Convert your Cardigan to a Pullover and Pullover to Cardigan

It’s sweater weather! Our crochet hooks are itching to start working up some cozy sweaters. Check out this handy article on converting crochet sweater patterns and try your hand at a little crochet design. This article originally appeared in Interweave Crochet Winter 2013 and features the Saturn Sweater and the Pluto Pullover. For more great sweaters, check out the newest issue of Interweave Crochet or Love of Crochet.

Beyond the Basics: Convert Your Cardigan or Pullover

Yes, you’ve found the perfect sweater pattern! Except it’s a cardigan and you really want a pullover. Or maybe it’s a pullover you’ve found, and you’re in the mood for a cardigan. Happily, transforming one kind of sweater into the other can be a simple process. Only the front(s) need to be changed for this transformation—the sleeves and back remain consistent. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you’re scouring for a good candidate for conversion.

Stitch pattern: Simple stitch patterns make everything easier. A small number of stitches per repeat and a small number of pattern rows will make it easier to adjust numbers for shaping. The same stitch pattern on the front and back help to keep it simple.

Construction: The two most common constructions are top-down seamless construction and sweaters worked in pieces from the bottom up, so we’ll focus on those. (Note: Other constructions can also be changed, but the breadth of differences is too large to cover here.)

Cardigan to Pullover

Transforming a cardigan into a pullover calls for adjusting the front to eliminate the buttonband (or facing) and adding enough fabric to make up the space previously taken by the buttonband. You may also want to adapt the neckline for the desired fit. With top-down construction, you will need to decide also where to put the join; in a cardigan, this starting point is at the middle of the front.

Pieced Construction

If your pattern is for a boat- or round-neck cardigan, simply make the back twice, making the second “back” as the front. Here are things to check to simplify the conversion:

  1. Make sure that the two front pieces, with buttonband buttoned, add up to the same width as the back.
  2. The two front pieces together, plus the back, should add up to your bust measurement.
  3. The back piece should have at least the same number of stitches as the two front pieces.
  4. The back neckline should be low enough to be attractive in the front; the back neckline may be much higher than you desire for the front. To check this, look at the pattern’s schematic drawing and measure the neck drop against your own front side.

Whether you duplicate the back to use as the front or use the original shaping for the fronts, it may be helpful to crochet the back piece first as a reference. To do this, first add the number of stitches in both fronts and compare it with the number of stitches in the back. After finishing the back, hold it in front of your body to ensure that the neckline is where you want it. If it is, determine the difference in the number of stitches, and then work the second back (now the front) up to the same number of rows on the front before shaping. If the neckline is too high, start the neck shaping on the front piece a few rows earlier than written for the back, and then work more rows along the shoulders once the shaping is complete.

Be sure to mark any “extra” stitches on the front center. Follow the shaping for the first front up to the shoulder—this will mean stopping when you are halfway, or just before halfway, across the piece (indicated by markers). Next, follow the shaping for the second front, leaving center “extra stitches” unworked. To close the gap between the front necklines, crochet around all of the stitches along the neckline for as many rows as desired.

Top-down Construction

To convert a top-down cardigan, decide first where to place the “seam.” To keep the pattern consistent with the cardigan, you will want to work in turned rounds. Crocheting in joined rounds creates a noticeable seam that will look best in an inconspicuous area. To do this, join the rounds, turn and work exactly as written, but wear the sweater with the seam in the back.
In transforming the Saturn Sweater (Interweave Crochet, Fall 2012) from a cardigan to a pullover, I moved the seam to the underarm, joining the rounds just before the sleeve. The simple allover half double crochet pattern made it easy to shift the armholes and corresponding fronts and backs so that the seam ended up in the right place. I also added a placket; fastened with buttons, the placket makes it easier to pull the sweater on and off. To make the placket, work several rows back and forth before joining the sweater into rounds. You could work the placket and still join rounds so that the “seam” is at the center back. It’s your design choice.

On the front of the pullover, you will need to add stitches to account for the width of the button placket, which is “removed” during the conversion. Assuming the sweater fits comfortably with the buttonband closed, determine the width of one buttonband in the original and add the corresponding number of stitches for that width to the front of your pullover. For instance, if your gauge is 16 stitches per 4 inches, divide 16 by 4 to determine that there are four stitches per inch. If the pattern has a 1-inch-wide buttonband, add a total of four stitches to the front to cover the gap left by the missing buttonband. The easiest way to add four stitches is add two stitches on either side of the existing pattern; this works well with the stitch pattern in the Saturn Sweater. For the Pluto Pullover, I added the extra four stitches to the front on my pattern, since that’s the area the buttonband was “subtracted” from.

convert your cardigan

If you are converting a cardigan with a more complex stitch pattern, you might add an entire repeat of the stitch pattern to replace the buttonband.

Adding stitches to a top-down cardigan worked in an intricate stitch pattern is trickier, because figuring out where to shift the pattern over the sleeves can be a challenge. If it’s only an inch or so that you need to account for, you could block out your sweater to a slightly looser gauge. Or you can adjust the stitch gauge and various sizes in the pattern to make a sweater that will come out close to the desired finished size.

