Hi, Everybody! My name is Ashley Lee Zhong, but you may know me as Snapdragon Brand on Instagram, where I share my colorful creations, chat about life and make friends with passionate fiber people. The images I share with the world are bright, happy and unapologetically unusual. But it’s taken me a long time to get to this point of confidence. I was a shy kid growing up, often squirreling away experimenting with crochet projects, or making costumes out of notebook paper when I should have been using it for my homework. I’ve always been creative, and I learned to use that creativity to communicate what I didn’t know how to say for myself. But through years of awkward flailing and sheer willpower, I’m finally out of my shy streak, finished with school, done with jobs that I worried would simultaneously melt my brain and soul, and I’m ready to use my creativity to communicate on a much larger scale, to more of you lovely people! HELLO, friends!
Since I’ve gone full-time as a creative, I’ve given myself every chance to experiment and learn (you can follow my journey HERE. Sometimes I let fear get the best of me and I worry that I won’t be able to make it on my own. But for every difficult night, I wake up in the morning newly aware of my own potential to create, and that keeps me going. One day I might cover my walls in thrifted granny squares, another day I might crochet the whole city of Rochester and put it on a jacket (both actual projects). When you give yourself a chance, there’s no limit to what you can create. And every experiment teaches you something.
Special thanks to Jessica Carey and Jennifer Evans for giving me a chance to share my wild love for vintage crochet, upcycling, and funky clothes with you all. I consider this more of a tutorial than a pattern, and I can say with confidence that even beginners and non-crocheters can catch on and enjoy the process. If you’re a visual person, the photos in the tutorial below may be all the guide you need. For everyone else, I’ve tried to be detailed and thorough in my descriptions and instructions. I hope this project brings you joy and keeps you warm the way only wonderful crochet can. I believe that granny squares are the greatest invention of all time and I will not rest until the whole world is swathed comfortably in them. Hopefully you’ll try making yourself a lovely cardigan. And when you do, please tag me on Facebook or Instagram so I can adore you!
Upcycled Granny Square Cardigan
Granny Square Afghan (See “Afghan Selection” below to choose a good one)
Sewing Pins (Optional)
Coordinating or Matching Yarn (in a similar weight to your afghan)
A Crochet Hook or Yarn/Tapestry Needle
So, you’re at the thrift store. You went there to find the perfect granny square blanket to turn into a cardigan, and luckily you spy a few nice ones. How do you know which one to pick? To select the right afghan, you need to already be thinking about fit. If you’ve made clothes before, you know it can be surprising just how much material it takes to cover a human. So a good rule of thumb is: make sure that at least one side of the afghan can go all the way around your chest while hanging down past your knees. Naturally, the bigger the afghan, the more length you can get. I’ve made lovely dusters from large afghans and it’s not any harder than making a cardigan!
For practicality sake, choose an afghan that has not felted itself or pilled up too much--it will be very difficult to pull the stitches out where you need to separate it into body and sleeves.
My first afghan I’ll be using is a traditional black bordered granny, 12 squares by 12 squares, with each square measuring about 4x4 inches.
For this project, you only need 4 measurements: your bust/chest, around the top of your arms (right up at the shoulder), and shoulder to wrist. If you were counting, that was only 3. If you weren’t counting, tsk tsk! The 4th measurement is the length of 1 granny square in your selected afghan. My bust is 45 inches around and 1 square from my black afghan is about 4 inches. So for the best fit, I’ll be using at least 12 squares across (4 inches X 12 squares equals 48). The top of my arms are 19 inches around, and I like a little space so I can wear loose fitting shirts, so I’ll need it to be 5 squares wide (around 20 inches). Since my afghan is 12x12 squares, I now know that I can make the body 12x7 squares, and the sleeves will be 5x6 squares (5x12 cut in half to make the 2 sleeves). The red lines in the photo below show where I’ll be making cuts.
It is best to design your cardigan in such a way that your cuts will be on seams. So if you need to make your body or sleeves square larger than your measurements, do it. These cardigans are adorable oversized too!
Before we make something, we’re gonna break something. This part can be intimidating for a lot of people because cutting into a perfectly good afghan can feel like heresy. But I promise it’s not. You aren’t ruining anything, you’re helping it evolve into something new.
Granny square afghans can be joined together in a few different ways (The Spruce Crafts shows great examples of the different joins HERE. So first you’ll need to figure out how your chosen afghan was joined. Most likely it will be whip stitched or single crocheted together.
To separate squares that were crocheted together, one snip at the beginning of the seam should be all it takes--you can pull the stitches right out as if you were frogging. If it’s not coming easily, snip at the other end and try pulling there.
Squares that were sewn together are a little tougher. In front of a light background, pull two squares at the seam. Look closely to see if you can spot the yarn that was sewn between the squares and give it a little tug. If you can see the stitches pull tighter, you’ve found the right one. Carefully snip that single line of yarn and see if you can force a hole open. You should see the sewn yarn squiggling through the stitches of the granny squares. Continue to snip that yarn short as you pull the granny squares apart. I sometimes like to use a pin to pick the yarn out of stitches.
