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Sweater Workshop: Nora's Sweater

Dec 2, 2009

A note from Kathleen: We're starting a new feature on Knitting Daily: the Sweater Workshop. We've done a couple of these in the past, but now there will be one for each issue of Interweave Knits. The Sweater Workshop focuses on one pattern, deconstructing it for you. We'll go over the details of the pattern with you, pointing out the special parts of the design and suggesting alteration possibilities that will make the piece a perfect fit for YOUR body.

Here's Interweave Knits editor Eunny Jang to take you through this showstopper, Nora's Sweater.


We've certainly noticed that there's been quite a bit of buzz over the cover sweater of the Winter 2009 issue of Interweave Knits. And with good reason: Pam Powers' design, Nora's Sweater, is a tour-de-force of handknitting. Bringing together a well-considered fiber and yarn choice, some seriously elegant construction, and just enough thoughtfully placed detail, Nora's Sweater a perfect storm of Good Knitting.

What makes it so unique?

1) Yarn. Nora's Sweater calls for a worsted-weight 100% alpaca. Alpaca may not be the most intuitive choice for a hip-length jacket—it has a reputation for drooping over time—but take a closer look at the specific yarn called for (Misti Alpaca Worsted) and you'll see that it's a lofty yarn with a sturdy 4-ply construction. It also uses crimpy alpaca fibers, not the smooth, hair-like (and inelastic) Suri type fibers, giving the yarn some bounce-back qualities. The selected yarn works in concert with the jacket: The alpaca has lush, heavy drape that makes the pleated skirt hang smoothly, as well as enough loft to show off the cable stitches.

2) Construction. Take a look at the schematic for this pattern. The pieces are simple: A lower back, two lower fronts, and two yoke pieces that grow into sleeves. An insert that joins the two sleeves/yokes at the back and a sewn-on collar that runs from one front bottom edge to the other complete the garment (figure 1, below).

The lower back and front pieces have no shaping built into them, and as knitted, their top edges are much wider than they'll be in the finished piece (they're folded along built-in pleat lines before assembly). Both fronts and the back are shaped with short-rows at their upper edges, creating wedge shapes and a point, respectively.

The sleeve pieces are interesting: Each begins with a piece of knitting wide enough to run over the shoulder and form both front and back yokes. Because they will be joined with an inset at the back, and the jacket is designed to hang open in the front, there is no neck shaping built in—they have a square profile. A quick decrease and then more spaced-out decreases create underarm and sleeve shaping.

  Spacer 10x10 pixels Figure 2       
 Figure 1   Figure 2  Spacer 10x10 pixels  Figure 3  
The back inset is a simple rectangle with a bite taken out for the back neck shaping, and the collar is two straight strips.

The genius of this pattern is in how these pieces fit together (figure 2, above). The lower back and fronts are first pleated, and then the squared-off yokes, which would be pretty unflattering if used as is, are sewn to the pointed edges of the lower back and fronts. The tilted edges of the lower pieces actually give our square yokes a natural fit: They force the yokes to follow a gentle downward slope, creating a shoulder slope and eliminating any bulky extra fabric. The inset allows for a naturally shaped back neckline and spans the gap left by two yoke pieces that don't quite meet in the middle. Finally, two long strips are sewn onto the front edges and joined at the back neck for the collar.

And there it is: A handful of mostly-square pieces turn into a beautifully tailored, empire-waisted A-line jacket with a bit of clever construction.

3) Details. Nora's Sweater has two major surface details that set it apart from other jackets—sweet pleats and some unusual texture patterns. Each pleat is neatly outlined with a slip stitch (which forces a mountain fold) and a corresponding purl column (which creates a valley fold). The fabric falls into pleats that stay crisp and nicely defined (Figure 3, above).

There are also three gorgeous texture patterns on this cardigan: long irregular rope cables that run from the cuff to slant up toward the neck, a sweet cable diamond that outlines lace panels at the back, and a densely patterned cable and eyelet pattern that runs the entire length of the collar (worked in two pieces joined at the back for symmetry). The long cables create an illusion of shaping at the yoke, the cable diamond adds a dramatic focal point to the construction—critical back inset, and the movement of the collar pattern draws the eye up and down. Very charming.

Make it Yours!

