Design and Knit a Skirt From a Style in Your Closet – Step 2: Choosing Materials

Blocking my test swatch

In Step 1 you chose your skirt style and drew a schematic with the key measurements. Now comes the fun part, choosing the materials through swatching. In the design process you’re experimenting, and not bound by the limitations of following pattern instructions. You’re in the driver’s seat, making the best choices for your skirt design.

Let’s begin with choosing yarn for a skirt. There are no set rules for the type of yarn to use for a hand knit skirt. However, I suggest that you consider the time of year you’ll be wearing it, and then look at the fiber type, yarn type/weight, and the stitch patterns you want to use. These all work in combination to create a successful design. I’ve blogged in greater detail on yarns and stitch patterns in previous posts, so I’ll only give a few points to consider for each of these elements when designing a skirt.

Fiber Type and Yarn Type/Weight

Warmer Weather Choices

  • Fine weight or mercerized cottons are great choices. Bulkier cottons can stretch and are heavy. Cotton blends with silk, wool, or linen would make a good alternative to a heavy weight 100% cotton.
  • Beware of 100% bamboo. Elongates quite a bit. I have experienced design disasters with 100% bamboo, in particular a structured jacket that stretched because it was too heavy. A closer fitting top would be a more suitable project than a skirt.
  • Linen blends work better than 100% linen, creating a lovely drape. 100% linen is quite stiff with little flexibility.
  • Silk blends are better than 100% silk. Silk loses shape, stretches, and is non-resilient.
  • Lightweight wools are a great choice, such as a fingering or DK merino.

Cooler Weather Choices

  • I would stay away from cotton for a skirt in the winter months. It has a tendency to ride up when worn over tights.
  • Wools are the perfect choice, light or heavy.
  • Alpaca yarns don’t have the elasticity of wool, and 100% alpaca tends to stretch if knitted into a heavy garment. Some brands lint heavily. There are lovely alpaca and wool blends that would be a better choice.
  • Mohair can be hot and uncomfortable to wear and sheds. A good alternative are kid mohair blends with wool and silk.

More To Think About:

  • When choosing the yarn weight and texture for a skirt, consider your body type. I’m a curvy type, so I don’t like the extra bulk of heavier yarns.
  • Of course the thicker the yarn, the quicker the project is to make. But a skirt knit in heavier yarns needs minimal seaming or an appropriate seam that doesn’t add extra bulk.

Stitch Patterns

The distinctive feature between knit fabrics and woven fabrics is elasticity. A knit fabric has vertical and horizontal stretch, and the amount of elasticity of a stitch pattern affects how a finished garment drapes or hangs. As with the section above, I won’t delve into great detail here. Understanding how stitch patterns affect a fabric comes with experience, and knitting many test swatches. Some points to consider when designing a skirt project:

  • A fabric made totally in garter stitch tends to stretch and widen with wear. The wrong yarn choice in combination with garter stitch will enhance the stretch.  A 100% cotton or bamboo would stretch out of shape, whereas a springy wool in garter stitch is a better choice.
  • A straight skirt in a rib knit is popular, but remember rib pattern stitches hug the body.
  • Bamboo in an open or stretchy stitch like lace will usually stretch.
  • Cotton worked in a dense pattern stitch or cables adds weight, and isn’t the best choice for a skirt.

For my skirt I’ve chosen self-striping Noro Kureyon sock yarn, a fingering or fine weight yarn in 70% wool and 30% nylon. This yarn has been in my stash awhile, waiting for the perfect project. I believe Noro stopped producing Kureyon, but they make a comparable one called Silk Garden Sock. Light weight wool is transitional, and can be worn through the warm and cool months. I know, I must be crazy knitting a skirt in a fine weight yarn, but I’m knitting it in stockinette stitch so it shouldn’t take long. I’m also choosing a fine weight yarn for my body type, as I don’t want the extra bulk around my hips. Noro’s yarn evolves into a beautiful arrangement of colors as you knit. The yarn speaks for itself, so I don’t want to lose the color effect through a highly textured pattern.

The effects of fiber type, yarn type/weight, and stitch patterns will come to light once you start test swatching. Let’s take a look at swatching with your chosen materials.

Test Swatching

One of the most enjoyable parts of the design process is experimenting with the yarn and stitch patterns, to see if the combination of these two elements work for your project. Swatching allows you to see how these elements work together to form a fabric. A test or gauge swatch is a sample of knitting using the yarn, stitch pattern, and needles you plan to use for a project.

As a starting point, refer to the yarn ball band for the suggested needle size and gauge. Use this information to knit up your first swatch. Knit a large swatch, approximately 6 to 8 inches, incorporating all the stitch patterns you plan to use, and add any edgings or hems for your skirt. The test swatch for my skirt is knit in stockinette stitch, and I also knit a hem at the top and bottom of the swatch with a picot ridge.

Your goal is to match the right materials and qualities of the fabric to the project. You may decide to change needle size, try different pattern stitches, or even change the yarn. Repeat the swatching process until you’re happy with the results.

Make notes for every swatch, recording the number of stitches cast on and the number of rows worked in the stitch pattern(s), for each needle size and yarn type. This information will be used to measure the gauge. Finally, block your swatches; this makes measuring much easier, and you get a chance to see how the knit fabric reacts to blocking.

Common Hand Knit Skirt Features – Hems and Waistbands

A hem is an edge that folds under, and is stitched in place on the wrong side of the knit fabric, preventing the edge from curling. It is the perfect choice for the lower edge of a skirt knit in stockinette stitch, and to form a casing for elastic at the waist. A hem allows a skirt to hang properly, and is ideal for a wide hemline or one that doesn’t hug the body. One method of knitting a hem is with a turning ridge, or a fold-line to create a clean finish. Turning ridges are made after the hem is the desired depth, whether at the top or the bottom edge. The piece worked before (bottom edge of skirt) or after (waist edge of skirt) is the hem.

There are other types of lower edges that could be used for a skirt including ribbing, ruffles, lace borders, tubular and provisional cast ons, and fringe. Think about the skirt style, fiber type, yarn type/weight, and stitch patterns, and how these characteristics will work together before choosing the hem. I’m going to use a Picot turning ridge which forms a line of small scallops when folded over (see above image).

There are also different style options for the waistband. I’ll knit a stockinette stitch hem casing for the elastic. You might consider a ribbed waist casing, which has more stretch than a stockinette stitch waistband. Another option is a tie waist,  made by inserting a row of yarnovers; making holes through which a cord or ribbon can be drawn through.

Decide on the hem and waistband before you start knitting the swatch. Incorporating an edging into the swatch gives you an idea of what it will look like in the finished skirt.

Now it’s time to play with your materials! Since the gauge is required for estimating yarn amounts, I’ll leave this topic for next time when we look at gauge and the conversion to stitches and rows. Then you can begin knitting! See you next time.

If you’re working along with me, feel free to email me with questions and post your ideas on Instagram. I’d love to see what you’ll be knitting.

Check out these previous posts: How a Yarn’s Characteristics Affect Your Knit Fabric; What All Knitters Know: Knit Fabrics Have the Market Cornered in Pattern Stitch Variety;  e-books – The Why and How of Test Swatching and It’s All About The Yarn

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