episode 1

Kiki’s Cotton Sweater or Push Your Own Boundaries with Fiber

Pattern & Essay by Catherine J. Hall



People who know me, even those who don’t yet knit, know that cotton yarn gives me the creeps.  I am not kidding.  Touching its dry, chalky fibers makes my teeth hurt.  I can wear a store-bought cotton t-shirt, but don’t ask me to knit with the stuff. 


Wool is for me.  I love it, and can never have enough.  It’s soft, stretchy, and feels like something alive in my hands as I knit with it.  Unfortunately, wool is also very warm.  That’s perfect, if you live somewhere with at least a cool breeze, but here in Scottsdale, wool is only tolerable for about two days each winter.  I tried everything.  Wool and silk blends are nice, and quite a bit lighter, but still not very good for summer garments in the desert.  Rayon, nylon, and soy gave me better results, and right now I am working on two summer tops in bamboo yarn.  I do like one cotton/elastic blend yarn, Cascade “Fixation”, but its uses are sadly limited, and the drape is not what I wanted for a summer sweater.   


I was convinced that “Fixation” was the limit for me in cotton yarns, but decided to actually touch some organic cotton at a local yarn show.   After all, organic cottons, in shades of rust, green, tans, and creams, are a local product.  Only Egypt’s climate is better than Arizona’s for cotton production.  And really, what could be better for desert dwellers to wear?  Mother Nature takes care of her own. 


Once I got past my initial fear of “touching the yarn” (Stephen kept telling me that it was safe, but he may as well have been telling me to touch a cholla, or a rattlesnake), I had to admit that the Inca Organic Cotton was kind of nice.  I kept coming back to stroke the green yarn (I don’t know why, but the other colors, including a really nice reddish-brown, still felt too “cottony” to me), and finally decided to buy it.  I reasoned that it may be the only cotton that I would ever find that didn’t send me screaming from the room.  I bought all they had, a pound and a half, almost a thousand yards of thickish light green yarn.


At first I was content to just have the yarn around, and to surprise my knitting buddies with such a strange purchase.  I also thought that once I had the skeins wound into balls, Stephen could use it to knit something for me.  But the simple act of winding the yarn was all I needed.  I was in love.


Now, what to make?  Again, I was worried that this was my “one chance” to work with cotton, and that I better get it right.  Like many knitters, I have the habit of turning out items and garments that don’t have much practical purpose in my wardrobe.  Isn’t that called process knitting?  At any rate, I decided to make something that I did want to wear, something at least semi-practical, and maybe even flattering.


The yarn’s color and gorgeous texture was almost enough on its own, and I didn’t want to distract from its simple beauty with a too-busy sweater.  I like to knit in the round, and have a basic pattern for a raglan sweater to fit me in any weight of yarn memorized.    Because I already have a ton of heavy sweaters with no reason to wear them, I wanted this one to be lighter, knit at a looser gauge, and with shorter sleeves.  I added slight bell shaping to the bottom of the sleeves, and made the collar low and simple.  The edges all curl in on themselves in simple stockinette stitch, and I used subtle bust and waist shaping to avoid that “sack chic” look.  Aside from the shaped sleeves, the only added detail is the use of cables along the raglan shoulder.  Because I used such a loose gauge, and bigger needles than I usually employ, the sweater was done in no time at all, and I only used a pound of the yarn.  


We were pleased with the results, and decided to offer this simple sweater as a free pattern.  I have only included the size that I made, as this sweater should be a personal journey for you, too.  Choose a fiber, maybe cotton, maybe not, that is new to you, or go with an old favorite.  Make a gauge swatch, take a few measurements, and go to it.  Don’t try to match my design/pattern exactly.  There are so many awesome articles and tutorials out there to help you adapt any garment pattern to fit you and your yarn.  Some of my favorites are Jessica Fenlon Thomas’ essay in Knitty’s Spring ’03 issue, Debbie Stoller’s chapter on fit in the Stitch and Bitch Nation book, and Elizabeth Zimmermann’s methods in her books (or even dvd).


