Practice Knitting a Cardigan, Tips for Beginners

storing and organizing yarn and knitting projects

If you are like me, sweater knitting is frightening. I’ve knit two now and I’m still intimidated by knitting a large project. For so long I checked out the forums and blogs and knitwear designer sites and would be amazed that people could create such things from strands of yarn. They all seemed so intricate and large! I doubted that I could get through the pattern directions and balked at the word “charts”.

The First Dumb Thing I Did

Not the first dumb thing I ever did, but this shows what a complete beginner I was. I bought a book of cute baby sweaters thinking that smaller would be easier. Not! As I looked through the pages of instructions – for knitting one sweater – I realized my mistake. I’d never be able to knit any of the sweaters in the book. Not until I advanced my knitting skills.

FYI – smaller projects are not necessarily easier. You probably know this, but just sayin’ for those just starting out.

Finding a Beginner Sweater Pattern

I needed to find a beginner sweater pattern, but I was having no luck. The patterns I found either were not my style or did not look easy to me. Of course I had never knit one, so what did I know? The second thing stopping me was the yarn. Lots of yarn is needed to knit an adult sweater and that equates to cost. I was very unfamiliar with types of yarn and getting gauge. I wondered what I would do with 5 or 6 skeins of yarn if I couldn’t manage knitting a large project?

Arranmore tweed in Finnegan yellow
Sweater yarn, Arranmore tweed in yellow

Basic needs for knitting any sweater

  • Long, circular needles in correct size for gauge.
  • Double-pointed needles / DPN’s, for sleeves – or a 16 in. circular will sometimes work.
  • Stitch markers
  • Yarn – washable / non-washable? Or use the exact yarn called for in the pattern. And waste yarn to hold sleeve stitches.
  • Ruler, darning needle, and scissors
  • Know how to cast-on, bind-off, put stitches on hold (sleeves), increases, decreases, possible shaping (German short rows).

As I did with my first (and only, so far) mystery knit-along (MKAL), I had to jump in. I found a pullover pattern I liked (the Umpqua sweater), bought it, got some yarn, and began. I think I chose a pullover because I wouldn’t have to mess with buttons! I don’t know if I would call this a beginner sweater, but I managed to finish it and although it’s pretty large (that gauge thing) I can wear it. My second was a cardigan – the Fine Sand pattern. I posted my knitting notes on these links, which might be helpful.

Tin Can Knits has a lovely and very helpful website and they offer a free beginner cardigan knitting pattern! How nice is that? I wish I had seen it during my search, but I’ll share it with you now.

Harvest Cardigan by Tin Can Knits – It’s Free!

The three best aspects of knitting this sweater are: It’s a free pattern (and it’s cute), you can knit a very small size (save money by using one skein only), and there is a page of tutorials which give good explanations, photos, and links to more help if needed.

The Harvest Cardigan has no buttons to deal with either (TCK has a great page on button bands too for when I get brave). The link to the tutorial page is at the bottom of the sweater pattern page – bold link above. So I looked at the tutorial page and wow, it does not seem like a beginner sweater to me! First you must do a provisional cast-on, which in itself is not difficult, but you have to pick up those live stitches later, which is where I have my problem. There is a lot to learn for those who truly are beginning, and that can be a good thing. Sometimes we just have to jump in…! Or start with some of their simpler free patterns and work up to the sweater.

cardigan sweater knitting

Free Bundle of Patterns by Tin Can Knits

The Tin Can Knits site offers a bundle of free patterns called The Simple Collection, and they reference it on the Harvest Cardigan page (or click the link I made). They call the collection a “step-by-step learn to knit program” and offer 12 free patterns which include a scarf, cowl, hats, mittens, socks, sweaters and a shawl. I highly recommend this site. They show off their knitwear on the cutest kids too! Recently I knit a pair of their mittens, which was also a free pattern.

More of My Favorite Cardigan Sweater Patterns

I have not knit any of these sweaters yet, but they are saved as some of my favorites to try. Currently I am focused on Christmas knitting and smaller projects and for the time being I am giving up shawl and big project knitting.

But here are some you might like, and they don’t look too difficult. The patterns listed below are not free.

If you are a member of the Ravelry site it will be easy to see all the sweaters other knitters have made following these patterns. Also read their notes and view the yarns they used. This is helpful especially if you have trouble visualizing, or selecting, a color for the project.

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