How to Crochet a Rainbow Sweater

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The Rainbow Crocheted Sweater is an easy garment to make-even though I found out that it’s a bit difficult to ex­plain-since the bulk of the work requires only one stitch, the double crochet. (You will have to chain, single crochet, single crochet 2 stitches together, and make a slip stitch in a few places.) Adding to its simplicity are the facts that there are only two seams-running across the shoulders and down the sleeves-to be sewn togeth­er and no mind-numbing increasing or decreasing of stitches is required to shape the cardigan. Altogether, then, it’s an excellent project for someone making a sweater for the first time.

In constructing the model shown here, I used a variety of yarns-including such different weights and textures as worsteds, mohairs, orlon, doubled sport-weight, and even quadrupled cotton crochet thread-and arranged the multicolored bands in such a way that the warm colors at the bottom gradually shade into the cooler hues at the top. You can vary the width of the stripes if you like. . . and, of course, the color choice is entirely up to you. I made my color changes randomly on the front and back of the sweater, but you can change them when you start a new band if you prefer. Just be sure, whenever you add a new color, that the knot where you join the new and old yarn is on the wrong side of your work, so you can weave the thread unobtrusively into the fabric when you’re finished.

One of the things I like most about this pattern is that it can be easily modified. You can make the sweater coat length, three-quarters length, or waist length. . . and change the sleeve measurement with­out much fuss, as well. One easy finishing touch you might want to add is a puffed or ruffled sleeve. To make this, merely chain a 15″ strand, thread it through one of the double crocheted rows near the end of the sleeve to achieve the effect you desire, and then tie the chain in a bow. You can even weave a piece of color-co­ordinated elastic through the sleeves to fasten them more tightly.

Getting Going

Materials: Twenty ounces of worsted­-weight yarn (or an assortment such as I mentioned previously) for a small or me­dium sweater or 24 ounces for a large one, a size K crochet hook, and a tape measure.

Sizing: Small = 32″-34″, medium = 36″-38″, and large = 40″-42″. Since there is no shaping in the bust area, there’s no reason why this sweater can’t be made for a man or a child . . . so I’ll tell you at the end of the article how you can modify these instructions for making sweaters that are even smaller or larger than the one specified. The directions I’ll give now are for a woman’s small gar­ment, with the changes for a medium or a large sweater written in parentheses.

To start: Begin at the bottom-Section 1 in the accompanying drawings-by ch 105 (117, 129). Turn and dc in the fourth stitch from the hook all the way across. This will yield 102 (114, 126) sts, includ­ing the ch 3 at the beginning of the row, which will always count as the first dc of the row. Repeat the double crochet rows until the section equals the distance from the lower “end” you choose-waist, hip, or whatever-to 2″ below your armpit. The hip-length sweater illustrated re­quired a 13″ first section for a person five feet tall.

Shaping the first armhole and the front (Section 2): Turn, and complete 24 (27, 30) dc, including the ch 3 at the begin­ning. Turn and repeat this row until this section is long enough to reach from 2″ below the armpit to the base of the neck. Use a slip stitch to bind off the last stitch. On the sweater illustrated, this section measured 9″.

The back (Section 3): Attach the yarn at the base of the armhole (A), ch 3 and dc across 54 (60, 66) sts, including the ch 3. Continue the pattern stitch until the back section measures long enough to reach to the nape of the neck. Bind off with a slip stitch.

Making the remaining armhole and front (Section 4): Attach the yarn at the other armhole (B), and crochet as you did the first front section until this piece reaches the base of the neck.

You’ll notice that the back section be­tween the armholes has 54 sts, while each front piece has 24 (27, 30) sts, for a total of 48 (54, 60) sts across the front. The 6-­stitch or 3″ gap remaining in the front will be closed later by a placket that’s formed on the cardigan. This placket is also useful for adjusting the sweater to fit smaller or larger people.

Now, place the sweater against your body, or compare it with another garment that fits you, to be certain you’ve allowed adequate depth in the armhole to provide unrestricted movement (or another layer of clothing). Keep in mind that it’s better for the garment to be a little too big than too small.

Sleeves: You’ll begin the first sleeve at the upper edge of the front side of the armhole (C). This work will become the outside of the sweater, and unless you have a preference, either side of the fabric will do fine. Just make sure that the side on which there are knots from changing yarn-if you’re making a multicolored cardigan-is designated as the wrong side.

Examine the side edge of the double crochet stitches along the sleeve carefully, spreading them a little with your fingers. You’ll see a series of openings, with two on each side of each double crochet stitch.

