The Willow Cardigan: Kate’s Version

29 September 2021

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I’m a knitter. I mean, of course I am, you know that. I teach knitting. I write books about knitting. I edit other designers’ knitting books and patterns.

But I do also do other crafts. What’s the old saying about not being able to live on meat alone? I enjoy craft as a hobby to relax from my not-just-a-hobby-anymore craft. Most often, if I’m not knitting I’m either doing cross stitch or crochet. My crochet skills have never been strong, and it’s actually a big relief. I do an excellent granny square; I have a leftover sock-yarn granny square blanket on the chair in my drafty office, and one of my favourite shawls is a half-granny triangle in Noro yarn. But I’ve never gone beyond that, and that’s okay. For me, crochet provides the ultimate in meditative projects: no need to fuss with a pattern or notes, no need to count, barely any need to keep track. And I’ve never really liked much else in the way of crochet—nothing’s really grabbed my attention enough to push me beyond that comfort zone.

Until this year. We published a pattern for a crochet garment, and I fell in love with it. Stephanie Erin’s Willow Cardigan is a wonderful piece, a very wearable everyday style—I mean: pockets!—with the lace motif in the back adding a lovely bit of flair. I just had to make one.

To add a bit of challenge, I decided it needed to be black. I imagined this piece as the anchor of my fall work-from-home wardrobe, and I wanted my best neutral, to go with all my denim and my stripey and animal-print T-shirts. It had to be black. I used the yarn the design called for, Briggs and Little Sport, and worked on it over the summer, often outdoors, with my reading glasses close at hand. I thoroughly enjoyed the project, even though it did require a smidge more attention than I was used to paying to crochet.

You may or may not know this about me, but I’m not very tall. I’m a little one. I was a tiny baby, and I never really caught up with the rest of the family. So any garment I make from someone else’s pattern needs some tweaks: I always end up shortening both body and sleeve length, and I often tweak the sleeve fit a little, too.

image description: Kate, in a handmade black crochet cardigan, her right hand resting the front pocket

When Kim and I were prepping to publish the pattern, we talked about the sleeves. Stephanie’s design is smart—it uses the nature of crochet fabric to create a sort of hybrid drop-shoulder and set-in-sleeve construction. The armhole is shaped, but the sleeve top isn’t. Crochet fabric moves in a different way than knitted or woven fabrics, and I was originally puzzled about it. I wasn’t sure how it would come together, and how it would fit the body. Kim assured me it would work, and it does! What this structure does do, however, is create a generous armhole and upper sleeve. Which is excellent for many, but not so much for me. My I’m-petite-and-used-to-modifying-everything brain took over. I knew that for me, I would do better if the sleeve was slimmer. And so I made it slimmer.

image description: Kate wearing a handmade crochet cardigan, her left arm extended out straight out to the side from her body, her right arm hanging down at her side

I’m grateful to both Stephanie and Kim for teaching me about crochet and crochet fabrics. I took this idea of the hybrid shaping and ran with it. I turned the sleeve into a sort-of-dolman shape, a tiny little batwing. When redistributing the decreases for the sleeve, I put the first third or so right up in the underarm, to create a curve where the sleeve meets the body.

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My first attempt did not work at all. Of course! The sleeve ended up sitting at a bit of a strange angle, a little bit upwards.

This is one of the key reasons I love making with yarn rather than fabric. If it doesn’t work, you can just undo it and reuse the materials! To pull the sleeve down a little bit, I worked the lower quarter of the round in single crochet rather than double, on the rounds where I decreased. Once I had the stitch count I wanted for my upper arm, I resumed working full rounds in double crochet, and completed the sleeve as per the instructions, with my adjusted decrease rate. Well, and stopping a few centimetres shorter than the pattern suggests, to compensate for my (lack of) height. The same in the body, too. But that is, as the knitters often tell me, one of the benefits of working top down: adjusting length on the fly!

image description: A white woman stands in front of a hedge wearing a black cardigan over a white shirt and denim skirt.

And while we’re talking about pattern hacks: the absolute best thing about making a garment with pockets? A pocket is a perfect size for a gauge swatch!

As for the cardigan: I’ve been wearing it lots. It goes with everything, and is exactly the easy-to-throw-on piece I wanted to have, as the weather gets cooler. These photos? We took them early Monday evening while the burgers were on the barbecue. I didn’t have to change; that’s what I’d been wearing all day.

Photo credits Norman Wilner or Kate Atherley.

Copyright © Kate Atherley except as indicated.

About Kate Atherley

Kate Atherley (she/her) is a co-founder, editor and publisher at Digits & Threads and Nine Ten Publications. She has worked in the crafts industry in one way or another since 2002 as a designer, editor, writer, and instructor. She's authored eight books about knitting, from a next-steps guide for newbie knitters to the industry's only guide to professional knitting pattern writing. Kate lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and their rescue dog Winnie.

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