How to Knit a Winter Coat

knitted winter coat

I’m almost done with the knitting for my winter coat. I have a ball and a half left of yarn, which will add about 4.5 inches to the body. And I figure my deadline is the super cold weather we’re supposed to be getting later this week.

I’m not sure if anyone else is crazy enough to try knitting a proper winter coat, but if you are, here’s how I did it.

Step 1: decide to do it.
Ignore exactly how much knitting it’ll be, and don’t think too hard about how cold winter gets. I’m in New York City, so it gets cold, but not quite cold enough for me to decide not to do this.

Step 2: find your yarn.
You want something warm (no shit…), so an animal fiber of some sort. You could also use a wool, or llama, or other animal fiber, but you want to stay away from plant fibers, man-made fibers, and silks.

I’m using Misti Alpaca Chunky, which is 100% baby alpaca yarn. I have 14 or 15 balls of yarn, which translates to 1500-1600 yards of yarn.

sweater sleeve

Step 3: pick your stitch pattern. Density is gold.
A stitch pattern that creates dense fabric, helps help keep out wind/rain/snow/winter slush/gross weather. So I would suggest a slipped stitch, or fair isle pattern. If you have a tight gauge, you might be able to do stockinette, or a cable pattern, but stay away from the lace.

I’m using an all-over slip stitch pattern, in a chunky yarn, on a US size 10 (6.00mm) needle. The stitch pattern is a slip 1, knit 1, on the right side, and slip 1, purl 1 on the wrong side. It makes for slow knitting, but really warm fabric. I really wish I could photograph this sweater in a way that conveyed exactly how dense this fabric is.

Step 3.5: Swatch liberally.
It’ll save you a lot of headache, heartache, and knitting time later.

alpaca sweater

Step 4: choose your sweater shape/knitting pattern.
I’m doing a super straight forward, drop shoulder, boxy cardigan, so I’ll be able to layer lots of layers underneath it.

I knit the fronts and back in pieces to keep them portable. Then closed up the shoulder with a 3 needle bind off, picked up stitches for the sleeves and knit down towards the hem. Then I sewed up the side seams & underarm seams.

Now I’m adding as much length as possible to the body, so I picked up the stitches around the hem, and am planning to knit until I run out of yarn.

Step 5: figure out how you want your sweater to close.
Buttons? Toggles? Hooks & eyes? Snaps? Zipper?
I’m waiting till it’s all knit to figure out how I want to close it. I’m debating between toggles, hooks & eyes, snaps, a zipper, belting it, or some combinations of the above.

Step 6: knit.
Because the slip stitch makes for very slow knitting, I’ve kind of lost track of exactly how much tv I’ve caught up on while knitting this sweater.

Step 6.5: just keep knitting. just keep knitting.

Step 7: Finish it. Wash it. Block it. Wear it.
(which might actually be four steps, but I haven’t gotten there yet.)


I’m still knitting the body, which I’ll (hopefully) finish tonight. But I’ve done all of the sewing up, and wove in the ends (mostly so I could photograph it without the sweater having unintentional fringe.)

I waffle back and forth on if the sweater will be warm enough to actually be a coat. Today, I’m leaning towards “it will be warm enough.” And if it’s not, I’ll probably cry, then add a  full (sewn) wool lining.

But I’ll deal with that once the knitting is done, for now, it’s “just keep knitting, just keep knitting.”


Hand-Knit Sweater Dress – I highly doubt I’d wear this dress if I hadn’t knit it

hand knit sweater dress 2

hand knit sweater dress

The minute I decided I was actually going to do the self-made wardrobe project I started rummaging through my yarn and fabric to see what I already had on hand.

I came across a huge ball of lace weight yarn in fairly ghastly colors, but it was a beautiful yarn, with a great drape, so I figured I would just overdye* whatever I made with it.
*overdying is when you re-dye something (yarn, fabric, clothes, whatever) that’s already been dyed, so it’s a different color than it was originally dyed

The results were unexpected, and pretty spectacular. That being said, I would never wear this dress if I hadn’t knit it.

Never, ever, ever.

I don’t do pink.
I don’t do brown.
I don’t do tan.
I don’t do green.

I guess this is the exception that proves the rule…

sweater dress

Unfortunately the ball was unlabeled when I pulled it out of my yarn stash (oops), so I don’t know what the yarn is, or what the color way is, or what the yardage is. But I’m guessing that it’s a wool/silk blend, and that the yardage was around 1,000 yards.

ETA 10/25/14: I did a little digging and I think the yarn just might be “Lorna’s Laces Helen’s Lace” in the colorway “Vera.” In which case it’s a 50/50 wool/silk blend, with 1,250 yards per skein.

I wanted a simple straightforward lace weight sweater pattern, and the “Silken Straw Summer Sweater” from The Purl Bee was perfect. I loved how simple the design was,  that it was written for a lace weight, and that I got gauge (almost).

Since I didn’t know how much yardage I had, I wanted to knit my sweater from the top-down, so I reworked the pattern to be top-down. I also eliminated some of the neckline shaping so that the front and back scooped evenly.

Other than that I basically worked the pattern as written – but backwards.
So increases became decreases, decreases became increases, cast-ons became bind-offs, and bind-offs became cast-ons, etc.

(I also did a garter ridge around each hem just before attaching the i-cord – I don’t remember if that’s in the original pattern or not.)


Because I kept going back and forth on over-dyeing I finished knitting this sweater way back in May, but then it sat on my desk unblocked until a couple weeks ago.

hand knit sweater dress 3

Overall, I really love how it turned out. It’s a weird, funky, unexpected, (hard to style), self-made wardrobe win.


The Blue Kimono – one of the first pieces I made for the self-made wardrobe




This blue kimono was one of the first things I made specifically for the self-made wardrobe project. It’s one of the pieces I wear most often, and it’s definitely one of the pieces I get complimented on the most.

blue kimono

The fabric is a sheer navy (probably polyester), with embroidered squares that have been glued on, sort of a “novelty chiffon.” It was a complete impulse purchase from A&K Fabrics, and cost pretty close to nothing. 2 yards of fabric got cut up into 6 rectangles, and 5 of those rectangles turned into a kimono.

cutting fabric

The pattern is my own, but I’m not really sure it could be called a pattern.
I laid out the fabric and portioned it out into 6 rectangles. 2 front pieces, 1 back piece, 2 sleeves, and 1 neckband (which didn’t get used, and which isn’t in the photo.) The fronts are approximately half the width of the back, and the sleeves are pretty close to squares.

Blue Kimono Seams Hems

(left to right: french seam, flat felled seams, sleeve hem)
Since the fabric is sproingy and unravels easily I used a combination of french seams, and flat felled seams. Then I did deep hems & cuffs, with stitching at the top and bottom edges, the stitching was to keep the hems flat, and the depth was to give the hems a bit of weight, so the kimono would hang nicely.

It works with dresses, skirts, jeans (even if they aren’t self-made), and is kind of the perfect light layer to throw on.


I wore it all summer, a bunch of this fall, and I sort of doubt I’ll put it away entirely this winter. Self-Made Wardrobe Win!