How could you make Nora's Sweater your own? The silhouette is flattering to nearly every figure; in the magazine, our model is wearing it with plenty of ease, and it looks very graceful. If you made it with less ease, you would have a more tailored fit.

The skirt length is very easy to adjust, since it's just straight pieces—simply knit more or less, matching the fronts to the back, to make the cardigan hit at just the right length for you.

Another adjustment worth thinking about is the slope of the points at front and back-a more dramatic slope might work for you if you want a more fitted look; a subtler one would  create a softer, more baby-doll silhouette. Because the straight yoke pieces conform to the slope, there is no other shaping to adjust.

You could also vary the depth and fullness of the pleats simply by putting the fold lines further apart or closer together.

Finally, if you have some cable patterns you've been itching to try, this sweater might provide a great canvas for them. Any cabled rib, cable panel, or dense cable pattern could stand in for the patterns at sleeve, back inset, and collar. Simply make sure that they have the same gauge, or adjust for the difference.

How will you knit Nora's Sweater? Leave a comment and let us know, and when you're done knitting your sweater, post a photo in the Reader Gallery!

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audrabear wrote
on May 19, 2014 10:59 PM

I am doing mine in a burgundy color. I need a little help on the back inset. Does anyone have a suggestion on how to make the directions a little easier to read and understand? The back itself turned out wonderfully.

Love it.

on Apr 9, 2010 1:45 PM

Here at Fibersmyth eight of us are knitting Nora's Sweater as a Knit Along - what fun!  So many great techniques.  We are all using Berroco's Ultra Alpaca to keep the price point down and to add the memory of wool to the alpaca for shape-keeping.  Most of us are making the size larger than we'd usually wear in order to give that yummy slimming flow this pattern cries out for.  I'm using the Celtic Cables design from one of Alice Starmore's books on mine, and winter white to show all the fabulous stitch work.  Can't wait to wear it!

JINNAC wrote
on Mar 29, 2010 10:03 PM

I'm making it out of Berrocco "Weekend" (Weekend Periwinkle).  Love working with this yarn (75% acrylic, 25% cotton).  The insert was challenging but I got the help I needed at my fav LYS and got through it.  Now I have to wait until they open to get help on starting the sleeve cable pattern.  Thanks to my LYS (Amazing Threads in Maple Grove, MN)!

Tltafa wrote
on Feb 15, 2010 1:56 PM

Finished the sweater!  IT's drop-dead gorgeous.  Added some I-cords inside (and hidden when not in use) the collar, attached to the seam between the yoke/sleeve and fronts.  It is to die for.  BTW, the smallest size fits me perfectly (which one could never have figured out from the pattern as there are no body measurements.  For once, I didn't have to 'size it down', and I wear a size 4-6.

I did block the collar after attaching, so that the 'rolled edge' has a nice finished look as it folds, and to keep the collar from 'shrinking' from the weight at the center back.

janetma wrote
on Feb 3, 2010 7:01 PM

I like the look and drape of this garment but fail to understand the need for pleats. Knit fabric is such a wonderful elastic material that can be modified with short rows, increases and decreases. Why add such bulk and weight as pleats when fit can be accomplished without them?

Tltafa wrote
on Jan 26, 2010 2:51 PM

Okay...all the pieces are done and blocked, with the sleeves still drying.  The collar/band is sitting on two holders, pending determination of the final length needed (since it doesn't say in the pattern.)  I'm thinking I'll block that piece after all other assembly is done, and I've fitted it and bound both halves off together. NOW I have a problem.  I'm not sure what the best way to join the double thickness of the pleated portion of the fronts and back to the single thickness of the yoke/back panel. Clearly, having lumps over the pleats is not too attractive.  Don't know why this didn't occur to me earlier!   Has anyone gotten far enough with this to have determined what would be the best method?  Back stich doesn't seem to be a vgood option as it will add thickness.  I'm not sure about the viability of mattress or kitchener through a double layer on one piece and and a single layer on another...withough stretching the single layer.  HELP????

Tltafa wrote
on Dec 20, 2009 9:28 PM

I'm making it in a slightly lighter purple, an alpaca, merino, silk blend.  I've just finished the back, and it's gorgeous!  Now, on to the fun pieces.  ;-)  My concern is that no 'body measurements are given'.  Normally, I can determine actual finished measurements of the garment from the pattern measurements.  With the pleating, not so!  I'm a 36", I'm making the 381/2, and crossing my fingers!!!

