Be a Designer and Design Your Own Sweater – The Planning Process

knit design planning stage
Sweater Design
from Designing Knitwear by Deborah Newton

Some knitters are quite content with making garments from pattern instructions. Even from the beginning of their knitting journey, others have the desire to knit up their own creations. Once you’ve mastered the basics of knitting, can understand pattern instructions, and have made a few sweaters, it’s time to up your game and design your own. I’m going to walk you through the planning process, or the pre-knitting steps needed to successfully bring your design to life. 

For your first design project, I would suggest designing a simple style, so you won’t be overwhelmed by too many details. Let’s begin.

Design Idea

All designs are inspired by some sort of visual stimuli. There are many sources for these ideas, from fashion magazines or replicating a garment. You need a clear picture in mind of your sweater. Describe your overall objectives for the project; its silhouette or shape, who the projected wearer is, and the purpose of the sweater. I’m no artist, so my sketches are more technical, and inevitably I work from a schematic, a line drawing of the pieces. Whether or not you can sketch, it’s best to draw a schematic once you’ve determined the shape and style, incorporating all the finished knitted measurements and the construction elements described below.

Body Measurements, Fit and Ease

Initially, it’s easier to use a sweater that fits the wearer the way he or she likes it. Measure the key areas of the sweater, and use them to design your pattern. Otherwise measure the body for the actual body measurements, which are different from the knitted measurements or the dimensions of the sweater after all the pieces have been knit and sewn together.

Fit and ease varies from very close fitting to oversized with excess positive ease, and there are many resources available to help you determine the right fit.

Yarn and Stitch Patterns

Choosing yarn is one of the fun aspects of the design process, and there are no set rules. Some designers throw rules out the window. Once you gain more design experience, you will have the knowledge to manipulate the rules. We all make yarn mistakes, and even experienced knitters choose an inappropriate yarn for a project. There are tips in helping you choose yarn and stitch patterns that work best with the type of sweater you plan to make.

First, consider the weight of the yarn. DK (double knitting) or finer weight yarns work better for colorwork like Fair Isle, and for items that drape well. Usually bulkier yarns are more firm and weighty, and should be limited to less complicated stitch patterns. I once made the mistake of double-stranding alpaca yarn that resulted in a heavy sweater, which was also very warm.

Fiber type also affects the sweater design. Every knitter has their preferences, and it’s important to me that I use natural fibers. In making the choice, consider what you want worn next to your skin, and whether the fiber breathes. Mohair and fuzzy fibers obscure intricate stitches, and ribbed borders and edgings require elastic fibers like wool.

Lastly, consider the combination of the yarn, stitch patterns, and color, because these will affect the outcome. A weighty cotton knit in dense cables will be heavy and stretch out of shape. Smooth, twisted yarns define stitches, and look amazing in colorful motifs.

Construction Elements

The way a garment is constructed depends on the yarn, stitch patterns, and the style of the garment. You may want to knit a simple sweater flat; in pieces that are later sewn together. The same garment could be worked in the round on circular needles to avoid side seams, or maybe side-to-side, or even from the top down.

Other elements include the length, edgings like a hem, body shaping, sleeve and armhole type, sleeve length, neckline types and the appropriate collar styles, and other design details, such as embroidery and beads.

Gauge

One of the most important design elements is the relationship between gauge (the number of stitches and rows per inch of fabric) and the size of the knit pieces. Make an extra large swatch incorporating all the stitch patterns you want to use, and include desired edgings and trims. Remember to block your swatch. Use this swatch to shop for buttons and coordinating garments. Record the needle size, yarn name and the dimensions of your swatch including the number of stitches casted on, and the number of rows knit. Calculate your gauge from this swatch. The swatch reveals so much, including how the yarn and stitches work together. 

Yarn Amounts

The swatch is also a useful tool in calculating yarn quantities. At first you can use similar sweater patterns for a rough guideline. Always buy a little extra. Consider buying yarn just to make the swatch, and then if you are satisfied with the results, purchase more.

Optional

If you are interested in publishing your design, record everything on a worksheet, including your schematic in order to write the instructions.

Planning your design is an important step. It lays the foundation or a guide to a more successful outcome. Sketch your idea, or use an existing image, and draw a schematic to show your pieces. Add the desired construction elements with the appropriate yarn and stitch pattern choices. Make a large test swatch, calculate gauge and estimate the yarn amounts. There may be necessary modifications along the way, as the design process is not always smooth sailing. After the groundwork, the next step is to knit-up and bring your sweater to life.