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As far as public programming goes, museums generally stick to family craft days and swanky, after-dark cocktail parties. While there’s no shortage of those events at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, they can also boast of adding a Soapbox Derby to the mix. The first derby was held in 1975 and another in 1978. 

Happily, after a very long hiatus, the event was revived this year, on April 10th at McLaren Park. The lineup of gravity-powered cars included models produced by teams who responded to an open call as well as entries by invited artists, schools and organizations. 

Like most attendees, I was busily snapping photos of the clever entries—one seemingly made entirely out of bamboo, another constructed to look like a train freight car—when I was stopped in my metaphorical tracks by car number 40, CARdigan. I couldn’t help but appreciate the thoughtful design of a car made to look like an Aran cardigan, complete with ribbing along the hem, two types of cables, shawl collar, bespoke wooden buttons and pockets.

The curious knitter in me needed to know more. 

The yarn immediately intrigued me. At first I thought it was made out of t-shirts, but then I learned it was Big Twist Tubular which is, as the name suggests, a tube of jersey fabric. Stuffed with polyester, the tube maintains its shape and provides very pleasing stitch definition. Having a semi-solid yarn most likely helped with weight. Even still, the finished project ended up using 37 skeins worth and weighed a whopping 61 pounds.

The crew—or CARdigang—included Katherine Ward, Dany Qumsiyeh, Christine Metzger, Nicole Perez and driver Miles Roa, who donned a yarn-covered helmet to pilot the vehicle down the track. While many other entrants leaned heavily into pit crew sensibility with matching jumpsuits, in keeping with the knitting motif, CARdigang members wore an array of Aran sweaters and cardigans. 

A frame of chicken wire on top of a wood and metal base created the chassis for the giant cardigan. There’s a video of the car’s “dressing” here on Instagram—complete with buttoning up the front. 

So how does one knit a CARdigan? With an enormous pair of needles of course! Christine’s husband made them using wooden closet rods, the equivalent to a US 85 (35 mm), a size I didn’t even know existed. They ended up being a little too cumbersome, so the original 8′ (2.4 m) needles were cut down and double points were very practically fashioned from the off cuts.

Just like a traditional sweater, the hem, cuff, button bands and collar were knit with a smaller size needle, in this case, US 50 (25 mm). 

Size wasn’t the only unusual aspect to the project. When it came to adding a new ball, the stuffing of each end was tucked into the tube, secured with a running stitch and the two ends whip-stitched together for a seamless join. While that’s more work than most knitters are used to, we are all probably familiar with the doldrums of Sleeve Island—that boring stage of a sweater where the urge to abandon the project is very tempting. The CARdigan went through five sleeve iterations before the correct size was found. The knitting took over 100 hours to complete and finishing touches were made to the collar that day.

grandpa candy in the pocket!

After two very long years of lockdowns and curtailed socializing, it was wonderful to attend an event like the Soapbox Derby. Along with many things I’ve missed, are the sorts of chance encounters with something unexpected—like a car with a cardigan—and the opportunity to meet the makers responsible for taking a whimsical idea and turning it into a cozy, but road-worthy reality. 

About The Author

Sonya Philip is an artist, designer, teacher, and the author of The Act of Sewing. She has made it her mission to convince people to make their own clothes, by teaching classes and selling patterns. When not covered in bits of thread, she can be found knitting another shawl or cardigan. Sonya lives in San Francisco with her family and their scruffy terrier duo, Willie and Hazel.


  • Love this so much. The only other post in Katherine’s Instagram account is even better.

  • You made my week! I can almost feel the cardigan’s squish factor. The details are wonderful.

  • Oh Sonya! This is so great – you made my day. Thanks so much; I’m always extra happy to see your byline here.

  • Please tell us did it finish the race unscathed, or has it now got a large decorative darn as well?

    • The CARdigan made it totally unscathed! She floated down the course like like a little meringue cloud! We won the trophy for Softest.

  • This post has made my day!!! So clever!! Did the CARdigan finish its run unscathed? It deserves permanent display in the museum.

    • Our fearless driver Miles piloted her down the hill in one piece! It poured rain the next day which would have made it much scarier–and heavier!

  • Where does one find a “yarn” like that??

    • At Joann.

      You don’t need needles to knit with this type of yarn. Not arm knitting either. Just use your hands to pull loops through loops.

      This project is just brilliant. It reminded me of the lace fence from a few years ago. Sometimes the art is all about the scale – US 85 needles! Oh my.

      Thank you, Sonya!

  • Just love it! What a happy way to start the day!

  • What fun. It looks like the land-locked step-daughter of Debbie New’s iconic Lace Coracle, a bowl-shaped boat that was actually (sort of) seaworthy.

    • Oh, I remember that! I do have a copy of Unexpected Knitting that I haven’t looked at in a while. Such a brilliant designer! I know our own Kay and Ann were inspired by her scribble lace.

  • Wow!! What a work of heart❤

  • This is just the best Sonya! Thank you for sharing this and putting a big smile on my face to start the day.

  • Craft and creativity and cleverness. Bravo!

    • Also the buttons are functional!

  • I’m irrationally smitten with those buttons.

  • My words for the year are “find Joy.” Your article gave me so much Joy. Can’t wait to share it with my 88 year old mom (who taught me to knit). Thank you Sonya!

    • Thank you, Jeannette! My mantra for the year has also been to Find Joy so your words mean so much to me. My mom also instilled in me a deep love of making and it was one way we connected. I wish that I had been able to share CARdigan with her, so thank you for sharing with your mom!

      • Thank you for sharing the joy with those of us who couldn’t see your work of art in person! I’m a mom and grandma, and know your mom would have loved this! It brought so much joy at the end of a long day – found joy!

  • How lovely to start the week learning hearing about something so creative and happy! Thanks!

  • This made my day❣️

  • Love this! ❤️ So creative and fun. It made me laugh, such a great way to start the day, thank you Sonya!

  • A perfect thing to see on a rainy Monday morning!

  • Gob-smacked! I love it!

  • Only in my hometown! Sonia, I love the way you told this story, especially that you included all the knitterly details. You really brought the event aive alive for us.

  • How delightful!! And coincidence that I just returned from a fantastic San Francisco trip (college visit for my son).

  • Ok, you had me at CARdigan! What a clever idea and brilliant execution by all involved. I would’ve loved to been at this event in person! It looks like it brought so much joy!

  • so good to hear your voice. Been awhile. Thanks so much

    • Oh, this is so fabulous! Thank you for the write up, Sonya.

  • This is beyond cool!!!! Wow.

  • Would have loved to have seen it in person. Awesome!

  • Sonya, I haven’t come across your writing until just now. I went back and read several of your previous letters. I wish to say a huge AMEN, SISTER! If something makes you happy, wear it!

    The CARdigan is such a fun thing. Hard to imagine working with such big needles and yarn!

  • What a delight!! Thank you for this fun post.

  • Love this! I hope the CARdigan makes it to a How Berkeley Can You Be? parade if it still exists. 🙂

  • Thank you for the joy you brought to my day! Pre-pandemic we built Cupcake cars for Maker Faire San Diego. The CARdigan reminded me of the fun we had!

  • OMGosh, what fun! Love this so much!!

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