Designing a sweater

I’ve just started working on a new design. Since I’m making it for fun and it’s not under any kind of publication embargo, I thought I could share some details about the process.


I’ve been thinking about designing a classic cardigan (boxy shape, set-in sleeves, crew neck, ribbed button band, goes with everything, etc.).


Sometimes I have an idea that needs yarn, and sometimes I have yarn that needs an idea. In this case, I have one skein of Lichen & Lace Rustic Heather Sport that I bought a while back because I was intrigued by its interesting “crunchy” texture. The yarn feels like it wants to do something more interesting than plain stockinette (plus, I recently finished a giant project in super-boring garter stitch, followed by two pairs of practical but unexciting to knit stockinette socks), so I think I’ll try doing some Estonian lingonberry lace just to see how it looks. After blocking, I’m really happy with the results. Lingonberry lace is easy to memorize and fun to knit! I’m starting to imagine a lovely, warm but lightweight cardigan that could be useful year-round.

The swatch, after blocking (shown in “Smoke”)

So, now that the swatch is done and measured, it’s time to work on some sketches. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Sketch (and measurements)

When I’m making a design for a publication, I’m usually provided with sample body measurements to work with. Normally I take the body measurements, figure out how much ease the design needs, come up with a general idea of the finished measurements, and then work out the exact measurements based on the gauge and stitch pattern. In this case, I’m making this prototype for myself, so I’m going to cheat a little bit and measure another cardigan that fits me perfectly. Slight hitch: the cardigan I’m working from is raglan-sleeved, but I want set-in sleeves. I make some educated guesses for the sketch but will need to look at this carefully when I get to this part.

Buying the yarn

I feel like this is most exciting part of starting a new project! I love the “smoke” colour that I used for the swatch, but I have really a lot of grey and black things in my closet. I decide to branch out a bit. I estimate that I’ll need 6 skeins of yarn, and head over to Three Bags Full to go shopping.

This colour is called “Pollen.” Depending on the light, it can be muted golden or crazy bright yellow. I’m excited to work with it!

Knitting & thinking

This is closer to the true colour of the yarn.

So while working away on the fronts, which are full lace, I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to do the sleeves. My plan is to make knitted-in “afterthought” sleeves because they work so well and there’s no sleeve cap math to make my head explode. However, if I make the sleeves in the lace pattern as well, I will have two problems:

  1. the lace will be obviously upside down
  2. there will be so many opportunities to mess up the lace pattern while working short-row shoulder caps

My friend Amy, who is a great seamstress and has a wonderful design sense, suggests just making plain stockinette sleeves, but I worry that could look too much like a letterman jacket (which is really not the look I’m aiming for). But this has got me thinking about how I can design the back so that it will work with plain sleeves.

The back is different than the front

I spend some time with my lace pattern chart, and come up with a way to have the lace pattern “fade” out from the sides towards the centre of the back, with the rest in plain stockinette (which will work better with plain sleeves). I’m pretty happy with how this looks, and as an added bonus, it works up much more quickly than the fronts because I don’t have to do as much pattern-fiddling while decreasing for the arm holes and neckline.

Serious chagrin

After blocking the fronts and back, sewing the shoulder and side seams, and trying on my partly-finished cardigan, I discover a big problem: my gauge is off (or, more specifically, I did not measure my gauge correctly)! I don’t know exactly how this happened but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with how the lace is acting, and not making a big enough test swatch. I spend a few hours in denial (“It’ll be fine when I block it! I can just make wider button bands!”), then finally admit to myself that my sweater is going to be too small. However, inspired by a couple of Champions League games that I’m watching while knitting, I don’t let this setback get me down. I unpick the seams and add in plain stockinette bands at the sides, which blend in surprisingly well. I’m not sure if I’ll keep these in the final design (it’s double the finishing, but looks kind of cool) or not. We’ll see.


Back to working on this project after an excellent and refreshing holiday in Copenhagen.

Lots of beautiful shades of yellow and orange–my sweater will look good here!

I finish the first sleeve using the afterthought method I learned from Wendy Bernard’s great book, Custom Knits. (I decided to add some lace repeats after all the sleeve shaping was finished, and am pretty happy with the results).

This is how the cuff looks (unblocked)

Then, horror. I’m happily scrolling through Instagram after work, and suddenly my eyes catch something distressingly familiar-looking.

Beautiful job, @fiona_alice_

Someone else had a very similar idea to mine! And her project is finished, and being photographed for Issue 9 of Laine Magazine. I’m relieved to see that our projects are not identical. But still, what are the odds? My husband patiently talks me through my moments of doubt this morning. Of course I’m going to carry on.

All finished

My sweater is finished and blocked and I’m pretty happy with it! But now I’m not sure how enthusiastic I am about writing out the instructions, especially after some recent submission rejections . . .  For now, I will just enjoy wearing it, and maybe have a relaxing time making someone else’s pattern for a little break.

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