Life of Johanna / Made by me / My makes / Sewing cardigans

How to sew a retro cardigan with pearl appliques

How to sew a retro cardigan
Cardigan in wool jersey with pearl appliques. The pattern is drafted by me using my personal knit top block as a starting point.
It took a bit longer than expected, mostly due to all the handstitching involved, but now my 50’s style cardigan is finished. Since the fabric is so delicate I used snaps instead of buttonholes and the snaps took quite a while to attach. Sewing on the pearl appliques on the other hand was really easy, with heads up to Ann and Luckylibbet for their helpful advice.
The fabric from Gorgeous fabrics is a wool jersey and is double faced. The inside fabric is white, making the fabric perfect for contrast details and my personal favorite – visible raw edges. I did toy with the idea to make use of this, but since I had such a clear idea going into this project I didn’t want to temper with my concept.
Making cardigans like this is something of a challenge since it involves trying to mimic knitted cardigans, which obviously has things like neck ribbing and hem and sleeve finishing knitted into the pieces.
To accomplish decent results I have a few favorite methods:

I use grosgrain ribbon or twill tape on the inside to stabilize the buttoning.
This method is common in vintage cardigans and I think it works pretty well. The drawback is a loss of stretch, but the upside is that the band keeps the front from stretching out when sewing
How to sew a retro cardigan 
Inside the cardigan there are twill tape and metal snaps.
For the neckline I usually use ready made knit bias tape, folded ribbing or self fabric for a single-layer binding. I used the latter for this cardigan as it’s the least bulky method. I just attach the band from the outside with right sides facing, then fold, press and lastly topstitch the binding with a narrow zigzag.
Neckline with folded single-layer binding topstitched with zigzag.
I use machine blind stitch for the hems. On knits it’s virtually invisible on the outside and stretches well, without stretching the fabric while sewing.
How to sew a retro cardigan
Invisible blind hem on the inside.
I normally use snaps for fastening when making cardigans. This eliminates the problem with making buttonholes in stretchy materials. I have yet to try sewing buttonholes with elastic cording, but that seems like a good method for knits.
How to sew a retro cardigan

The mother of pearl buttons are for decoration purpose only.
So now I have to decide what’s up next. I have so many possible projects lined up after this that I feel a bit overwhelmed. Apart from regular sewing I also want to do more screen printing and other mixed media projects. And I really ache to more pattern drafting experiments, and perhaps buy a few japanese pattern books. Overall I’m in a pretty inspired phase right now and the blogging definitely helps keeping the momentum up. But lack of time is always an issue and I don’t want my sewing to feel stressful. I do have quite a few days off around Christmas this year though, so hopefully they will be productive!


  • Nancy W.
    December 4, 2008 at 4:09 am

    Beautiful job on the cardigan. I like the neck finish you did on this one – oh, and of course, the sequined trim.

  • Johanna
    December 4, 2008 at 7:55 am

    >> Nancy: Thank you!


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