To begin the sleeve, secure the yarn to the first opening, ch 3, and then dc in each opening. Fill in the armpit with two dc stitches. The total number of sleeve stitches for the model shown was 66.

Once the first sleeve row is finished, turn the work, ch 3, and repeat the dc back and forth across rows until the sleeve is the desired length. (To check the length, baste the shoulder seam-14, 16, or 18 sts, depending on the size-and try the sweater on.) Remember that the length of the sleeve should accommodate the movement of the arm in all directions. On the model shown in the photo, the sleeve length came to about 17″.

You’ll note while making the sleeve that the cardigan has a dropped shoulder, and the sleeves begin about 2″-3″ below where a more common set-in sleeve would start .

To fashion the second sleeve, attach the yarn on the outside of the sweater at the upper back side of the other armhole (D) and dc back and forth as directed for the first sleeve until the second sleeve is the same length as the first one.

Joining: There are only two seams in this sweater, running across the shoulders and down the sleeves. Select a yarn to use for these seams, as well as for trimming the neck opening and making the front placket.

With the front of the sweater facing you, join the yarn at the left wrist. Fold the sleeve evenly along its length so that the shoulders match at the side edges. Now, sc along the folded sleeve, working one stitch in every opening along the sleeve seam.

When you arrive at the shoulder, sc across 14 (17, 20) double crocheted stitches. For this section, you’ll sc in the tops of each pair of corresponding dc from each shoulder.

To make the other (right-side) seam, at­tach yarn to the shoulder edge at the 14th stitch, and sc down to the wrist. That way, your seam stitches will all run in the same direction.

Front placket: Beginning at the lower right front edge, work as follows: Sc in each of the first 3 openings along the dou­ble crocheted sides, then sc the next 2 openings together. Repeat this pattern to the neck edge. For the left corner, sc 3 in the last opening, then turn the corner and sc around the neck. For the right corner, sc 3 in the last stitch. Now, turn the right corner and sc 3, then sc 2 together as you did for the opposite edge until you reach the bottom of the sweater. Turn, ch 3, and dc along the left front to the left corner. Turn and sc along the neck edge.

OK, turn the right corner, ch 3, and dc down the right front. Turn, ch 3, and dc up the right front to the right corner. Turn the right comer, and sc around the neck edge to the left corner. Ch 3, and dc along the left edge to the bottom. Turn, ch 3, dc up the left edge, and sc around the neck edge. Next, dc down the right edge. Turn to the bottom edge and sc all around the bottom to the other comer. End with a slip stitch.


You can place buttons and buttonholes on your cardigan, using the following method. Space the buttons evenly along the outer row of the front placket (buttons go on the left edge for men’s clothing, on the right side for women’s), and sew them on. If you want, you can bind buttonholes with ribbon or yarn in the spaces provided by the double crochet stitches along the opposite edge of the sweater.

Draw all the knots to the wrong side of the sweater, using a smaller crochet hook (size E works well), and draw the yarn tails of the knots through the bottom of a se­ries of double crochet stitches.

Sleeve fastenings: Chain a short length of yarn. . . one that’s just long enough to squeeze over the button of your choosing. Leave 3″-4″ yarn tails on both ends of the chain. Secure the loop-to-be to the bottom of the sleeve seam. Fold the sleeve in half and sew a button to the bottom of the sleeve. In order to snug up the sleeve, all you have to do is pass the loop over the button.

Adjustments for different sizes: For each inch less than a 32″ chest measure­ment (ladies’ small), subtract 3 sts from the 105 starting sts. Remember that this starting number includes the ch 3 for the first dc. Thus, if your child’s chest mea­sures 28″, subtract 12 sts from 105, which works out to 93 sts on the chain. Subtract 3 sts more to account for the ch 3, which leaves 90 sts to be double crocheted in the first row.

To arrive at the number of stitches to al­lot to the front and the back of the sweat­er, use the following method: Since the front placket always measures 3″ wide-or 6 sts-first take your total number of stitches and add six. Using the preceding example, this would be 90 + 6 = 96 sts.

Then divide the resulting figure by 2. (Example: 96 / 2 = 48 sts.) That number will be the back length. . . so the back in this instance will have 48 sts.

Now, subtract the number of stitches for the back from the original stitch total without the front placket. (90 – 48 = 42 sts.) Divide the difference by 2 to find the length of each front section. (42 / 2 = 21 sts for each front section.)

To make the sweater larger than the one I’ve used as an example, add 3 sts per inch and follow the same sequence of calculations.

And that’s it . . . you now have your very own “sweater of many colors”!

Need a refresher on the basics of knitting and crocheting? Would a list of abbreviations be handy? How about more project ideas and patterns? See How to Knit and Crochet