The construction of garments is something I find fascinating. I’ve been sewing for almost as long as I can remember, starting with dolls’ clothes. Most of them fell apart quickly but that didn’t spoil the fun of creating and I learned a little about how to piece clothing together.
A little later, at the age of about 11 or 12, I started to use sewing patterns at home and at school, then started to sew my own clothes again when I was a university student and needed some lightweight, cheap garments for a visit to Bangladesh. For a few years after graduating, I lived in Belgium and started sewing enthusiastically at weekends, to bring relief from a busy and stressful job. It was also a good way to improve my Dutch – and French – language skills, as I bought most of the patterns locally and spent many hours tracing them from magazines like KnipMode and the Dutch edition of Burda Style.
Two years ago, my sister asked me if I would crochet a cardigan for her daughter – my niece and goddaughter – to match a dress that she had been given. We chose a pattern from Kawaiiblythe – with clear instructions as it was to be my first crocheted garment – and I loved the process of making it in a shiny cobalt blue cotton from Rico Designs.
This method appealed to me, as though I love to sew in general, I don’t like sewing seams in crocheted work as I’m too picky and dissatisfied with the results. It grew quickly and taught me the first steps in constructing a top-down garment.
Recently, my Mum asked if I might be able to make her a cardigan, as she loved the one that she and my Dad had bought for me in Ireland way back in 1998 and which I still wear regularly. It’s a little worn around the neckline and needs some minor repairs but is otherwise in good shape. After some research in Ravelry and on Pinterest – where you can see some of the ideas I gathered on my Craft Ideas board – I came across what I thought was a cardigan and then realised was a cleverly draped wrap. This got me thinking: could I recreate the shape with a back and sleeves? Some sketches and experimentation with jersey fabric followed – and may yet lead to something – but I set it aside as it felt too unconventional and uncertain.
I therefore returned to the top-down method that I had grown to love so much. Here is an outline of the way that the garment is created. It’s not a pattern, but a method that can be applied to most sizes and yarns.
In this example I have used 12x50g balls of Drops Bomull-Lin in Light Beige (03) and a 5.5mm hook. It is approximately a UK size 16.
My Mum measured a cardigan that fitted well, and we worked from that. I didn’t have it with me to refer to, though if you have I imagine it would be useful!
For convenience, I usually start with a number of stitches that suits the initial increases that I plan to work, so here it is a multiple of seven. I find it easiest to keep counting to seven as I work the initial chain, stopping when the desired length (here the neckline) is reached.
This example is worked in half trebles (htr/US hdc), with a turning chain of 2 that counts as a stitch. I prefer to work the first row into the single loop on the underside of the chain for neatness. After turning at the end, ch2, then work the second, third and fourth rows in plain htr. In row 5, turn, ch2, htr in the first stitch, then htr in each of the next 6 stitches, and repeat *2htr in next st, htr in each of next 6 st* until the row end.
Alternating plain rows and increases (row 7 was therefore *2htr, htr in each of next 7 stitches* and each subsequent odd row would have one more stitch added into each set of htr between increases), continue until the desired shoulder width is reached.
Work in plain htr until you reach armpit level (sorry!) and then the armholes are created, as shown here. I find it easiest to fold the work in half, then fold the front edges into the centre – so it’s folded in four – and then open it out so it looks like this. Using four stitch markers, safety pins or contrasting yarn, mark the inner points of the underarms on the front and back. You can be fairly generous with the sleeves as stitches will be added to the body section. Starting from the centre front, work around – in plain htr – until you reach the first armhole marker. Stop here, chain 8, then work the next htr at the rear marker for that armhole. Continue along the back until the next marker and repeat, re-starting at the front armhole marker. I find that this gives neater sleeves and a more generous body section than the method I used in the Vendée sweater and I picked it up from a pattern by Rohn Strong.
The sleeves are worked directly into the armholes. I made a mistake at this point, forgetting how distinct a pattern half trebles form, and had to unravel a whole sleeve! If you’re working in trebles, it may be less obvoius, but I had to use the slightly quirky technique of working in rounds whilst also turning the work, so that the stitch pattern looked the same across the body and sleeves. It gives a slightly bulky seam with this yarn but probably less so than if I had worked in rows and stitched it afterwards. The sleeves work up remarkably quickly.
Finally, the draped front panel and edgings are added.
Starting at the neckline, working a row of half trebles into the posts of the stitches down the right front edge, spacing them as evenly as possible (I would explain this better if I could but I find it’s mostly about trial and error), followed by alternating rows of trebles and half trebles, until you are happy with the width of the panel. Finish by working a row of dc (sc) around all the edges, if you wish. The fastening is your choice; for now, I’m using a flower brooch, but when my Mum is back from her holidays, I’ll work through the possibilities with her. I’ve bought some simple Mother of Pearl buttons and a couple of large metal press studs, though a shawl pin could also work well. What would you use?