Not Just for Knitters: Learn to Sew Your Own Cardigan!

When you think about sewing your own wardrobe, certain items come to mind that seem instantly achievable, like dresses, tops and skirts. But sweaters may seem like something you should knit instead of sew. Of course, this isn’t true — you can sew up just about anything that you can knit, including a cardigan!

How to Sew a Cardigan

One of my favorite things to wear as a layer is a cardigan, so I’ll take you step by step on how to sew my favorite cardigan pattern.

Step 1: Get the right needles

Schmetz Sewing Needles

Key to sewing with knits is having the right needle. For sewing with knits, you want either a stretch or ball point needle (left) instead of a microtex or universal needle (right).

The stretch or ball point tip is slightly rounded, so it glides between the fibers instead of breaking them. Stretch is best for synthetic fabrics, like scuba or spandex, and ball point needles are best for natural fibers, like wool or cotton knits. 

Step 2: Select your fabric & pattern

Cardigan Sewing Pattern and Fabric

My favorite cardigan pattern is the Driftless Cardigan by Grainline Patterns. It’s modern and minimal, so it goes with everything, but it also has some visual interest with some beautifully hidden pockets. I’m using this beginner-friendly pattern for the tutorial, though some of the steps will apply to other patterns, too.

For the fabric, I picked a gorgeous lightweight merino wool knit from The Fabric Store. The fabric is warm but lightweight and drapey. Here’s some more information about choosing the right fabric for your cardigan.

Step 3: Choose your size and cut the pattern pieces

Next up, select the right size (read more about that here), and cut out each of the pattern pieces. Then, let’s get sewing!

Step 4: Sew the pockets

Cardigan Sewing Pieces

First, we’ll create the invisible pockets. Place the lower portion of the front on top of the upper front pieces, right sides together.

You’ll create an angle at the rounded corners. I highly suggest drawing in your stitching line at the corners with a water-soluble marking tool (see the photo below) on the wrong side of the fabric.

Sewing Invisible Pockets

Sew from one side to the corner, pivot and sew down to the bottom of the pocket. Then sew across the bottom. Repeat on the other side of the pocket until you have sewn to the opposite edge.

Repeat this on the other front side piece so you have a matching pair. If you like, you can finish the edges with a serger.

Invisible Pocket

Fold the lower front piece down, and you will see your hidden pocket is now in the seam! Press this seam and the top of the pocket. 

Step 5: Sew the back

Cardigan Back Pieces

To create the back, simply place the upper and lower back pieces together, right sides facing. Sew along this seam and press. 

Step 6: Sew the shoulders

Cardigan shoulder seams

Place the front and back pieces together, right sides facing. Pin and sew along the shoulders. Note: I always suggest sewing both sides in the same direction, either both toward the center, or both away from center. Press both seams after sewing.

Step 7: Attach the sleeves

Cardigan Sleeves

Open up the cardigan so the right side of the front and back are facing up. Place one of the sleeves on top of the cardigan, right side down. Find the notches on the sleeve, line up the pieces and pin. Once pinned in place, sew the sleeves to the cardigan. Repeat on the other side so both sleeves are attached. 

Press the seam allowance toward the sleeve. This is key for the next step, so that the underarm seam area can be sewn smoothly. 

Step 8: Sew the side seams

Lay the cardigan as it will look when finished, but with the wrong side out. Pin along the side seams, from the hem of the sleeves to the hem of the cardigan. Sew along each side and press the seam. It might appear as if there’s a huge curve under the arm, but this will straighten as you sew and it will become a straight line. 

Step 9: Create and sew the cuffs

Cardigan Sleeves

Fold the cuff pieces in half, right sides together. Sew along the edge opposite the fold.

Press the seam allowance, then fold the cuffs in half, wrong sides facing, and press the fold. You should have a matching pair like pictured above. 

To match the cuffs with the sleeves, divide each into quarters. Start with the seam and find the spot directly opposite from the seam and mark it with a pin. Then find the half way point on either side so you have four equally marked sections. Repeat this on both cuffs and both sleeve hems. 

Line up the raw edges of the cuffs with the raw edges of the sleeve hems, and match the four marked points. You will have to do a little stretching on the cuff for it to fit around the opening. Pin at each quarter mark, and in between as needed. 

Sew around the cuffs so they are attached to the sleeve hem. Stretch as needed as you sew around, but do not over stretch. There should only be a little bit to pull to ensure they fit. Press the seam allowance. 

Step 10: Create the hem band

Place the two band front pieces on top of the band back piece, right sides together. Sew along the short edges and press the seam.

Fold the entire band in half, wrong sides together, and press along the fold. Baste the short ends together inside the ¼” seam allowance. This will help keep everything together later on. 

Place the hem band on the bottom of the cardigan with the raw edges together. The basted end should be flush with the center front and the seams on the band should line up with the seams on the cardigan. Sew in place and press the seam. 

Step 11: Sew the front band

Strip of black fabric

All that’s left is to sew and attach the front band! Just like with the hem band, attach the short ends of the front band to create one long piece. Press the seams after sewing. 

Line up the band on the cardigan front opening, matching notches and seams. Note that the band will extend below the front hem by ¼”. Sew in place all the way around the opening. Press the seam allowance toward the band after sewing. 

Sewing band on cardigan

At the bottom front, fold the band right sides together and pin in place. I prefer to extend the band just past the seam so when I flip it to the inside, it will span just past the seam. Sew along the bottom of the band, so it is perfectly in line with the hem on the cardigan. 

Trim the corners off the bottom of the band, and turn it right side out, flipping it to the inside of the band. Pin the band in place all the way around the front opening and sew in place. You can either hand sew the band to the seam allowance, or you can stitch in the ditch and secure the band to the front at the same time. Either work perfectly! 

Step 12: Sew the buttons (optional)

This step is entirely optional, but if you want to close up your cardigan at any point, you might prefer to sew on some buttons. Practice a couple of times on scrap fabric, especially if you’ve never sewn buttonholes in knit before. Once you feel confident, simply follow the markings on the pattern to mark and sew your buttons in place. 

And that’s it! Once you make one up, you will likely be hooked, because cardigans are so fun and easy to create.

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