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Design your own sweater

Designing your own sweater

Every knitter should consider designing at least one sweater just for themselves. Not to grade, not as a business, just as a delicious exercise. When you design your own sweater, you get to choose the perfect fit and construction and make it EXACTLY how you want it.

There's also this thing we don't talk about much in designing, but not every sweater can be graded for every size. If you're a size 8 and you design an intarsia sweater that uses up the whole front of the sweater, that's not going to grade down to size 3. Or maybe you want a complex lace yoke, and the stitch repeat is so big it only goes around your shoulders 3 times. That won't grade well either. By designing your own sweater, you can have something so bespoke it would never be suitable for a commercial effort, and that's really special.

You also learn a lot along the way. Once you choose an armhole depth, you'll know why you like some things in your closet more than others. Once you write for your own shoulder-to-bust ratio, you'll think twice next time you cast on a pattern that doesn't meet your needs, because you'll recognize (maybe for the first time) what the relationship between your measurements means for fit.

So. Yes. DO IT.

Inspiration for your sweater design

Every design begins with an idea. Some designers start with the sweater in mind and then find the yarn, others fall in love with the yarn. I often start by trying to solve a wardrobe problem, rather than with aesthetics (for example, I need more cardigans because I wear wired headphones and need to un-layer on Zoom sometimes and a pullover just won't work).

Plan a timeline for your design

Then, think about when you'll be finishing your sweater. If you're a quick knitter and you're super inspired, maybe you're knitting for January. If you need more time but want to stay motivated, plan a design for spring, summer, or even next fall. Be honest with yourself about how fast you want to work and how monogamous you want to be, and plan a project that will be ready to wear just when you think you'll be finishing it.

Match your sweater to your yarn

Think about the properties of your yarn (if you're designing yarn-first) or your project (if you're designing sweater-first). Make sure that they match! You can read more here about wearability, and more here about using slippery yarns (like alpaca and superwash).

Swatch & measure for your design

Make a big swatch. Really. Like 6-8" square. Measure it, then block it, then measure it again. Do you like the density of this fabric? Does it bias (twist up and to the side)? How does it change with blocking?

Write the pattern for your sweater

I might not be able to pack a whole book (or more) into a newsletter, but I CAN point you toward the books designers use - many of which are actually written to help knitters create a single design that fits them perfectly. Check out Ultimate Sweater by Amy and Knitwear Design Workshop by Shirley first.

See the resource list


Finishing is practically a separate hobby, and sometimes it can make or break your knit.

Plan finishes that make your sweater special, and see if you can pull them off. Try that tubular cast-on or sewn tubular bind-off. Work on your seams. Plan a perfect pocket. Be relentless in the pursuit of the One Button To Rule Them All.

For lots of finishing inspiration, check out Deborah's book Finishing School (it's in that resource list too). And you know what? Even if you keep your finishes straightforward, do the most lovely job you can with them, getting that ribbing ratio just right and blocking your sweater carefully.

Bock, shown in the photos in this article, is seamed with some really fun finishing details - a cabled cast-off that looks like a fancy i-cord, tubular cast-ons, and seams that add something really special to the strong texture of the bouncy broken rib.

The knitting police aren't real

Okay, now that I've just told you to be a perfectionist with your trim, I want to contradict myself. The knitting police aren't real and they're not coming over. The most important part is to enjoy the process and bring a spirit of adventure and play to the table.

One of my most worn knits is technical garbage, from before I started designing. It's a speckled raglan with bobble and the sleeves are unshaped and the neck is super wide because I decreased at a 1:1 ratio. There's no front neck shaping and so I did an i-cord edging because I didn't want it to get any choke-ier. It's an unstructured superwash and the thing is seamless and it fits like a sack. It's a 'bad' sweater.

And it's a great sweater. I wear it all the time. And you know what? I actually wear it more because of its imperfections; I don't feel all kinds of preciousness about it.

So get out there and give it a whirl!

Need help with your knitting project?

We can talk! I book 1:1 sessions for knitters, and they cost $30 for 30 minutes. We can look at your plans before you start knitting, or I can review your pattern and give you some feedback, or we can talk about how to get perfect shaping in your neck, armhole, or raglan shaping. If you think you'd like more time, you can book a designer's session, which is $50 for an hour (so you save a little bit of money).

I also use these sessions to talk with knitters who aren't designing a sweater - maybe they need help making the perfect modification, or planning a capsule wardrobe, or their sweater doesn't fit quite right and they can't quite put their finger on why. Spending a little time together can unlock so many questions (and also, we have a lot of fun in these sessions!).

If you think you'd like to book a session or ask me a question about whether a session might be right for you, send me an email, or go to my website and request a spot!

I'm committed to providing paywall-free education on my website and in my newsletter. If you've found this article useful and you're interested in and able to support this kind of community education, you can learn more on my ko-fi page!

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