year were no exception. In the midst of those first few, trying weeks, Andrea Rangel’s Dissent Cardigan and Maxim Cyr’s For Fox Sake provided a welcome distraction.

A child in a grey cardigan with a blue colourwork yoke.

Dissent cardigan

As soon as Andrea Rangel released the Dissent cardigan, I knew I wanted to knit it. It’s an absolutely beautiful colourwork pattern inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s iconic dissent collar. I had one perfect skein of Spincycle Dream State in ‘Melancholia’ just waiting for the right project to come along. I paired it with the soft grey ‘Pumice” from Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, and away I went! But instead of following the pattern, which is written in grown-up sizes, I decided to make it for little Bodhi, mashing up the chart from Andrea’s pattern with our Strange Brew recipe.

A child in a grey cardigan with a blue colourwork yoke.

To make the cardigan kid-sized, I used Strange Brew for my cast-on and total yoke numbers. I shortened Andrea’s chart a little, so the yoke wouldn’t be too long. All was going smoothly (or so I thought) until I laid my sweater out, ready to be steeked. I realized the charts were off at the centre front…somewhere along the way, my math had gone awry! Off came the button bands, out came the steek reinforcements, and off came the yoke. I cut off the yoke, re-knit it with the correct patterning, joined the whole thing back together with a Kitchener stitch, and then steeked it. Despite all the bumps along the way, the final product turned out beautiful, and Bodhi just loves it!

A grey cardigan with a blue colourwork yoke. The colourwork pattern is misaligned at the centre.
One side of the button band has a ‘short’ section, and other side has a ‘long’ section – disaster!
A child in a grey cardigan with a blue colourwork yoke.
A child in a light teal sweater with a colourwork yoke.

For Fox Sake

When I first came across the wonderful work of Maxim Cyr (A.K.A. Max the Knitter), I was immediately smitten. Max is truly an artist, and it shows in this fabulous and fun, bespectacled, foxy character.

For Fox Sake is written in adult sizes, but I wanted to make it for young Jones. I decided to cast on the smallest size but use the sock weight Brooklyn Tweed Peerie, instead of the DK weight called for in the pattern. The funny thing is I cast on the sweater juuuust as Jones was starting a growth spurt, so I could have knit the smallest size as written, had I waited a few weeks. I ended up adding some length, so he could get a little more wear out of it.

A child in a light teal sweater with a colourwork yoke.

The simple joys of just creating

In making this sweater, I had a lot of fun just knitting a pattern. I didn’t have to think about math, or fit, or how to scale a motif. I enjoyed the simple, soothing act of assembling stitch after stitch, creating something useful and seeing beautiful colours come together in an inspiring pattern. I mean…perhaps I should have paid a bit more attention to the math in Bodhi’s Dissent yoke, but that, too, is part of the joy of creating. Sometimes things go sideways, and you get to decide how to roll with it.

~ Alexa

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