Kimono-sleeved cardigans are a versatile and timeless addition to any wardrobe. Not only are they comfortable and easy to wear, but they can also be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. However, purchasing a kimono cardigan made with comfortable fabric and quality construction can be expensive. Finding one that fits perfectly can also be a challenge. That’s why creating your own kimono cardigan using a custom drafted pattern can be a great solution. In this 2-part blog series, I’ll guide you through the steps of drafting a pattern for an easy kimono cardigan that you can customize to fit your unique style and body shape. With just a few measurements and some basic sewing skills, you’ll be on your way to creating a beautiful and functional garment that you’ll love to wear!
My inspiration for this pattern was this cropped, tie-front kimono cardigan from Anthropologie. I loved the relaxed look, and the tie-front. I know there are patterns available for this top, but I knew this was one could draft myself. Yay! Double win! Not only do I get to have fun drafting this pattern but I also get. to save some money! Not to mention the fact that just looking at the Anthropologie version, I knew that even if I could find it to purchase, there would be changes I would want to make to better suit me!
I chose to make this cardigan out of three different knit fabrics. The first was I was making for my daughter out of a lightweight rayon jersey with a tie-dye pattern. I had this fabric in my stash since I had previously made a skirt with it for her. Now she’ll have a matching set! The second was a really squishy and comfy blue ribbed velour knit. I wanted this one to go over my tank tops after doing yoga. The third was a distressed, holey, black cotton/linen knit. I loved the super lightweight, casual vibes this gave off. Less ballerina, more concert t-shirt. I couldn’t wait to wear it with jeans or shorts and a tank tops in the hot Arizona summer.
- fitted long-sleeve t-shirt
- pattern tracing paper
- paper scissors
- fabric scissor
- French curve
- tape measure
- sewing machine
- 1 or 2-way stretch knit fabric, for an accurate yardage estimate, sketch all pattern pieces first, then lay them out on a flat surface as wide as your fabric (usually 56-60″ for most knits). Taking care to lay the pattern pieces out with stretch in the correct direction as you would lay them on your fabric, then measure the length they take up. (1.5 yards of ~58″wide fabric should be plenty for an adult small/med) Be sure to add in extra to account for pattern or print matching (stripes, etc).
- Optional: serger, scrap knit fabric or ribbon, pattern making book
Step 1. Choose a t-shirt as your starting point
To draft the pattern, I started with a fitted, long-sleeve knit t-shirt from my closet. Choose a t-shirt that is not tight, but not loose- just skimming your silhouette. I smoothed out the top on my table and folded it in half down the center front. Next, I traced the outline of the neckline onto pattern paper, then the side seam up to the armpit. Now, you want to bring the sleeve up to about 70 degrees from vertical – you can eyeball this! (See sketch below) When done correctly, it should be almost a straight line from the neck to the wrist (with a little “bump” for the shoulder).
This step will give you maximum mobility in your finished cardigan. If you trace the sleeve in its “natural” somewhat downward position, you won’t be able to raise your arms in the finished garment. Trace from the neckline, across the shoulder, and down the top of the sleeve. Now trace the bottom of the sleeve from armpit to wrist.
Measure on your body how far down from your armpit your waistline falls, and mark the waistline with a horizontal line across your pattern. Label this pattern piece “BACK”, and label the center back as “FOLD”. When cutting it out, add in 3/8″ seam allowance to neckline and side seam, and leave a lot of extra paper in the “armpit” area. Next, I decided that I wanted the fitted cuff part of the sleeve to be 3″ long, so I cut the bottom 3″ off the sleeve, labeled it “CUFF” and set aside for later (you’ll need this in Step 4).
Make a copy of the first tracing, and label this one as “FRONT”. Use a French curve to draw in a smooth swooping curve line from the where the neck meets the shoulder to center front at waistline height. This is your front neckline. Add 3/8″ seam allowance to front neckline and trim, leaving a lot of extra paper in the “armpit” area.
Step 2. Drafting the underarm style line
I used my pattern making book to approximate the style line I wanted for the kimono sleeve. Using a french curve or even a large platter to trace, draw a smooth curved line from the waistline to the end of the sleeve. This part is all design – the lower the curve, the more dramatic the sleeve, but the lower the mobility. The higher the curve, the more subtle the statement, and the less fabric under your arm. It’s all a matter of preference!
At this point, it was time to cut out the cardigan without a waistband, cuffs, or neckbinding and use trial and error to determine the style lines that would work for me. Cut out the 2 front and one back piece, following the “lowest” kimono sleeve line. Be sure to lay the pattern pieces on your fabric with the direction of greatest stretch going horizontally across the body. Sew the fronts to the back at the top shoulder seam, then the lower sleeve/side seam. Stay-stitch the neckline and take care not to stretch the fabric out when repeatedly trying on in the next step.
Next, it was time to try on the cardigan and see how I liked the sleeve line. If it the underarm addition felt too full, I would trim away a little at a time until I had the look I desired. Use a French curve to create a smooth line when refining the design. At this stage, I also decided how long I wanted the cardigan to be and trimmed accordingly. Be sure to mark the pattern with your chosen cutting line when you’ve come to your final decision!
In conclusion, drafting your own pattern for an easy kimono cardigan is a great way to create a unique and stylish garment that fits perfectly. By following the steps outlined in Part 1 of this blog series, you’ll well on your way to drafting your own custom kimono cardigan. Keep following along in Part 2 to see the final results, and you’ll soon be wearing your own kimono cardigan that you’ll love to wear for years to come. Happy sewing!