At intersections (where the corners of 4 squares meet) you will often have to snip the sewing yarn that has sewn the seam that crosses the one you’re opening. You’ll need to tie this off, or that seam will unravel too. I usually use my crochet hook to loop it through a stitch in the square and tie it off the same way I would with a crochet project. Tie off as you go to avoid heartache!
When these cuts are done, you should have one large piece for the body, and one large chunk to make into sleeves.
Separate your sleeves by removing the length of sleeve you want from the finished sides of your sleeve piece (this way both your sleeves keep a finished edge on the outside and the excess is removed from the “raw” side you just separated). In my case, I used the full length of the afghan for my sleeves, so I just cut open one seam.
Lastly, you’ll need to cut your armholes. The easiest way to figure out how much to cut is to fold your sleeve pieces in half like they’ve been seamed into a sleeve. Because my sleeves are 5 squares wide, I’ll need to open sleeve holes that are 2.5 squares deep. Look at my cutting photo if this part sounds confusing.
Remember, if your squares are sewn together, you’ll need to tie off at all intersections and open seams.
Sewing Your Seams
I generally like to sew my seams in the same style as the afghan, so if the original maker joined their squares with single crochet, I’ll do that too. In my case, even though the original maker sewed their squares together, I’m going to use single crochet to join because the black stitching won’t show up and I prefer crocheting over sewing. The red lines in the photo below show which raw edges need joining.
In a coordinating or matching color of yarn, join your sleeves into tubes using your chosen joining technique. Take care to match your squares up evenly (this ensures a tidy appearance and a less noticeable seam). You may find it helpful to pin the squares together at this time. Turn the sleeves right side out. Pretty easy, huh?
For the body, you’ll be making two seams at the shoulders. This should be the “raw” edge, leaving the finished edge to be the bottom of your cardigan. I like to create a “lapel” effect by folding the front squares back a few inches (look at the photo below to see what I mean). This makes for a very attractive v-neckline. In order to do this, you’re going to need to think three-dimensional for a minute. Picture this: you will be joining your seams on the “wrong” side, so when folding your lapel, you’ll be folding it into the seam. The lapel will be on the inside of the body at this stage, so that when you turn the body “right side” out, the lapel will be visible. Fold your lapels evenly and pin them in place. Line up your squares and pin both shoulders.
Starting at the outside edge of one of your shoulders, begin joining the seam. When stitching through your lapels, remember to go through all three layers. I continue stitching across the back neck of the cardigan (which should be one layer) and meet the other lapel. Stitch through those three layers and finish the seam to the next shoulder. You now have a nicely finished neckline. Turn your body right side out.
Now is a fun time to try it on and keep yourself motivated.
Attaching The Sleeves (you’re almost done!)
Your body and sleeves should be “right side” out at this time. Turn one shoulder of your body inside out. Pull a sleeve inside the arm hole with its seam at the bottom (see photo below). Line up your granny squares and pin. Join the squares all the way around the arm hole in the same way you did your seams. Tie off securely for a sturdy armpit. Pull your shoulder back out and repeat these steps on the other side.
I’ve experimented with a lot of ways to do this, but this seems to be the way with the simplest explanation. If there is a way that works better for you, go for it. There are absolutely no rules.
Finishing Your Garment
Time to sew in loose ends! You made it! At this time I like to tuck and trim any little bits of yarn that are showing. Some older afghans require a bit of tidying so check your cardigan over and make sure everything is secure, neat, and ready to present. You may want to add buttons (granny squares come with natural buttonholes!). Some people like to let their granny square cardigans hang open too. A little fringe on the bottom can be fun for festivals--however you finish it is up to you.
Vintage afghans come in all shapes and sizes. You can’t control what you find at the thrift store, so consider my tutorial to be a loose guideline to help you as you experiment with the afghans that find you! They will dictate some elements of your design, but that’s okay. Sometimes wonderful surprises happen. In order to help you turn your afghan into a stylish cardigan, I’ve prepared one more example using a much larger style of granny square. This afghan is 5 squares by 4 squares.
The squares in this afghan are nearly 13 inches across. My chest measurement is 45 inches and I want my cuts to land on seams, so I’ll make it 4x3 squares, and my sleeves 2x2 squares. My sleeves will be long and wide, unless I cut through squares, which I would prefer not to do. Let’s just see what it turns into...
Pretty neat, huh? Almost like Kimono sleeves. And rolling them up a little means you can enjoy the drama of the style, but still use your garment for practical purposes. I love that an afghan of outdated colors and unusual proportions can be transformed into a special piece for everyday wear.
I hope this little exercise has shown you that 1, you are totally capable of making an amazing cardigan out of a vintage granny square afghan and that 2, if you roll with the challenges of your particular afghan, you can get awesome results. If you need additional resources, you can check out my original blog post on this subject . In that post I have even more detailed breakdowns for what to do if your afghan has a fancy border, or if you have to (gasp!) cut through a square to get the perfect fit. Thanks for joining me on this journey today and remember to tag me and The Hook Nook on Instagram so we can see it!