Pullover to Cardigan

In transforming a pullover into a cardigan, the main change is to turn the front into two half-fronts and add a buttonband. It is somewhat easier to change a pullover worked in pieces—rather than a top-down seamless pullover—so that you can consider the front pieces separately, but both are convertible. Again, stick to simple stitch patterns to keep the conversion process easy.

Pieced Construction

For a pullover worked in pieces, the ideal garment has a stitch pattern that repeats over a small number of stitches. If the sweater is worked with a very thin yarn, a large number of stitches might amount to a small measurement of inches per repeat, making the adjustment easier. If the repeat is easily divided in half, it can be placed at the very center of the single front piece for the pullover. Determining where to split the cardigan down the middle front can be tricky with wider or more intricate stitch patterns. If you want a buttonband, you’ll need to “subtract” a repeat, or part of a repeat, to make space for it.

For example, let’s take a stitch pattern worked over a multiple of 4 stitches +1, on a pullover with a total of 53 stitches in the back for a size 36-inch bust. The back consists of thirteen pattern repeats across, with the gauge working out to about three stitches per inch (53 stitches divided by 18 inches—or one half of the pattern bust size—is about 3). The easiest way to split this cardigan symmetrically would be to remove one repeat (four stitches) and work each front with twenty-five stitches (or six pattern repeats plus one stitch) until beginning the neckline shaping. The four removed stitches work out to about 1 inch, leaving room for a 1-inch buttonband on each side of the cardigan. You can work the buttonband right along the front edge after each front is finished, using your desired stitch pattern and number of rows.

Say that you are working a similar pattern, but there were only forty-nine stitches across the back for a size 36-inch bust (making the gauge roughly 2¾ stitches per inch). The back divides evenly, leaving twenty-five stitches (when you add one, for pattern) for the front, but that would leave no room for a buttonband unless you wanted extra width in the front. This might be desirable if you have a large bust or want to let the fronts of the cardigan hang instead of adding a buttonband. But if you don’t want a roomy front, you take out two repeats (eight stitches and almost 2 ⅔ inches), and work a wide buttonband.

convert your cardigan

If you prefer a thinner buttonband, you have other options, depending on the complexity of the stitch pattern. If you remove only one four-stitch repeat, you will need to figure out how to distribute the remaining four stitches over two fronts. (If your pattern has an odd number of stitches per repeat, first round that number up or down so that it will be evenly divisible by two.) If the pattern being repeated is a 3-dc shell, you could add a half shell to both fronts; doing so at the side seams would keep the neckline shaping consistent. Or you could add 2 plain stitches at the side seam along each front to account for the needed widthwithout disturbing the symmetry of the stitch pattern. This is most helpful when working with a complex stitch pattern worked out over several rows (such as a pineapple motif). These decisions are up to you as a designer, but something to think about when picking a pattern to convert.

The final consideration when converting a pullover to a cardigan is the neckline shaping. Once you get to the shaping rows, you’ll work across half of the row to create the first front, then turn and continue working. The easiest way to consider the shaping is to draw out a diagram of the shaping rows of stitching as written for the original front. From there, block out any stitches you removed from the center front (for the buttonband). Let the diagram be a guide for the neck shaping on your new cardigan fronts—it’s a faster way to visualize shaping before you stitch. You may need to replace some of the stitches in your diagram with turning chains, depending on which front you are working.

Top-down Construction

To turn a top-down pullover into a cardigan, look for a pattern that is joined and turned at each round. This turning point will become the opening for the fronts. Do not join rounds after you turn them; just turn the work and continue in pattern. If the pullover has a seam that is not in the back of the work, as with the Pluto Pullover, you’ll need to shift the numbers when you divide for the body and sleeves. To do this, determine from the pattern the number of stitches in the back, front, and sleeves. Begin the dividing row by crocheting the appropriate number of stitches for half of the front, skip the same number as written to form the sleeve and chain for the underarm if the pattern dictates, work the back stitches, skip the next sleeve stitches and chain for the underarm if indicated, and then work the stitches for the second front. Lay the cardigan out after completing this row of stitches to be sure everything matches up before proceeding.

Just as with turning a cardigan into a pullover, you’ll need to consider the buttonband when turning a pullover into a cardigan. If you don’t mind a little extra room in the front, just add simple single crochet buttonbands to the front pieces. If you need to remove a larger number of stitches to evenly divide the front into two pieces, work a decorative border instead of a buttonband to fill the gap. If you desire wide buttonbands, you can remove a few stitches from each front. If your stitch pattern is complicated, you can shift the pattern slightly by removing stitches or adding some stitches near the underarm and continuing in the pattern through the fronts.

Now you have twice as many options when looking for your next sweater to stitch! Summon your inner designer, and you too can customize your crochet wardrobe.


Linda Permann is a crochet designer and the author of two crochet books, Little Crochet and Crochet Adorned (both by Potter Craft). She teaches online at www.craftsy.com and recently moved to Denver, Colorado. Check out her blog at www.lindamade.com.


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