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Horizontal layering for knitters

The straight line of that peek of ruffle, the same width as my bangs, moves the eye back and forth between my face and my decolletage

Layering with length

In her book Embody, Jacqueline Cieslak talks so eloquently about layering horizontally. Who wouldn’t want to “create striking topography across the body?” The whole book is such a love letter to fat bodies and the clothes they deserve, and it has a place in every knitter’s bookshelf.

We all grew up familiar with layering vertically – jackets over shirts or cardigans over dresses, for example – creating long vertical lines. Layering horizontally gives us a second way to play with depth and interest in our outfits by drawing lines with hems and cuffs.

Local Meadow, a dropped-shoulder design with shallow sleeve caps, uses both vertical and horizontal lines to create lots of visual interest and movement.

I don’t use the word ‘flattering’

It can be challenging to talk about how we choose the clothes that make us feel beautiful without using the word flattering. For those of us who grew up with size privilege, it simply means ‘makes us look our best.’ But for those of us in larger bodies or with certain skin colors, the word flattering can land as ‘make you look thinner,’ ‘make you look like someone else’ or ‘make your skin look less olive/lighter.’

Precise language is always more helpful!

Instead of ‘flattering,’ I try to say what I mean. Here are some of the things I often find I’m trying to convey when my brain reaches for ‘flattering:’

  • Well-fitting

  • Doesn’t distort the figure

  • Creates harmony between the wearer and the garment

  • Makes you look (and feel!) like YOU

  • Creates visual movement or interest

  • Looks balanced, symmetrical

Types of horizontal layers

Now that we have some vocabulary, what we’re trying to do with horizontal layers is create visual interest and balance.

Cropped tops

The most common way this is employed with knits is a cropped top with a high-waisted skirt or pants, or empire dress. Particularly when the top is boxy, and the waist is well defined, this pairing can create a sense of architecture and symmetry. You can further layer leggings underneath such pieces, or even jeans or wide-legged pants under a breezy skirt (Meg, from Sew Liberated, does this often - check out her Metamorphic dress sewing pattern for several examples of horizontal layering).

The law of thirds

Have you heard this one? In visual design, like photography, a picture tends to be most pleasing to the eye when the image can be divided into thirds horizontally and vertically. You can apply this to your wardrobe, too.

  • If a sweater is cropped but the sleeves are longer, the line of the cuffs will be about 1/3 longer than the line of the hem.

  • That same cropped top, with a long skirt or wide pants, can also be viewed as the top third of your whole body.

  • Styling a looooong cardigan that extends to your knees can create that same balance in the opposite direction – it’s now the top 2/3 of your torso.

  • Adding a knit scarf will often split your torso into thirds, by obscuring the top third of your torso. Drawing one corner down into the center of your torso will ask a viewer’s eye to travel right up to your face, creating movement.

Using horizontal layers to add texture and depth

The eye goes where things are visually interesting. Planning an all-black outfit and a leopard print belt? Viewers will be drawn to your waist. A v-neck with a lace camisole under? The eye is going to go right for that lace detail, and then soar up the neckline to the face.

We can use horizontal layers to create places where the eye is drawn, and where it can rest.

A soft ruffle peeking out beneath a highly structured sweater is going to add contrast. Necklaces and accessories create lines that move across the expanses of the ‘blocks’ of our bodies, like our torsos, hips, or legs. Mixing plenty of spaces that the eye considers white space (like an expanse of stockinette) with lines of texture builds dynamism.

Go further: Specific Styling for Local Meadow

Winter: over warm pants or skirts, with chunky scarf layered on top, with long jewelry to add delicacy.

Spring: add a silk scarf (like this one from Two Days Off) and style over tiered skirts (mine is the Brunch Dress from Conscious Clothing). Or, pair with slim jeans and chunky bangles.

Summer: style over a cami and white shorts for brisk early morning layers or late night fire pits. In late summer, slip over a white side slit dress and add resin earrings with queen anne's lace embedded.

Fall: I love this sweater with a beanie knit in a contrasting gauge! For that 'going to a knitting festival' scene look, DO add a handknit scarf to the look. Consider styling this sweater with a corduroy mini skirt over leggings, with a deep statement necklace.

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