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How I became a sweater designer

Hi Friends!

If you voted on my poll on Instagram - thank you! - it sounds like most of you want to know how I learned to design sweaters. Fair warning, I’m going to let my nerd flag fly in this post!

I grew up immersed in fiber arts

A toddler wears a handsmocked tank top and sits on a riding mower .
Just wearing a hand-smocked shirt to mow the lawn, NBD.

I grew up in the fiber arts. I’m one in a long, long line of fiber artists - quilters, sewists, knitters, smocking, embroidery - I think everything except weaving! I started sewing garments in elementary school, completing (with lots of help) a near expertly finished cape for a school project on Shakespeare when I was around 9 (mom, are you reading this? Is that right?).

Costuming informs my design aesthetic and understanding of the body

I sewed some of my own clothes in high school, and around that time, I also got into fantasy costuming. My friends and I competed in full contact live-action roleplaying events up and down the eastern seaboard and as far west as Texas and Indiana. If you think some of my knitting patterns require seaming, can I tell you about the time I hand-sewed all the casings for a hoop skirt during a weeklong power outage?!

Costumes don’t look right if they’re all woven fabrics; they need texture and dimension. We were in college, and working with tight budgets. If you want to make inexpensive fabric look like a period piece, you’re going to be adding in mixed media like leather and elaborate buttons, but also trims and embroidery. I think this is what drives my love of deeply textured sweaters! Stockinette is just fine, but wouldn’t you like some depth and interest?

Tip - the biggest difference between fancy indie-dyed yarn and box store acrylic is, in my opinion, the depth. If you’re working with a low-depth yarn, use it in a textured garment!

A young woman in a red dress with a black and white corset. The dress  has two enormous overskirts.
Huge hoop skirt under here! I did not make this corset, but I drafted and sewed the rest.

By the time you’ve made a handful of leather corsets, you have a pretty good idea of how a line moves across the torso, and by college, I was doing commissioned pieces for fancy events. To do that, I’d usually start with a basic pattern block, some measurements, and sketches I’d worked up for my client.

We did all of our own costuming and armoring – so I got pretty handy with leather and steel too. Working in armoring taught me a LOT about how the body moves in a garment. Sure, a drop shoulder might tear if you don’t give it enough room to move – but do you know what happens to your shoulder if you try that with steel?