What a fall season this has been! So much has been going on in our lives that I have had much less time to create my winter wardrobe than I had planned! We just returned from a holiday to the east coast to visit family (including my 98-year-old mother), whom we had not seen since before the pandemic hit. It was a whirlwind of visiting family and friends, not to mention our first foray onto an airplane in almost two years. That’s so hard for us to believe―my husband and I used to be on a plane going somewhere every six weeks!
But I have all that cozy fabric and patterns chosen, so it’s time to get back at it. First up (second really, but who’s counting!) is a cardigan. If you’ll recall from a previous story about my visit to Montreal (by train) earlier this fall, I found a fantastic piece of beautiful blue, Italian fine wool jersey.
After much thought, I figured it might make a lovely little cardigan. You know, the kind you can wear all day for warmth without feeling all bulked up. Well, my decision may have to be reconsidered. Here’s my story.
What comes to mind when you think about cardigans? Do you think about Mr. Rogers and your grandfather? Or does it conjure an image of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) in Scandal, sipping red wine in her massively expensive Ralph Lauren cable knit sweater on her ivory couch while contemplating how to save the world?
I prefer the second image, thank you very much! But Olivia’s sweaters might be a tad too bulky for my taste, so I had to find a design that works in a finer fabric. That exercise was easier said than done―but I’m getting ahead of myself. Cardigans can be workhorses in a winter wardrobe. But beware! As we get older, cardigans can also be a minefield of dowdiness if done wrong, which is part of the reason it was so difficult to find the right style. Before we get to that, you know I’m a writer, and I love a great story, so let’s start with the story of the cardigan.
A cardigan is “a knitted sweater with a buttoned or zipped front, with a V or round neck, with or without a collar.” Or so says Leimomi Oakes, a textile and fashion historian in her excellent blog The Dreamstress. Basically, cardigans are knitted garments that open down the front. Well, already you can see my problem: I’m not planning to knit anything (dear god, I haven’t held knitting needles since back in the 1980s when Lopi sweaters were all the rage. Yes, I knitted my share of sweaters.) Yes, that’s me and I made that sweater in the 1980s!
I might have to expand that definition slightly to include being sewn from machine-created knit fabric. See? I fixed it already. But I digress from the cardigan’s specific story.
Cardigans have been with us since the nineteenth century, based as they are on the knitted worsted wool waistcoats of British Army officers during the Crimean War, which lasted from 1853 to 1856. According to most sources, James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan, wore such a garment, and you can see where it got its name. So, the first thing to know about cardigans is that they were originally garments for men (weren’t all comfortable clothes? But let’s not go there today.)
Cardigans were then first worn as warming layers for working-class people and sailors. Until recently, I had thought that knit clothing for women didn’t become popular until after Coco Chanel developed her first jersey clothing in the early twentieth century, but it seems that hand-knit sweaters were part of fashionable women’s garments long before that for wearing when bicycling, playing tennis and other such athletic pursuits that were considered suitable for women back in the day.
In the 1920s, Coco Chanel began to show cardigans in her collection as she began experimenting with using jersey fabrics that had, until then, been used only for men’s clothing. Evidently, she didn’t like having to pull sweaters over her hair, this messing up her ‘do. The early cardigans were cardigan-jackets shown with matching skirts.
In the US, by the 1940s, college women began to bristle at the thought of having to wear corsets and other restrictive clothing that was deemed lady-like and began rebelling by doffing their corsets and starting to wear oversized, sloppy cardigans to class. I love the idea that wearing a cardigan might well be a feminist statement!
These days, the cardigan is almost an essential part of any wardrobe for a climate that has winter. Even in warmer weather, a light cardigan can be oh so useful for those cool evenings. But as we get older, finding cardigans that work in terms of both form and function (being both useful and stylish) is a bit more complicated. So I began to search for an appropriate pattern.
I combed through patterns from the regular so-called “big four (or five) companies. Then moved on to the indies. Most patterns were nothing styles―no interesting detail, just bags, a must-to-avoid for older women in my view. I finally examined Stylearc and Jalie, the companies I hate the least of the indies. I finally settled on the Jalie “Charlotte” model(because it’s named after my main character, Charlotte “Charlie” Hudson, I introduced in The Year I Made 12 Dresses (LOL), and it has a bit of design detail.
Since I don’t want to make a mistake in my choice of style for my expensive fabric, I pulled out the cheaper fabric I bought in Montreal and decided to make a black, cropped cardi.
Well, as usual with indie patterns, the first thing I’m faced with is 26 sizes in one pattern. *sigh*
So, I dutifully find the size I’m looking for, cut it out (I’m never using this sucker for any other size in the future, that’s for sure) and trace out a pattern I can use. Now that I’m cross-eyed, I think I’ll go have a drink.
Next time, I’ll tell you how it worked out.
In case you’re interested:
40 free cardigan sewing patterns (in case you find one here you like): https://so-sew-easy.com/40-free-cardigan-sewing-patterns-staying-warm/
5 thoughts on “The pleasures of a cozy cardigan: Sewing up comfort”
I too have selected the Jalie cardigan as a possible future project. IMO cardigans only look good if they are (1) relatively short and (2) buttoned up (at least partially) and not left with the 2 side fronts swinging open. If you are using a PDF download of the pattern, did you know you can use the Layers function on the PDF software to “hide” all sizes you don’t want and just print the size(s) you want to work with? This makes it so much easier. You can ask the print shop to do this for you when you send it off to be printed. As I’m never sure how the pattern will fit, I usually select just 3 sizes and grade between them to get a good bust/waist/hip fit. So all the other cutting lines are eliminated in the printed pattern. BTW, you are an awesome knitter. You should give it a try again. There are some fantastic modern patterns out there. Do post some images of your cardigan once you get it made.-Sue Rogerson
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Such great suggestions about the layers in the pdf patterns. If I ope the pdf with Acrobat Elements instead of Reader, I can see the latyers myself. Too bad not all pdf pattern-makers use layers! I just posted the final product and my further complaints (!) about the pattern on today’s blog post! Thanks for reading and taking part. I learn so much from my readers!
I love the feel of a light knit, and I think I look best in jerseys because they soften how I look. Good for you for having done great hand knitting. I came from a family of extremely good knitters and sewers.
Thanks for the comments about the knitting, Sandra! That was a long time ago when I think I knitted a half a dozen Lopi sweaters in a year! I mgith take up the knitting needles again some time! BTW I love a great lightweight knit, too! I think i’t s lovely soft look. Cheers! P.