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5 Keys To A Great Knitted Sweater

May 11, 2009

Note from Sandi:  We all have the experience of seeing a sweater in a magazine and saying, "WOW!" But what separates the fabulous sweaters from the ordinary? Here's popular knitwear designer and author Vicki Square to give us her thoughts on what makes a truly knockout knitted sweater.



Hello all! I know you are all knitting whenever and wherever you get the chance. I have a cartoon saved that pictures a woman in her stuffed chair knitting an afghan that covers her legs completely. She’s wearing a cardigan, hat, and fingerless gloves, the pot of tea with knitted cozy on the end table, the knitted landscape framed on the wall, and a fully knitted suit on the husband standing there inquiring if she’s going to quit any time soon. Well, no way! We will not quit knitting, but we can knit things of great design. After all, not everyone needs a full sized car cover!

My top five keys for great garment design in knitting starts with the finished garment. My number one is that it has to be aesthetically strong and balanced. Whether serious or whimsical, traditional or contemporary, or art-to-wear, a high quality presentation is the goal. Balance in shape, proportion, color, texture, and detail achieve this.

Second, the marriage of yarn to garment has to be a desirable match. Let the garment sing its own praises, not apologize for what it is not. If, for example, a fluid knit with a lot of movement is the goal, a bulky wool knitted in a compact gauge won’t hit that target, but a bamboo or rayon yarn will.

Third, choose a stitch to showcase the yarn. This seems like a no-brainer, but this will require some experimentation. Sometimes a yarn is unpredictable in its character, and a gauge panel must be knit with several textural considerations before the best option can be defined. Always keep an open mind; sometimes simple, like stockinette stitch, is best. Complicated does not always translate into exquisite.

Fourth, great garment design absolutely must be well grounded in knowledge of garment construction, proportion, and knitting techniques to get there. Knowing how to make the right shape for a sleeve cap that is to be set into a shaped armhole, for example, can make the finished result look professional . . . or not. All the interesting knitting techniques you can possibly put into one design will be overlooked if the construction is poor.

Fifth, choose one feature as a primary focus, with all other design elements enhancing this feature, not detracting from it. If fabulous color work is the focus, then avoid cluttering the design with too involved shaping that obscures the beauty of the knitted fabric.

And, did I say it had to be aesthetically pleasing? Just because a thing can be knit, it does not follow that it must be knit . . . First, last, and all the way through, the goal for finished result is an aesthetically strong and fine presentation.

-- Vicki


Don't have a copy of the Knitter's Companion, Vicki's compendium of everything-a-knitter-needs-to-know? Want to try your hand at one of Vicki's gorgeous knitted kimonos? Check out all the great books by Vicki either at your local yarn shop or buy them in our online store.



Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? Two babies are coming into my larger family this summer--time to knit some baby things...


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on Nov 1, 2009 3:02 PM

Hello, I am Knitting the sleeves for a sweater. then the directions tell you to ; Cap shaping- what is this? this is my first sweater. help...i decrease st.s at the beg of the next 2 rows. Help? thank You Karen.

ZassZ wrote
on May 12, 2009 9:18 PM
Makes perfect sense to me. I especially appreciate the point on choosing the right stitch to showcase the yarn or in other words, to use the yarn to the best of its ability to do what the garment needs. Some of those newer to this art form could find this instruction helpful.
SharonR@2 wrote
on May 12, 2009 9:43 AM
Thank you Vicki for giving us a pause for reflection about our craft. I am 70 years old and have knitted for a long time. and I am still learning. Knitting is not just activity and motion and I feel it needs to include thought and thoughtfulness. I read through your 5 points to a great knitted sweater and realized it had a much larger application. I kept coming back to the last paragraph-to Quote: : " just because a thing can be knit it does not follow that it must be knit". How often we chase after what is popular and grab the pattern and the yarn and begin and do not stop along the way to reflect on what we want from this. I thank you for your lovely books and your lovely thoughts and reflections.
ErikaB wrote
on May 11, 2009 1:36 PM
This recital of the obvious is not up to the usual standard of this site.
Knitter101 wrote
on May 11, 2009 1:31 PM
I'm still hoping to get the pattern for the Heirloom Child's Hex Hood that was in the Summer 2009 Interweave Magazine I got in the mail. I hope it arrives soon! Thanks!
JoanS wrote
on May 11, 2009 1:17 PM
Whether or not you enjoyed today's article, check out Vicki Square's books. I have her Knit Kimono book, have made one of the kimono already, and have yarn in supply for 2 more. They are gorgeous, fit every body, and are easier than they appear to be. I'm only slightly prejudiced as Ms. Square and I live in the same wonderful area of northern Colorado!
LadyKRose wrote
on May 11, 2009 12:23 PM
I agree, the "5 points"without any 'how tos' were disappointing. Not a lot of useful info on this one. Sounds like the focus of a jury show panel member. This brought to mind a beautiful white lace sweater I made and converted the pattern from pullover to cardigan. Finished item LOOKED real good. However, Lace on large needles = insufficient body to be useful as a garment. I frogged the sweater, rewound the yarn, and am now using that yarn [Cotton Ease] in a different sweater, with stockinette stitch, on smaller needles, and the body is much better. On the needles, this one is getting rave reviews from two different groups of knitters already.
BrendaT wrote
on May 11, 2009 12:08 PM
I tend to agree with LenaB - I was disappointed in the article - after reading it I took nothing new away. Those 5 points are "givens" - it would have been improved by some "how tos's" to achieve them. Brenda T.
HelenH wrote
on May 11, 2009 10:47 AM
It all has to come together like an art project if you are going to do an original design. Work on paper first. Must put in a personal comment. I took a small class with Vicki Square in Ft. Collins, CO a number of years ago through the Northern Colorado Weavers Guild. Congrats on your advancement during all these years, Vicki, Helen Hart
LenaB wrote
on May 11, 2009 10:23 AM
I must say that is an most useless article I have read on this site. Full of jargon : "it has to be aesthetically strong and balanced" whos ? how about an example? "great garment design absolutely must be well grounded in knowledge of garment construction, proportion, and knitting techniques to get there. " That sure isn't the strong point of most magazine published patterns. So what are we supposed to do about it?
JaneT@5 wrote
on May 11, 2009 10:03 AM
That's funny about "not everyone needs a knitted car cover." My husband just purchased a car cover for his beloved Mustang. I never thought about knitting one for him...that would sure use up the stash!
sueabe2 wrote
on May 11, 2009 9:40 AM
PLEASE can you post a copy of Vicky's cartoon of the knitting woman and her husband saying is she going to quit anytime soon. I would LOVE a copy!!! Sue