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Eight Examples of Outstanding Knitwear Design

May 13, 2009

On Monday, Vicki Square shared her top 5 keys for a great sweater design. Today, I thought I would wander through the Interweave Pattern Store with these 5 keys in hand, and pick out one or two examples of each one. Because we're heading into summer, the garments I have chosen are all suitable for warm-weather wear (or cooler summer nights!). Here are my picks for garments that fit each of Vicki's top 5 keys:

Key #1:  Overall presentation must be aesthetically strong and balanced.

OK, I know I said that I was going to choose warm-weather garments, but there's one garment that is such a standout that I just couldn't pass it up: Norah Gaughan's Nantucket Jacket. This garment is an outstanding example of all the best that knitwear design has to offer: the stitch patterns, the shaping, the details, the yarn choice, the color. One look at it, and you know you are looking at something special, something timeless, something where all the features work together to form a harmonious whole. (And actually, you could wear it on a cool summer evening, because the yarn is breathable merino and the sleeves are three-quarter length.)

Key #2:  The marriage of yarn to garment has to be a desirable match.

My two choices here are the Printed Silk Cardigan by Connie Chang Chinchio, and the Waterlily Top, by Pam Allen. You know a designer has chosen the absolute perfect yarn for her design when knitters have trouble coming up with an adequate substitution! No other yarn will do for either of these garments, not if you want the drape, flow, color, and sheen of the originals.

Key #3:  Choose a stitch to showcase, and not overpower, the yarn.

Here, I immediately thought of two garments at opposite ends of the spectrum. First, Butterfly, by Katie Himmelberg, is done in all-over stockinette stitch to emphasize the shiny drape of the lovely bamboo yarn. Second, Shirley Paden's Oriel Lace Blouse uses an all-over, large-scale lace pattern to compliment the subtle color shifts in the hand-dyed silk. Look at either garment: Can you picture the Butterfly in a more elaborate stitch pattern? No, because it would take away from the simplicity and flow of the top. And few other stitch patterns would give the Oriel Lace Blouse that "wow!" factor.

Key #4:  The garment's design absolutely must be well grounded in knowledge of garment construction, proportion, and knitting techniques.

Again, I chose two garments which exemplify two completely different aspects of great garment construction: Pam Allen's Flutter Sleeve Cardi and Norah Gaughan's Origami Cardi. The Flutter Sleeve Cardi has everything: great shaping done cleverly and well; sleeve caps that fit; and overall proportions that look great on a variety of body shapes. We featured this in one of our Knitting Daily Galleries last year, and every single person who tried it on was amazed at how well it fit and how flattering it was, no matter what the body type.

Norah's Origami Cardigan is at the opposite end of the spectrum as far as garment construction goes: She appears to break a lot of the rules, but when you wear the finished garment, you realize that she has in fact, followed every single rule—she's just gotten there by the road less travelled, if you will! Melding aspects of traditional Japanese couture with modern yarns and stitchery, the Origami Cardi is a standout example of stellar knitting technique.

Key #5: There is one feature that acts as a primary focus, with all other design elements enhancing this feature, not detracting from it.

In Stefanie Japel's Cable-Down Raglan, the cables take center stage—and everything else, from yarn choice to the overall shaping—enhances the cables but never ever overwhelms them. I love how the raglan stitching at the shoulders leads your eye right down into a gorgeous cable on the sleeves; the smooth merino yarn makes those cables pop.


You mean I can only pick eight? Well, no one said "eight" exactly, but there was a limit to how many sweaters I could talk about in one post. So I had to leave out a lot more of my favorites.

What would your picks be? You might want to take a stroll of your own through Interweave's Online Store, where you will find patterns for all eight of my picks, plus many, many more great spring and summer designs! You never know what you might find...

-- Sandi





Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

What's on Sandi's needles? I'm swatching for baby gifts for my new nieces-to-be! Meanwhile, I'm working on a pair of socks (as usual), and I just finished spinning some lovely hand dyed wool on my handspindle. (I'm getting into all kinds of fiber trouble, apparently.)

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Derya wrote
on Aug 6, 2009 11:29 AM

Great post & really a lot to aspire to for a young knitwear designer. It's also no coincidence, I think, that Norah Gaughan appears twice. :)

LouiseA wrote
on May 13, 2009 7:13 PM
The Nantucket Jacket is one of the few patterns that I have that everybody who see it loves, and it's flattering to a lot of body types, and attractively textured but not fussy, and actually has buttons all the way down so you can button it up when it gets cold (I live in a cold climate and sweaters like the Origami Cardi make me cranky). Saw on Ravelry that a few people have made the Nantucket Jacket with long sleeves (and somebody ever turned it into a pullover!) Will that destroy the proportions? Looks OK to me. -Better for cold climates.
PattieM wrote
on May 13, 2009 4:21 PM
what issue is the Butterfly in? I searched the site and couldn't find it... Thanks.
Janice wrote
on May 13, 2009 11:41 AM
I'm glad you included the Printed Silk Cardigan - I knew I had to knit it the moment I saw it. But when you said that knitters have difficulty substituting the yarn because it's a perfect match with the design, I'm just not sure how realistic it would be to knit this with the original yarn, La Luz. I would have loved to used La Luz - I just would've had to win the lottery!
Cora Shaw wrote
on May 13, 2009 9:37 AM
Well not did I only choose my favorite knitwear, I also chose my favorite crochetwear. I also added two of my faorite combination techniques at the end of the post. Check it out on my blog at Cora
LisaJ wrote
on May 13, 2009 9:33 AM
Sandi, if it weren't for the Nantucket Jacket I wouldn't be here! That cover garment caught my eye, introducing me to Interweave Knits Magazine! I haven't actually started the actual knitting yet -- but it is in my que. I loved the shape, the fact it was a cardigan and the stitches, well those cables sealed the deal for me.
EleanorC wrote
on May 13, 2009 7:20 AM
Sandi, Glad you posted this. I was reminded of the Japel sweater and it would be perfect for my nephew's fiancee. But(!) the Gems worsted is not made anymore. Any ideas for a substitution? I already have the pattern.
AudreyD@2 wrote
on May 13, 2009 6:56 AM
thanks so much! It was hard for me to see examples in my mind when I read the article! This helps! It would also help to see examples of what NOT to do, but that might be a bit mean. I thought the Oriel lace one was crepe at first!
TamaraM wrote
on May 13, 2009 6:21 AM
Oh thank you for the last cable sweater, which I saw once and thought was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen, and then couldn't find again! It's good to know it's in an IK that I have, and I won't forget this time! These are some of my favorite IK sweaters, so my eye must be drawn to good design.
on May 13, 2009 5:16 AM
One sweater of which I instantly thought "I will make this" is Eunny Jang's Tangled Yoke Cardigan from the Fall '07 issue of knits. I have now made three! (Two in the original yarn, one in sock yarn + thin mohair, which also works well.) As well as the designs chosen by Sandi (several of which are also on my wish list), the Tangled Yoke has an overall balance of yarn, proportions, fit and features that just blew me away. - Goodlifeknitting