Designing Garments: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Experiences


I have finally designed and knit something that turned out exactly how I wanted it to. How novel.

Designing my own knit garments has been an evolving process. The challenge for me is twofold- first creating a specific enough plan and design, down to all the details and measurements, and then following through by properly carrying out my own design. This may seem obvious, but it is more difficult to master than I thought! Often I draw a loose sketch of what I want and spend too little time planning my gage, measurements, where and when to increase or decrease, and how things will ultimately fit together. This results in a waste of time and materials when I either have to repeatedly undo a section as I revert trial and error as my main technique or end up with a product that I am unhappy with.

This jumper is one of my success stories! I do confess to re-doing a few sections and altering my plan, but I am also happy with myself for doing so. Instead of just hoping that things would turn out in the end, I was a little more critical along the way and kept checking my measurements against my plan, my body, and a sweater of similar shape that I already owned.

I tried to draw upon what I already knew as a knitter, as well as incorporate details into the piece that would elevate it to something special. The sleeves are set-in cap sleeves with a picot edge, which is a technique I had used in the past. However, when faced with making a collar, I decided to try double-knitting, which I had never applied to that use before.   I think that it worked very successfully, as it reduced curling from stockinette stitch while providing a thicker fabric so that the collar had more substance and lay better against the body.

Double knit collar, showing underside in green

Double knit collar, showing underside in green

I cannot provide a full pattern to share, as my notes are a bit haphazard and I enjoy having an unique item, but I am happy to share my experiences and some tips and tricks if you embark on your own attempt at design.  For reference, this was knit in Rowan Sienna 4-ply, a discontinued mercerised cotton yarn.  Also, as a bonus I will be happy to give you the colourwork chart that I designed for this jumper for use in your own projects!

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 16.58.17


First off, make sure that your initial design is specific, down to the various measurements. It is certainly possible to make some changes along the way, but it if you want a garment that has a cohesive feel to it, start with a real plan. If you are going to make picot edge sleeves, do you want to picot the bottom or your jumper? It will be more difficult to make this happen later. What is the neckline or collar, and how does it relate to the overall design of the garment? Should sleeves be set in or raglan? Are you willing to spend the time doing some trigonometry to properly calculate your sleeve hole (armscye)? What ways does construction best enhance your design – top up or down, knit in round, pieces, darts, etc.?

I know it may seem like too much time spent doing the part that isn’t knitting, but it is really crucial! If all this is too much, perhaps start with a pattern that you know and modify it with colourwork or stitch, or try changing a detail like the sleeves or collar.


Choose your materials carefully, taking into consideration the fibre, spin, and weight and how it will enhance your design. Different fibres and spins have varying levels of sheen, elasticity, weight, warmth, and drape. If you choose poorly, or try to pick an option only because it is affordable, you may end up not even using the end product that you spent so much time on!

Check your gauge. No really, check your gauge. If you have any colourwork or different stitches, make sure to do a generous swatch up. I had to redo almost the entire back of this jumper because I failed to appreciate the amount that knit fabric tends to draw in during colourwork.

Techniques and Structure:

Decide before you start how exactly you will construct it. How many pieces do you need, and where do they connect? Should any stitches be left “live” and kitchener stitched or spliced, or should all edges be bound on and off? In colourwork, does intarsia or stranded fair-isle make more sense? If your design motifs are farther apart than an inch or two, I recommend intarsia, even if it may seem a little extra work. It will save you in the end!

Keep in mind as you go:

As you are making your garment, keep checking to ensure that your measurements match up. If possible, try it on at various stages. This can be done by loosely basting pieces together to give a true sense of how it will fit. If you have similarly shaped garments, try laying your knitting on top of it to see how it relates to that shape.

Be critical of your design and process. If you begin to encounter a problem, or foresee an element becoming an issue in the future, stop and think! Don’t waste your time working on something you’ll have to take out later just because you can’t be bothered to reconsider your design. If you do make changes, think those through as well, and don’t fail to take the proper time to work out all your calculations properly.  Remember to stay flexible with your project, be critical of your initial ideas, and be proud of your final product.

Good luck!

Good luck!

Want to go further? Here are some tools that will help you realise your design!


Armscye Calculator

The Knitting Fiend/Diet Diary: How to Design a Sleeve Cap

Helpful Books:

Vogue Knitting Stitchionary Volume One: Knit & Purl

Vogue Knitting Stitchionary Volume Two: Cables

Vogue Knitting Stitchionary Volume Three: Color Knitting

Knitwear Design Workshop: A Comprehensive Guide to Handknits

Disclaimer: I am an Amazon affiliate.  I recommend these books, but I do get a small fee if you buy them on Amazon.  Feel free to check out your library, independent, or used bookstore!

One thought on “Designing Garments: Tips, Techniques, and Personal Experiences

  1. Pingback: Knitting a Grocery Bag, Free Style | Textile Investigations

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