Oh, boy, this was a big one! Today’s project is the Arrowhead Cardigan by Anna Cohen for Imperial Stock Ranch, and it took me a long time and a lot of head scratching to figure it out, but I did it!
This cardigan was definitely above my skill level, but I’m happy to say that perseverance paid off, I learned a ton, I conquered some fears (steeking!), and made it to the finish line. And it fits, which I have struggled with in the past.
Now for the details!
Sweaters are a big undertaking when it comes to finding and choosing yarn, especially if you want to watch your costs. Plainly put, it’s expensive to knit a sweater. Yarn cost is always a factor for me, especially on larger projects. Thankfully, there is a wide range of yarn and price points, if you are willing to dig a bit. And I love the digging–it’s like a treasure hunt.
I found what I was after online at WEBS (yarn.com) in the closeout section. Univeral Yarn Deluxe Worsted offered some bright colors in a 100% wool yarn (non-superwash, worsted spun) at a great price. Reviews were a bit mixed, but I decided to take the risk. My skin isn’t super sensitive to wool and I planned to wear this over a shirt.
I ordered three skeins of “Blushing Bride” (pink) and seven skeins of “Strip Light Yellow”. With shipping, my cost was around $50. That’s more than I like to spend on fabric for a sewing project, but for a sweater, that’s really economical. When the yarn came, it looked and felt great. Before ordering, I had done my best to determine if the colors were far enough apart in value (gray scale) that they would stand out distinctly, and they were. In person, they were just as good.
The Pattern + Knitting
I was really struck by this pattern when I saw it. The design was beautiful and it looked oversized and cozy in all the best ways. I looked at others’ projects on Ravelry and really liked the sweater in different colors as well. Also, I have to admit the original styling for the pattern was right up my alley, and it didn’t hurt that I knit most of this while watching the first 13 seasons of Heartland (a Canadian show set on a horse and cattle ranch) with my daughter. Sometimes I think of this as my “Heartland Cardigan”. All I need is a horse and a farm to go with it! Oh, and a lifetime supply of farming knowledge. You know, the little things. 😉
My gauge came out pretty close to correct at about 17 stitches and 16/16.5 rounds over 4″ x 4″ (the pattern calls for 17.5 stitches and 21 rounds over 4″ x 4″ (10 cm x 10 cm)). I never worry too much about row gauge since I can change the length of the sweater as I knit. I had already gone down from the suggested needle size of US 8 to a US 6, and since I am typically a loose knitter and this sweater has plenty of positive ease, I went down one size as well from the large to the medium. For my body ribbing, I used US 4’s. Since knitting smaller circumferences can tighten your knitting, for my sleeves I went up to US 7’s with US 5’s for the sleeve ribbing. And then I just hoped and prayed it would all work out.
I decided I wanted the pink to be my dominant color (the one that would stand out the most), and after looking through some notes on Ravelry, I decided to catch my floats every 7 stitches. I recolored all my charts so I wouldn’t get confused and knit the wrong color (like I did in one of my Sparks socks), and I made full, colored charts of the sleeves so that I wouldn’t make mistakes there. Those charts took me a long time to color and create, but it was so worth it!
When I tell you this pattern was above my skill level, I’m not kidding. I’ll admit that I am used to using patterns that hold my hand, and I love that. It gives me the confidence to dive into things I have never tried, knowing the help is there for me to figure it all out in the course of the project. There was a lot more assumed knowledge with this pattern, and occasionally I would have to think about a direction or next step for a few days or dig into some knitting books or the internet to figure out how I was supposed to proceed. It meant I made pretty slow progress, but the breaks to puzzle things out ended up paying off each time. I’ll skip the blow by blow description of what I did on each step, but if you could see my copy of this pattern, you would see margins filled with notes.
I have a theory that really, really wanting to make something can carry you through a big project, even if it’s beyond what you have done before. This sweater further solidified that idea in my mind.
If you take on this sweater, which is a good one, despite the complexity, you should note that there is an error in the medium size instructions. When you begin the body and have to join in the round, the part that says to knit 105 stitches should say 106 stitches. If you don’t change that, you will be short of the 220 stitches you are supposed to have after joining in the round. This will also impact your stitch counts as you go through the pattern. Sometimes you will have to add a stitch, sometimes two, at various points, so keep an eye on that. The charts were fine, by the way, it was just the written directions that were off.
Eek! A Steek!
This sweater is knit from the bottom up as one big tube, with panels of stitches in the areas you will have to open up for the front opening and the armholes.
You open these areas by sewing within that panel (I used my sewing machine) and then cutting down the middle.
Seems scary, right? And it was, but also exciting. I practiced on my swatch after doing lots of steek research on the internet, and that worked out well.
It’s such a crazy idea to cut your knitting, but it really works!
After doing that, whether at the front or sleeves, you pick up stitches to knit the sleeves and the ribbing around the front opening, and then later you knit facings to cover the raw edges and the sewing machine stitches. I worried that sewing down my facings would show from the outside, but it didn’t.
Since my row gauge was off, I decided to steek the front opening after finishing the body a little before the directions told me to. That way I could try the sweater on and see if my sleeves were at a length I liked before adding the final patterning and ribbing at the wrists and finishing them. Once I had steeked the front, I also blocked what I had to get a better sense of that sleeve length. And I was nervous, because I was not knitting quite as loosely as I had expected, so I just needed to see how things were going.
Doing all of this gave me a lot of helpful information, and I’m so glad I did it.
This is the project where the idea of using lifelines really solidified in my brain as well. I found the shoulder area especially confusing to knit, so before starting, I added some blue pearl cotton to my live stitches in case I messed up and had to rip back. Luckily, I didn’t have to rip back, but it was nice having that security. You can see a bunch of these blue lifelines three pictures up where I had just cut my front steek.
I began knitting in August of 2021 and I finally finished my sweater in March of 2022. Seven months! I didn’t work on this non-stop, and usually only put in time while watching TV on a lot of evenings. I’m really happy with how it came out and that it actually fits.
It’s very interesting, now that I have knit several sweaters that actually fit, to see what I reach for and what fits best in my current wardrobe. I don’t wear this quite as much as I thought I would since it can be a little hard to find pants and shirts to go under it, and I tend to reach for pullover styles more (my purple Wool & Honey sweater is my most-worn sweater by far). It’s very comfortable, though, and I like wearing it. It has pilled somewhat, but the pills are very easy to remove. It is not scratchy unless I am wearing a bag on my shoulder that presses it down, and then it is a little scratchy in that area. I feel like my yarn choice has paid off, however. I love how bright the sweater is, and the amazing designs in it. If you don’t look too closely, it sometimes looks like the sleeves match up with the pattern of the body. They don’t, of course, but it’s easy to think they do initially.
This sweater really stretched me, and taught me a lot. It helped me conquer the fear of steeking, and helped me realize that if I think long enough, and search hard enough, I can find the answers to a lot of knitting questions. This project made me feel like I levelled up, specifically in stranded colorwork, which is my current favorite area of knitting.
I entered this cardigan in the 2022 Topsfield Fair (in Topsfield, MA) and it won a first place ribbon!