If it's too big for my size 4-6 body, I'll give it to my size 6-8 sister for her birthday!  I'm quite enjoying the pattern, thus far.


Racheltim wrote
on Dec 18, 2009 1:52 PM

There is a problem with the ribbing - I can't find any errata, either!

NinaT@5 wrote
on Dec 12, 2009 2:27 PM

I am also not sure what size to make.  I would love to see the sweater on different sized "real" people.  Should I make it with 2" of ease or 6"?

ArnettaD wrote
on Dec 4, 2009 7:25 AM

I love the sweater.  Thanks for the list of alternative yarns to use.  There is a lot of excitement over this sweater at my LYS so maybe I can get a KAL started.

judith g wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 6:13 PM

any chance of seeing Nora's sweater worn on various "real" people as Sandi Wisehart did when she was editor of KD?  It would be immensely helpful to see how that yoke/sleeve piece fits!!

Lang AnhP wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 4:40 PM

I love this new feature you are adding!  Wonderful!  Keep up the good work!

on Dec 3, 2009 2:10 PM

Hi Folks.

I just did some Photoshop magic on the first photo of the sweater, and it's much clearer now. I'll keep this in mind for future sweater photos when the sample is worked from dark yarn.


on Dec 3, 2009 1:38 PM

Misti Alpaca Worsted is just that, a worsted weight yarn that knits up on size 6 to 8 US needles at 18 to 20 stitches over 4 inches.

Cascade 220 is a good alternative if you want 100 percent wool. Or Berroco Comfort will work, it's a blend of acrylic and nylon—really soft and allergy free. Encore is a budget-conscious choice; it's a blend of wool and acrylic. Shine Worsted or Swish Worsted from KnitPicks are other non-acrylic options.

Hope this helps!


MelisaM wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 7:58 AM

I have to join the crowd in asking for a non-alpaca yarn alternative, please.

MelisaM wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 7:53 AM

The sweater workshop is a great idea. I'm so glad you've decided to do it with each issue. Thanks!

yahnsu wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 7:27 AM

Is Jacquie Fee involved with this project? I believe her book has the same title, and it has been a standard for many years. I love the idea of "workshops" around specific sweaters.

greyknit99 wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 6:46 AM

Have just subscribed for a year as this is just the sort of pattern I've been looking for.

I have a room full of 4 ply yarn from when I used to do machine knitting - but there just doesn't seem to be any modern patterns for thin yarn (or is that just England?)

Hope I receive magazine by Christmas - then no-one will hear a peep out of me all day.

CindyV@2 wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 6:43 AM

Thank you very much for breaking down the construction of "Nora's Sweater" answered many of my questions about it...

lovenonna wrote
on Dec 3, 2009 6:04 AM

I always knit for everyone else, kids, grandkids, friends,  and believe or not have never made myself a sweater-  Well that is changing and this is the sweater that did it!  This will be my winter/new year treat to myself!!!



on Dec 2, 2009 10:42 PM


   this sweater is lovely , but too addvanced for me ,i need a knit along video so I

can see where i go wrong and rewind to go back incase I mess up . Watching someone knit and explain so the inexperanced can see the step by step  and learn by seeing at the same time working on a piece to gain comfidence for more projects ahead

Ann@3 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 10:32 PM

Would like to see this sweater better.  The color is so dark the photo doesn't show the detail.  Can you give it to us in a lighter color?

EvelynR@3 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 8:55 PM

I cast on for this sweater last week using LambsPride Superwash.  I am knitting the simple parts while I do the finishing on other sweaters.  I am making the smallest size and adjusting the length in the bottom sections to accomodate my short torso.

linda6200 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 8:26 PM

I appreciate that the sweater probably looks lovely in the dark yarn in which it is made, but I cannot make out any detail whatsoever because it is so dark.  Could you consider making demos out of lighter colored yarn, or find some way to light the demos better so that we can see what they actually look like?  Thanks.

wulleypulley wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 7:07 PM

HI...I enjoy the magazine and I love this Knitting Daily.  I have a question that I have been trying to get answered for a while and since it applies to this particular picture I will try again.