So, am I a changed woman?  I don’t know.  I still don’t like cotton as a rule, although I do like this cotton yarn, and I do love my sweater.  Like any fiber, cotton has its good and bad points.  I am able to actually wear this creation here in the Valley of the Sun, and that is indeed a treat.  One of the things that I don’t like about the fiber is its tendency to stretch.  It’s a good thing in some cases, like with old t-shirts, but the weight of this sweater is causing it to grow (I understand that this is a common complaint about cotton sweaters, and why so many knitters like a cotton blend to add the elasticity of wool or other fiber to the cotton).  But again, is a little stretching really so bad?  After all, with cotton I can always throw the thing in the dryer for a bit.  I have heard that harsh laundering, even boiling, of the organic green cotton increases the intensity of color, so it is worth a shot.  But right now it’s too hot to turn on the dryer.



The chest measures 38 inches around.  This pattern makes a sweater that can fit a variety of sizes, up to a 40 inch chest, comfortably.



Yarn – Inca Organic Cotton, 100% organic cotton, approximately 700 yards/16 ounces, undyed green.


Needles - #10 US circular needles - 2 needed,

         8- to 16-inch for sleeves (or double pointed needles)

         and 24- to 32-inch for body of sweater.


Notions – Tapestry needle.

        At least 5 stitch markers, with one in a different color to indicate the beginning of the round.

        Stitch holders (safety pins work well).

        Cable needle (a small dpn works well).



This is a slightly-fitted, yet flowing sweater.  Your choice of yarn and needle size can alter the drape and fit.  One of the best parts of knitting a garment in the round is that you can try it on at any time, and adjust the fit as you go.  Just transfer all of the live stitches to a circular needle long enough to go around you (or two needles, or some waste yarn….we use the cords that come with our Denise needle set, all connected), and slip the sweater on your body.  You can do this at any stage of the knitting, and it can save a great deal of frustration, time, and ripping out at the end of a disappointing project.


To adjust sizing, you may change needles and work the gauge to fit your measurements.  Or, you may adjust the number of stitches, or the length of the pieces (number of rows) for a longer or shorter sweater.  The basic pattern remains the same.


CO = cast on                           st = stitch

K = knit                                   sts = stitches

P = purl                                    K2tog = knit two stitches together

BO = bind off                           SSK = slip the next 2 sts k-wise.  Insert the tip of the left

pm = place marker                              needle into the front of these 2 sts and knit them tog

m = marker                              SK2P = slip 1 st, K2tog, pass the slipped st over the 2 sts

beg = beginning                                   just knit tog (a double decrease)

dec = decrease                         Kfb = knit into the front and back of the next st

inc = increase                           k-wise = knitwise, as if to knit

sl 1 = slip 1 st                           p-wise = purlwise, as if to purl

cn = cable needle                      tog = together

sm = slip marker



13 stitches = 4 inches in stockinette stitch.




- With longer circular needle, CO 140 sts.

- Join, being careful not to twist, and pm to indicate beg of round.

Rounds 1-14 – K even.                             

Round 15 – K 70 sts, pm, K 70 sts.

Round 16 – *K until 3 sts before m, SK2P*, repeat at next marker.  This decreases 4 sts each round.

Rounds 17-18 – K even.

Rounds 19-36 – Repeat rounds 16-18 six more times, until 112 sts remain.

Rounds 37-44 – K even.

Round 45 – Inc round.  *K until 2 sts before m, Kfb, K1, sm, K1, Kfb*, repeat at next m.

      This increases 4 sts each round.

Rounds 46-47 – K even.

Rounds 48-53 – Repeat rows 45-47 two more times, until you have 124 sts.

Rounds 54-68 – K even until piece measures 15.5 inches from CO edge, or desired length to underarm.

Round 69 – K even until 7 sts from first m.  Place 14 sts (7 sts on each side of each m) on holders/pins for underarms.  Keep live sts (48 sts each for front and back of sweater) on a large circular needle, or on waste yarn, until needed.



