Planning Your Knit Design – Garment Shapes

Marc Jacob’s Bubble Sweater from Vogue Knitting Fall 1989

The first step in the knit design process is selecting the item you want to construct. Although there are an extraordinary number of knit styles, knit garments depend on a limited number of body shapes. Most garments are based on three body silhouettes or shapes. Designers often start the process by manipulating one of these silhouettes, incorporating sleeves, necklines, and the placement of other details such as pockets, edgings, and borders. The result is usually a sketch of the garment, or maybe you bypassed this step with an existing photo of the project you want to make.

From your sketch, illustration or photo of your idea, a schematic will be generated. This post presents the three basic silhouettes, followed by common sleeves and necklines used in planning hand knit garments.

Basic Silhouettes or Shapes

Straight – The body of the garment is the same width from the lower edge to the armhole. The armhole can be shaped or straight.

straight garment shape used for planning knits

Blouson – Just above the lower edge, which is usually ribbed, a mass increase is made to meet the width measurement of the chest. There is no body shaping past this increase in stitches. Featured above, Marc Jacob’s Bubble sweater from 1989 is an exaggerated blouson shape.

blouson shape used in planning knit design

Tapered – The side edges are decreased or increased at regular intervals to produce tapering that is either outward to the armholes, inward, or a combination of these such as a nipped in waist (inward) and then increased to the armhole (outward).

tapered shape used in planning knit design

Elongate any of these basic shapes to form garments such as dresses and skirts.


Once you’ve decided on the basic silhouette, add any of the variety of sleeve and neckline shapes, followed by the desired style details including collars, pockets, cuffs, front borders, or yokes. 

Necklines – Here are some of the common neckline shapes seen in hand knits. When choosing a collar, work the correctly shaped neckline for it.

Sleeves – What’s interesting about sleeve styles is they follow the same basic garment shapes; straight, blouson or tapered. Sleeve styles dictate how the armhole is shaped.

These basic garment shapes will help you to formalize your design idea, as well as get your idea on paper in the form of a schematic. And as a bonus, they can help you to draw better sketches.

Happy New Year!