Here you have a lovely sweater with A Lot of Detail, that we are most of us, knit along with you, and here again it is in another pretty to be sure, but DARK color.  Now, I have a really good CPU, monitor, software, etc. and I can BARELY see the design.  Why is this the common practice?  It seems like the more complicated the design, the darker the color.   Now I am no genius, but if it were MY design, I would  want it in an oatmeal, or fawn, or winter white, so all the glorious detail could be seen, admired and knit. I can see the magazine picture better because I have a natural lighting lamp, but even that is just barely.  I understand yarn companies want to push their yarns, but are there any that DON"T have lighter colors.  Is it the judgement that this sweater won't look nice in a lighter color?. This is a just plain disservice to the designer and the knitter.  I can't believe this hasn't come up.  It doesn't help anyone. This is not a fashion show where people can see the real thing, this is print medium and it has to be dealt with as such. I Oh, yes, with my glasses I have 20-20 vision as well.  Who makes these choices and Whatever is the deal???  And if you need the heaviness of alpaca to get the drape, whatever yarn you use will also need the weight.  I suggest that if you don't live in a cold climate, better leave this one to the northernerrs.

jofelker wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 6:24 PM

I love this sweater.  Any help on how to make it to fit my tiny 2 petite frame?

on Dec 2, 2009 5:45 PM

As another advanced beginner/intermediate knitter with unfinished and abandoned dreams in every closet and drawer - I thank you for encouraging me to tackle my most recent dream project, with some degree of optimism that I will someday be able to actually wear it!  Ordered the yarn 1/2 hour ago and am already looking out the door to accept its delivery...

Eunny's discussion and thematics have explained the Nora's Sweater (her Ram's Horn is in pieces in my closet and under the bed) so well that I'm excited about a new project, one that may someday actually be completed and worn.

By me.

EmilyW wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 5:23 PM

Great article! I am considering making the sleeves kimono-style by not decreasing at all, and ending the sleeves at elbow length. I've been lusting for a sweater coat with kimono sleeves, and I think Nora's Sweater will alter well. We'll see! I'm hoping to buy yarn for this after Christmas - I already sent Santa my list, or I'd be hoping to see a big box of Cascade 220 in my stocking!

JoyG@3 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 4:11 PM

Ha! Misti Alpaca Worsted, not stretch? Good luck with that. Suri isn't the only alpaca that is inelastic, huacaya (or "normal" alpaca) stretches plenty too. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE alpaca fiber, but I don't kid myself about its properties. Anything with that much drape is going to stretch like a mofo.

kandpgirl wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 3:36 PM

I, too, am anxious to get started on Nora's Sweater.  Haven't rec'd my subscription copy yet.  Won't be able to start until January as I'm finishing one ladies' sweater, a sweater--size 8--for my great-grandson, and a knitted bunny rabbit--all Christmas presents.

janetma wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 3:21 PM

Love the sweater workshop idea. So much better than just advertising Interweave products.

christys@3 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 2:52 PM

Great article! I love that you've pointed out the interesting construction of this sweater! Good job keeping it interesting for us readers! :-)

ChristineT wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 2:20 PM

Yes, Nora's  sweater is a lovely pattern.  One of the reasons that we all like this jacket is because it could fit someone who is over 20 and with a less than perfect figure.  So few of the patterns in Interweave Knits fall into that category anymore.  They are lovely and fun to look at but I'm not likely to invest all of that time and money in something that won't be flattering on the real world me.  

Juliest wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 2:10 PM

I'm not crazy about jackets that do not close in front, lets the chilly breeze in a just the wrong spot.  If I made the collar pieces wide, say as wide as the back inset, would the fronts meet?

Julie in San Diego

Carrotmusic wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 1:46 PM

Hi! I have been on the lookout for a jacket - for running from house to car all winter - and thought this might be a candidate. I think I am looking for a good yarn substitution (like many other folks); Misti Alpaca may be great stuff, but it is way outside my budget (for the amount needed to make a plus size jacket for me, anyway).  I am also not so sure about getting this to be my size - somehow the offered sizes always seem to stop short of one that I would be confident of. Can't wait to hear from more knitters about their versions!

jubatema wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 1:11 PM

This is a great choice.  I like the idea that it is loose and would be a great jacket to where in mild climates, like Texas!

lhsis1 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 1:05 PM

I love this, and since I'm currently pregnant, it's a project I can conceivably wear now and later on, since it's an open coat.  I can just let my belly hang out when it gets bigger!  Now, to get the yarn...

yarngirl52 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 1:00 PM

I LOVE this sweater. I think it would take me a long time to knit. I have to finish the sweater I started in May, the one I have yarn for, and then this one!! Don't publish any new patterns until I catch up!! :) I was thinking of Ultra Alpaca or Cascade 220, but maybe not now that I have read your post.

