Knitting

Build your own jumper

I think it might be interesting to expand upon my plans for the Coconut Ice jumper and explain how I use the elements in the book One Thousand Sweaters by Amanda Griffiths to “build” a sweater.

First, a bit about the book. It is spiral bound and the pattern pages are split in two horizontally so that the bottom 1/3 can be flipped independently of the top 2/3. Ooh, I know how to explain it – it’s rather like those children’s books which have the head, torso, and legs of people or creatures and you can flip them to make up crazy combinations!

This particular pattern book is written specifically for DK weight yarn and the majority of the designs come in small, medium and large size, although a few differ.

The top section of each page is devoted to the body of the sweater/cardigan. There are 31 different body designs with various combinations of fit, sleeve and neckline construction. Each body design is illustrated with a front-facing photo of the knitted body on a mannequin and accompanied by icons showing the additional elements which will work with this design so that you can pick suitable sleeves and collars and add pockets or belts. These additional elements are shown on the bottom 1/3 of the page. The add-ons are illustrated with photos (flat-lay for sleeves and belts, mannequin display for collars and pockets) and accompanied by a single icon which you match with the body icons in order to make appropriate combinations. This is important because you can’t, for example, use the instructions for a v-neck collar on a body which is designed with a round neck. I like this use of icons, it brings a lot of clarity to the instructions.

With the flared sweater design I’m using for my Coconut Ice jumper, we can see plainly some important points:

  • Instructions are provided for Small, Medium, and Large sizes
  • We can add pockets if we like (the book gives 4 pocket designs)
  • The design features raglan sleeves (the book has 5 options for this sleeve type)
  • The design has a scooped neckline (the options here are a simple band finish or a cowl collar)

With that information, we can jump straight in and knit the body, but most of us will decide on the sleeves and collar before we start the project, if only to make sure we have the right amount of yarn to complete the whole garment.

It is worth bearing in mind that not all combinations of these separate elements will be pleasing, even though they would all work in theory. For example, I’m not sure the fully ribbed sleeve would look all that nice with a stocking stitch body on the jumper I’m currenty knitting, although I can imagine it being an interesting feature on some stocking stitch sweaters. There’s also the fact that we won’t all be drawn to certain elements for practical reasons, they might not suit our body shape or our personal taste. The idea of flared sleeves is a complete anathema to me; they seem to emphasise that my arms are short and add width at an unflattering point of my body if I’m standing in anything approaching a natural position.

Things become really interesting when we explore the fact that we don’t have to limit ourselves to the 31 body designs which we are presented with. We can break each body design down into its separate constituents and re-combine them to our own taste. The body is made up of a hem, the main body, the armhole, and the neckline. The main body is the thing to focus on as the other constituents can be tweaked. Choosing whether our garment is going to be a cardigan or sweater, have a fitted waist, a straight up-and-down shape, be a sloppy-joe, or have a fit-and-flare design determines the body pattern we will want to follow.

I chose the Flared Sweater as my body design because I wanted that slightly fit and flare shape. But then, as I’ve previously mentioned, I didn’t want to work the ribbed hem given in the instructions so I went my own way, working a few rows of garter stitch and then straight stocking stitch until I had worked the depth the pattern gives for the ribbing. At that point I went back to following the pattern instructions. This was completely off-piste, but I could just as easily have substituted a hem from one of the other body designs in the book.

There is going to be a big change when I get to the armhole. Although I occasionally wear a raglan, I generally find a set-in sleeve provides the best definition to my narrow shoulders. As the Flared Sweater gives instructions for raglan sleeves, I’m going to swap to the instructions for the Beaded Sweater which has the combination of set-in sleeves and scoop neck I’ve decided upon for my jumper. I’ve checked the most important thing: that I will have the correct number of stitches on my needles to work the shaping for my set-in sleeve. In this case the number of stitches is exactly the same for the two armhole designs, so it’s a fairly simple modification.

Once I’ve made the back and front of the jumper, I’ll follow the instructions for the Fitted Sleeve, substituting the rib instructions for a garter stitch border to match the one I’ve worked on the body. Finally, I’ll use the instructions for the Cowl Neck, although I’m going to wait until I’m well into the process before I decide the exact details I want to use for this element.

The thing I like best about this book is that it provides a gentle way to start modifying patterns whilst providing the safety net of knowing that the pieces of your garment are going to fit together at the end of the knitting process. This book could easily take you from knitting your first garment to being confident about adding your own design elements. It is tempting to see the restricted sizes and yarn weight as detrimental, but after a lot of thought I have to say I disagree with that. I used to own a second book of “modular” patterns which provided tables of figures for each body shape and sleeve design for a good variety of sizes and across half a dozen different weights of yarn, but I never really took to it. There was too much information and, even as an experienced knitter, I find this simpler book more conducive to experimentation.

I can confidently say that if this book were available in three editions, this one covering DK weight designs, and the same again for 4-ply weight and Aran weight, I’d buy all three and happily knit for years. “Wouldn’t that be boring?” you may ask. I don’t think it would. The thing is that you can get inspiration for little design tweaks all over the place. You see a textured stitch you like, or a lace element, and if you have a basic set of patterns which you know will give you a fit you enjoy wearing, you can incorporate these elements to make a unique garment. For those of us who don’t want to design our own knitting patterns from scratch, but do want to add a little adventure to our knitting, this type of book can be very liberating indeed.

One thought on “Build your own jumper

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