Designing Skirts and Dresses

Craft magazines published in the 1950s and the early years of the 1960s were filled with knitted and crocheted dresses, skirts and suits. Knitters could make fashions that rivalled designer collections. Today, these lengthy projects are not as popular with hand knitters; now there is more of a preference towards sweaters, cardigans, and accessories like scarves and wraps. If you’re like me and love the ease of wearing a skirt or dress, and don’t mind the time involved to make them, the following is a guideline to designing these rewarding projects.

Skirt and Dress Shapes

Skirts and dresses follow the same construction principles as for other garment styles. For skirts, the key areas of fit are the waist and hips. Dresses combine the techniques for making a skirt and a sweater, with the additional areas of fit being the bust and shoulders.

The basic skirt shapes are the straight and A-line. In a straight skirt style, the lower edge is usually slightly wider than the hips; the width tapers from the widest part of the hips to the waist. An A-line skirt has a wider hemline, and the width tapers continuously from the lower edge to the waist. The shaping is similar to a straight skirt; the hem width tapers to the hip width, then from the hip to the waist.

The construction of a dress is the same as a skirt from the hem to the waist, and the same as a sweater or cardigan from the waist to the shoulders. The basic dress shapes include a slightly shaped chemise or a long, straight silhouette, and a fitted hourglass style, that follows the natural curves of the body, wider at the hips and bust, narrower at the waist.

For skirts and dresses, there must be enough ease at the hemline to allow room for movement. Because of a knit fabric’s innate stretchiness, not as much ease is needed as for woven fabric.

The styling options are endless including different skirt lengths, hem styles, details like pleats and gores, sleeve variations, and necklines. Regardless of the number of styling details, the design process is relatively the same as for making other garments.

The Design Process

If you are new to designing a skirt or dress, start with a simple shape without too many styling details. Replicating a garment that fits you well is a great place to begin the process. The following information gives the basic steps to designing a skirt or dress, and if these steps sound familiar to you from experience in designing other projects, they are. I’m not going into great detail for each step, but I refer you to the series of posts “Design And Knit a Skirt From a Style in Your Closet”. There is also information about designing garments in the category – Designing Knit Projects under Unplugged Topics.

Translate Design Idea

  • sketch or drawing
  • include relevant information such as style, who it’s for, colour preference, yarn, fit desired, occasion to be worn

Take Proper Body Measurements

  • key areas of fit for a skirt and dress are waist, hips, plus the bust and shoulders for a dress
  • there has to be sufficient ease amounts added to these key areas for the garments to fit comfortably
  • provide enough ease at the hemline for movement
  • measure a skirt or dress from your closet that fits well to determine amount of ease to include in the finished measurements

Choose Yarn and Stitch Patterns

  • the yarn and stitch patterns should be appropriate for the design
  • experiment with yarn and stitch patterns; make swatches incorporating all patterns to see how they work together


  • skirts are often worked from hem to waist; dresses from hem to shoulders
  • direction of knitting: bottom-up, top-down, sideways (vertical stripes are easier to work sideways)
  • knit flat or in the round
  • number of pieces
  • styling details such as pockets, edgings, gores, etc
  • shaping along sides or in intervals across width
  • skirt front and back pieces are often identical


  • draw schematic of garment incorporating finished measurements for all pieces

Swatching and Measuring Gauge

  • make test swatches and calculate gauge

Calculating Stitch and Row Counts

  • conversion of measurements to numbers of stitches and rows; record on schematic
  • write instructions

Make the Garment

  • there may be adjustments to make as you are knitting the pieces; things you may have forgotten to note, calculation errors, or a variety of other issues that can arise. Even the best laid plans may need adjustments.

Designing and knitting a skirt or dress follows the same principles as for other garments. The key areas of fit for a skirt are the waist and hips, and a dress includes these two areas as well as the bust and shoulders. The upper section of a dress extends from the skirt, and is similar to making a sweater or cardigan. Although these garments are often lengthy projects, the effort made is well worth it.