Designing your own knitwear
April 12, 2021 7:33 AM   Subscribe

I have ideas for knitwear I'd like to make - sweaters, cardigans and tops. I also have ideas for amending patterns... but I'm overwhelmed by the amount of resources out there! Are there key books or sites you'd recommend to an enthusiastic beginner?!
posted by peepofgold to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
To clarify: are you talking about sewing things out of knit fabric or knitting things from yarn?
posted by jacquilynne at 7:36 AM on April 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry, I mean hand knitting using yarn.
posted by peepofgold at 7:52 AM on April 12, 2021

I just watched a presentation on yarnwear designing software yesterday that I'm considering getting, if that helps you any. My one caveat (other than it being a few hundred bucks and I don't know how often I'd use it--I want it for like, one thing right now) is that in the demo, I found the actual pattern download to be confusing. It did not download like a usual pattern you would read, but was just a bunch of numbers per line to decrease on whatever. I asked about this and she said "you'll get used to it," but I dunno.

I have various books on designing your own knitwear, but I don't think I'd actually recommend any to anyone and I haven't ended up actually using them to do it. I have mostly just found patterns off the Internet and altered them, or found websites/apps where they let you plug in the information that you want and they design it for you, but those are usually sweaters only. This is the website I've used the most.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:03 AM on April 12, 2021

Best answer: (Not sure if you are a beginner to design or knitting or both. I'm assuming both, apologies if you're well past any of the advice below.)

I would start by going to the library and getting a bunch of knitting books that look interesting, and making notes on what you find most compelling about the patterns you like. Any of the ones below, I would definitely grab.

Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English is dated but talks a lot about things like silhouettes. As a non-fashion person it was a useful education. YMMV. Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Without Tears is also a foundational text: less so for real pattern-design advice, more for showing one person's approach and where you can and can't fly by the seat of your pants.

If your ideas run along the lines of "a plain shape that I can add little modifications to", Ann Budd's Knitter's Handy Book of Sweater Patterns, or her Handy Book of Patterns for non-sweater shapes, is a great starting point. I've made a lot of things out of there and just added a hood, changed a neckline, turned it into a cardigan. It gives you a lot of flexibility for your starting point. (I spin, and it's nice to be able to have the same pattern at a few gauges for the yarn I actually have.)

If you're interested in making variations of traditional sweater shapes, Alice Starmore's Fair Isle Knitting, Sheila McGregor's Traditional Fair Isle Knitting, and particularly Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' Knitting In The Old Way were all really influential for me.

If you are thinking about lace and cables, finding some stitch pattern dictionaries will be valuable.

The great thing about knitting is that if something looks bad, you can undo it and still have exactly the yarn you started with. I have done this lots of times with promising sweaters that turned out ugly, and learned a lot. My most general advice is that I am always disappointed by bulky/loose knits unless it's supposed to be lace. Knitting a slightly-dense fabric almost always works out better, particularly for more traditional sweater shapes. I've also almost always been happier jumping in the deep end when a more experienced knitter recommends that I try a beginner pattern to start with. :) I assume you know yourself well enough to know if this is true of you as well.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:16 AM on April 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

I agree with the recommendation for Knitting Without Tears. The section on gauge will be especially helpful if you want to design or modify patterns.

One of my favorite books for this is Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top. It's much easier to make modifications and fit adjustments to garments when knitting them from the top down. It's also much easier to adjust the design if you run short of yarn!

Also, when I'm thinking about a garment design, I like to use the Ravelry pattern search. You can limit your search to free patterns, and use them to see what the pattern instructions are for the design elements you are interested in.
posted by Lycaste at 8:52 AM on April 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Elizabeth Zimmerman is your woman.

Her patterns read more like recipes than step by step instructions and the pictures are cringe worthy (70s, 80s), but once you figure out how to knit a sweater using her formula, you will easily be able to adapt that with lace repeats or different necklines etc. Libraries stock her books and her "formula" is in all of her books (aim for one of the color versions if possible).

I swear some of her patterns she sat down and said "how can I come up with the most unlikely pattern?" (Baby surprise jacket, other baby clothes). However, there's brilliance in knitting something that looks like a screwed up dish towel that when you fold it just right and seam the arms turns into a great kid's sweater!
posted by esoteric things at 3:30 PM on April 12, 2021

Oh, and check out her patterns on ravelry to see what a huge difference color/ease/yarn choice all make in what is the same basic "recipe".
posted by esoteric things at 3:31 PM on April 12, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you for all your replies. I know my question wasn't very specific but I'm at the stage where I don't know what I don't know, you know?! Maggie Righetti's Sweater Design in Plain English looks to be at the right level for me and there's a copy at the library which I've just reserved :)
posted by peepofgold at 10:19 AM on April 13, 2021

There's a book called "Custom Knits" by Wendy Bernard that would help you out.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:23 PM on April 13, 2021

Knit to Flatter explains very clearly how you can adapt a pattern to your own morphology. I'm a large-boobed woman, and it's been a life-saver.
posted by snakeling at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2021

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