Good morning, lovelies! Earlier this year, we received a request to the CSC mailbox for pattern recommendations of plus size waterfall cardigans. A waterfall cardigan is an open cardigan, with a billowing front panel of fabric that cascades down the body. This is a trend that’s been around a few years now, but is holding strong in the ready-to-wear sector. It’s easy to see why, y’all. These cardigans are super comfortable pieces–almost like knit blankets with sleeves–but add drama to an everyday jeans and t-shirt look. After doing some searches for our interested reader, I started jonesing for a version or two myself.
Of all the patterns I found, the Style Arc Nina cardigan held the most appeal. With both that dramatic front waterfall and a nipped-in, seamed waistline, the Nina managed to work with a woman’s curves, instead of losing the body in all that faabric. Even better, this fashion-forward design came in the most expansive size range, going right up to a Style Arc 30 (bust: 58.25″/148cm).
Personally, I had some other reasons for choosing the Nina cardigan. For a couple of years now, I’ve been dying to try Style Arc patterns. Their pattern designs are more on-trend than the Big 4, but also more practical for a modern woman’s wardrobe than many Burda plus patterns. However, the high price point and additional cost of shipping to the States always stymied my interest. You can imagine my joy when Style Arc launched their Etsy shop, featuring PDF versions of their most successful patterns. Finally! A cost effective way to satisfy my curiosity! The Nina made a great opportunity to get a handle on their sizing and instructions.
Let’s talk about sizing first, shall we? Style Arc is rather infamous for their single-sized approach to patterns. When you order a print version, you get three sizes printed on three separate pattern sheets–the size you requested, then one size up and one size down. The PDF versions work much the same way. They’re grouped by size trios, starting with 4/6/8, then going upwards from there. While it’s nice to have a back-up from your original size, this individual sizing method prevents easy grading between sizes. Worse, if you’re not the middle size of the PDF trios, you don’t actually get that advantage in the first place. I ended up not fitting perfectly into any one size, as you’d expect, so I chose based on the best size for my waist and hips, figuring that the bust is rather loose fitting in this design anyway. My 46-36-47 frame ended up aligning best with the Size 18, according to Style Arc’s sizing chart. If the bust ended up being too small, that’s an easy FBA fix anyhow, and the shoulder measurement looked close to my own.
(Added Note: We had a great comment, mentioning that if you order from Style Arc’s new Amazon shop, the sizes actually do come nested! If you would rather have that model than individual sizes, go that route, when you can.)
The version of the Nina that you see in these photos is an unaltered Size 18. Usually, I’m a conscientious muslin maker and pattern adjuster, but this is a drapey knit cardigan. If there’s a better pattern to skip a muslin on, I can’t think of one. So, let’s talk about how it turned out, shall we?
The Nina instructions don’t mention stretch requirements, other than to specify a “knit jersey,” which is a fairly broad category of fabrics. I used a wool jersey from Mood, with roughly 40% stretch. Other than the front drape, the cardigan is a close fit. I was expecting something a little looser and more casual than how the Nina actually turned out. I’m chalking this up to both stretch percentage and Style Arc’s ease amounts. When I make this again, I’m going to use a Hacci sweater knit or another equally flexible fabric. If you’re working with a stretch under 50%, consider going up a size all over!
Additionally, both the shoulders and the sleeves ended up large on me. The shoulders by two inches, the sleeves by four. These are such common issues on plus size patterns, but I’d naively hoped that Style Arc had taken this into account. Usually, I would measure the pattern’s shoulder width ahead of time myself, but because of the two piece shoulder/front drape, that couldn’t tell me much. Sewing it up and getting a handle on fit was truly the only option. Next time, a narrow shoulder adjustment is a must. I actually ended up leaving the shoulders as-is–Slouchy cardigan freedom!–but hemmed the sleeves to just past my wrists.
As far as construction goes, the Nina was a remarkably easy project. The instructions were quite sparse, but there’s not much to elaborate on, when constructing a cardigan. The only fiddly bit was joining the drape to the cardigan itself, which involved a pivot, but there was a useful diagram to help with that step. Everything other than that seam was easily sewn on a serger. I suggest moving to your sewing machine for that step, then finishing it on an overlocker. This will give you the best control, during your pivot.
There was one big change that I made to the Nina’s construction, however. The drape and hem are supposed to be overlocked to finish the raw edge, which gave me the all overs to think about. Instead, I took a narrow a hem on both and finished them with a very small stretch stitch. It looks so much more polished than an overlocked edge! In the end, this cardigan took less than two hours to whip up, even with the additional labor. If you’re new to knits, you probably couldn’t find a quicker, easier introduction to stretch fabrics than this pattern!
Overall, I like this pattern a lot. It was a good introduction to Style Arc patterns and has already gotten a ton of wear. It’s such an easy piece to throw on over a casual outfit, in order to dress things up a bit more. Yes, I had some sizing issues, but nothing earth-shattering. I wanted a true example of Style Arc’s sizing, so it’s good to see these things in action on an easy-to-fix pattern. With any of their woven patterns, I’ll make a muslin anyhow, and now I know to watch the shoulders on their knits. I’ve already ordered some stretchier sweater knits, to make a few more of these, before winter really gears up.
Size range: 5/5 — It really doesn’t get more expansive than Style Arc’s size range. I love that there is a pattern company putting out on trend, modern patterns with this kind of range!
Instructions: 2.5/5 – Really sparse, as with most Style Arc patterns. If you need a lot of hand-holding, this might not be the pattern for you yet. Honestly, though, it’s an easy design to construct anyway. I’m not sure how much detail a somewhat experienced seamstress needs to make a cardigan.
Construction process: 4/5 — I’m taking off points for suggesting that you finish with an overlocker, instead of a hemmed edge. If you’re going to the trouble of making a cardigan, why not take an extra twenty to minutes to finish it correctly? Knit hems are so easy (turn once and stitch!) that there’s no reason not to.
Final fit: 3.5/5 — Those shoulders and sleeves, y’all. Those combined with the hazy stretch requirements get docked points from me. I’ll alter the pattern and use more stretch going forward, but at its base level, those are some issues. There’s a minimal chance that those shoulders are going to fit many Size 18s sewing this up.
Overall rating : 3/3.5 — The numbers say a 3, but I’m going to bump the Nina up another half point, because I really do like the final product a lot. While these cardigans are still acceptable in fashion, I’m going to make a few more and wear the heck out of them! It’s fun to have a comfortable piece that still brings the drama.