RoxanneC@5 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:50 PM

I think I'd like to try this jacket in Berroco's Ultra Alpaca. My question is this - I  am larger in the bust than hips, will this look ok without really increasing the bustline? I love the cables and overall look of the jacket.(44" over 40")

Carole G wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:35 PM

I love this pattern!  But I'm lap deep in Central Park Hoodies and Heather Hooded Vests right now.  I'm planning to make this for my sister and myself.  I have to go through my huge stash to see if I have enough to finish or need to buy.  Maybe I'll start soon.  I'm thinking cashmere and merino wool mix or cash/silk/merino wool.  I'm thinking closures for the front, probably loops and buttons.  The idea about exchanging other cable patterns for those in the pattern is a great idea and it will make it more individual.  Went to Ireland this summer so something Celtic for me and Swedish for my sis

waters1982 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:33 PM

I was immediately attracted to this project, however, I have just finished a knee-length sweater coat in Misti Alpaca.  It's absolutely gorgeous but I can't wear it with anything because it sheds so much.  Will the shedding diminish with washings?  And will it clog my pipes?  I just can't get over the amount of fuzzies left behind.

Deano wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:30 PM

Thanks for this new feature--it will be great!  And I'm so glad that you decided to start with this sweater, as I've been oogling it and thinking about starting it after I finish some charity knitting for the holidays.

I also would appreciate suggestions for other yarn choices.  I am allergic to wool and live in warm Southern California, so have two strikes against me!  I love cotton and cotton blends and am thinking of using Knit Pick's Shine worsted, but have never used it before.  I'd appreciate feedback on Shine and any suggestions.

JanetP wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:09 PM

I'm not understanding what BarbD@11 is referring to.  Is Cascade 220 a finer yarn?  I too am full figured and only 5'3'' to boot.  I'd love to know if there's a trick for making cabled sweaters look less bulky on me.  I am constantly knitting - mostly from Interweave patterns and I love love love the options but I always make things for my daughters or my husband because everything I knit for myself seems to add so much bulk that I feel like a linebacker in my size 18 pants and any sweater made with the detailed patterns I love - and I do love the look of this pattern.  

Rosieindiana wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:08 PM

How timely!  We have a group planning to do this sweater as a class.  Our first challenge is to scale down the pattern for  one of us who is quite petite.  I've been thinking about how to narrow the shoulder and chest widths on this sweater and would LOVE to hear any ideas anyone has!

MargieK wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:08 PM

I love Knitting Daily and the tips and patterns have been great!

This is a lovely pattern, but hope to see more seamless garments featured.

I have become very partial to knitting in the round.

pencraft wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:06 PM

I love this sweater and was very excited about knitting it. I was a bit apprehensive with the yarn choice though. The last time I knitted with alpaca, the sweater pilled horribly--almost to the point where I can only wear it around the house. You mentioned that the alpaca is needed for the heaviness to get the drape. Can you recommend any substitutions?

Janet@4 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:05 PM

I want to use Misti Alpaca's MC1029 Blue Medley Melange--of course I must sneak the order in past DH, as he thinks I am in over my head already.

jc in Appleton, WI

ceejayp wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:04 PM

I'd love to knit this sweater, but I can't wear alpaca; any suggestions for a good substitution?  THanks so much!

seayorks wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 12:02 PM

I love this sweater - but - check the size you are making so that the ribbing is continuous in k2, p2 around the bottom. I believe there is an error.


RachelB@48 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 11:59 AM

I love that you are deconstructing a pattern and helping with where to tailor it to fit an individual!  As an advanced beginner/intermediate knitter who hasn't really figured out pattern adjustment, this is a godsend!  Thank you!!!

BarbD@11 wrote
on Dec 2, 2009 11:48 AM

Thank you for featuring this sweater, I cast on for it last week.  I am using Cascade 220 in a heathered grey.  Since I am a full figure, I am using my guage with size 8 needles, which is approx 4.5 stitches to the inch.  I may add some interior pockets and adjust the sleeve length to include a cuff.