-         With shorter circular needle (or dpn’s), CO 64 sts.

-         Join, being careful not to twist, and pm to indicate beg of round.

Rounds 1-6 – K even.

Round 7 – K until 3 sts before m, SK2P.  This decreases 2 sts each round.

Round 8 – K even.

Rounds 9-22 – Repeat rounds 7-8 seven more times, until 48 sts remain.

Rounds 23-24 – K even.

Round 25 – Inc round.  K until 2 sts before m, Kfb, K1, sm, K1, Kfb.  This increases 2 sts each round.

Rounds 26-40 – Repeat rounds 23-25 five more times, until you have 60 sts.

Rounds 41-50 – K even until piece measures 12 inches from CO edge, or desired length to underarm.


Repeat for second sleeve.


Place 14 sts (7 sts on each side of markers on each sleeve) on holders/pins for underarm.  Keep live sts (46 sts per sleeve) on circular needles or waste yarn.


Join for Yoke

-         Using the longest circular needle and starting with one sleeve, line up the pieces and place markers.

-         Begin with st # 31 on sleeve (halfway around from m), and place the marker that indicates the beg of the round.  K23 sts on sleeve, pm, K48 sts across front of sweater, pm, K 46 sts on other sleeve, pm, K 48 sts across back of sweater, pm, K remaining 23 sts on first sleeve = 188 sts total.

Round 1 – Set up cable at raglan shoulder.  Cables indicated in brackets [ ].  Move markers accordingly.

            Sl first m, K 19, pm, [P2, K4, P2], K 40, [P2, K4, P2], pm, K38, pm, [P2, K4, P2],

            K 40, [P2, K4, P2], pm, K 19 = 188 sts total.

Round 2-3 – Repeat round 1, slipping markers as you come to them.

Round 4 – Twist cable on 4 K sts between P sts at each shoulder (4 times) as follows:

            Cables 1 and 3 – [P2, sl 2 sts to cn and hold in front of work, K next 2 sts, K 2 sts from cn, P2].

            Cables 2 and 4 – [P2, sl 2 sts to cn and hold in back of work, K next 2 sts, K 2 sts from cn, P2].

            Continue turning cables in this manner every sixth round (rounds 4, 10, 16, etc.).

Round 5 – Work as round 1.

Round 6 – Start dec rounds.  Dec 8 sts every other round, one stitch on each side of every cable.  Slip first marker, *K until 2 sts before the P2 sts of cable, SSK, sm, [P2, K4, P2], K2tog*.  Repeat around all 4 cables.

Round 7 (and all odd rounds) – Repeat round 5.

Round 8 (and all even rounds) – Repeat round 6, turning cables every sixth round, which is every third dec round.

Continue decreasing and turning cables until anywhere from 70-80 sts remain on needles.


You may have to switch to the shorter circular set, but put sts back on longer one in order to try the sweater on at this point and determine if you are ready for the collar.  Proceed when ready.



-         Switch to shorter needle, if needed, and K 5-10 rounds (more or less, it is up to you).

-         You may want to add ribbing at this point if you do not want the collar to roll.

-         You can also add extra short rows to the back of the sweater to make the collar higher in the back.

-         When the collar is as high as you would like it to be (again, switch to longer needles and try it on!), BO loosely using purl sts.



-         Use kitchener stitch to weave underarms closed with tapestry needle.

-         Weave in ends.

-         Block if desired.

-         If you used undyed, organic cotton, washing or soaking in very hot water can intensify the natural color, as well as soften the fibers in the finished garment.

-         Remember, if you used another yarn, to take note of the care directions on the skein label, and launder your sweater according to that.


Play Fair - Please, remember this basic kindness. These patterns, as well as the images and other artworks, are for non-commercial use only.  If you decide to make one of the Luscious Gracious projects, remember it is not legal to sell the item.  Our patterns may not be reprinted or copied in any way without our express permission.


cjh, june06