How do I Design a Cardigan Sweater?

Written by lizzie brooks
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How do I Design a Cardigan Sweater?
Making your own cardigan means using any colour and fibre that appeals to you. (häkelgarn image by Yvonne Bogdanski from

When you can't find just the right pattern for a knitted cardigan, making your own by using an existing cardigan as a template enables you to create a truly customised garment.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Yarn
  • Knitting needles of a size suitable for your yarn
  • Graph paper
  • Pencil
  • Calculator
  • Measuring tape
  • Well-fitting cardigan or pullover

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  1. 1

    Knit a large sample of fabric at least four inches square by using the yarn, needles and type of stitch you have chosen. If you are planning to use more than one stitch pattern, knit more than one swatch.

  2. 2

    Measure the number of stitches across four inches of your swatch. Divide this number by four to get your stitch gauge per inch.

  3. 3

    Measure the number of stitches down four inches of your swatch. Divide this number by four to get your row gauge per inch. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for each swatch.

  1. 1

    Find the bust measurement of an existing cardigan or pullover that fits you in a way you like (a pullover is easily redesigned as a cardigan). If your template sweater is a cardigan, make sure it is done up. Using your measuring tape, measure across the widest part of the bust of the sweater. Record this and all measurements.

  2. 2

    Measure your template sweater from the bottom of the hem to the bottom of the back collar to determine the length of your sweater.

  3. 3

    If your template cardigan has waist shaping, measure across the narrowest part of the waist.

  4. 4

    Measure the width of the neck opening, not including the collar.

  5. 5

    Measure the depth of the neck opening, not including the collar. The deepest part of the neck is generally in the middle.

  6. 6

    Measure the width of the sleeve at the cuff. Double this to get the measurement of the fabric you need to knit.

  7. 7

    Measure the width of the sleeve at the widest part near the underarm. Double this measurement as well.

  8. 8

    Measure the length of the sleeve from the cuff to the seam where the sleeve and body meet under the arm. The remainder of the sleeve is called the sleeve cap and is not included in the sleeve length measurement.

  1. 1

    Plot your measurements on graph paper at a rate of one square per inch. Begin by plotting the back piece of the sweater.

  2. 2

    Plot the fronts of your sweater on the graph paper. Use the back as a guide, but divide all measurements of width in half so you have two mirror-image front pieces of equal size.

  3. 3

    Choose a closure style for your cardigan. This could be a zipper, buttons, snaps, hook-and-eye closures or no closure at all. Choose an edging for your cardigan opening compatible with your chosen closure. If you need to add a button (or other closure) band to your cardigan opening, decide how wide you want this band to be. When calculating the width of each front of your sweater, deduct half the width of this band from each of the cardigan fronts if it will overlap the opposite button band, and deduct the full width if it will not overlap.

  4. 4

    Plot your sleeves on graph paper. Although you will make two sleeves, they will be identical, so you only need to plot one.

  5. 5

    Fill in the details on your plotted pattern, such as how many inches of a non-rolling stitch pattern (garter stitch and ribbing are good choices) you want to include at the hem and cuffs and any other changes in stitch pattern you wish to include in your design. Although not included on your plotted pattern, this is a good point at which to choose a style of collar.

  1. 1

    Using your completed graphed pattern and the stitch gauge from your swatch, determine how many stitches to cast on for each piece. For example, if your pattern back is 20 inches wide and you have a stitch gauge of 5 stitches per inch, calculate 20 times 5 to determine that 100 stitches must be cast on.

  2. 2

    Use your row gauge to calculate how often to increase or decrease over the length of each pattern piece. For example, if your sleeve is 18 inches long and has a 3-inch cuff, the increases need to be spread over 15 inches. At, for example, 6.5 rows per inch, this gives 97.5 rows over which to spread the increases. If you need to increase 40 stitches between the cuff and shoulder, and you increase at each edge of your increase row, you need to increase 20 times (97.5 divided by 20 is 4.9). Because you can't increase every 4.9 rows, round this number down, and increase every fourth row.

  3. 3

    Use your plotted pattern to figure out waist shaping, neck shaping and sleeve caps as well. It is OK if you use the graph as a rough guide and do not calculate every single stitch as long as you make notes about what you have done so your finished product will be symmetrical. Alternatively, you can use a published pattern of a similar style to fill in gaps in your pattern.

Tips and warnings

  • Modify your design to differ slightly from your template. The length of the sleeves or of the body are easily changed. If you decide to decrease the bust measurement, increase the sleeve measurement by the same amount or your sleeves might be too short.
  • Even numbers are easier to work with than odd numbers.

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