Freestyle Sweater Knitting

In 2021, I’m exploring a little bit of freestyle sweater knitting. Freestyle knitting, as I define it, is similar to the freestyle category in figure skating: it uses a set of rules, techniques and tricks as the framework to create something unique. Freestyle knitting follows a formula to create a garment within the template of a pattern from an experienced designer. 

Over the past few years, I’ve explored what it means to be a knitting pattern designer, and what I’ve discovered is that in order to be a great designer, you really have to do a lot of knitting [Ed. note: or sewing!]. A surefire way to wrap your head around a new technique, construction method or style is to follow the steps laid out for you by someone else. In the case of sweater knitting, it can be hard to understand or visualize every element of your design (for example, sleeve choices) unless you have previous experience knitting it. Even if you don’t aspire to become a pattern designer, cultivating an understanding of what we create, through the act of making it, helps us better understand how different fabrics, shapes, and styles work within our wardrobes and on our bodies. Every project leads us closer to better sweater knitting and handmade wardrobe bliss! 

I find that using a book which follows a particular route in-depth is the easiest way to approach a shape that is unfamiliar. I thought I might use this as an opportunity to share my intentions for this project with you, and see if you’d like to join me in making your own (we can work together in the Sloe Discord). 

If you’d like to try a variety of styles, I’d recommend looking for books that explore a range of different construction methods. The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweater Patterns by Ann Budd (2012, Interweave Press), and Amy Herzog’s Ultimate Sweater Book (2018, Abrams) each offer a variety of different construction methods for classic sweater styles, plus notes on fit adjustments, like full bust or bicep alterations.

If you’d like to explore a single style in-depth, raglans are a wonderful place to start and are the first sweater shape many knitters approach. Elizabeth Zimmermann is known for her seamless raglan construction formula outlined in her book Knitting Workshop (1981, Schoolhouse Press). The more recently published Ready Set Raglan (2020, Pom Pom Press) offers a contemporary, hip take on this classic shape, while exploring cropped, oversized, and textured sweaters within the raglan’s casual framework. 

Those looking to branch beyond standard top-down constructions might find something new in Julie Weisenberger’s CocoKnits Sweater Workshop (2017, Cocoknits). This workshop-style book with patterns and formulas explores Weisenberger’s Cocoknits Method. An interesting top-down, contiguous approach that is easy to understand and follow. The finished pieces have an effortless, casual vibe that’s perfect for everyday living. Julie arms readers with the ability not only to follow the patterns she’s laid out, but to design their own

Many knitting pattern designers make unusual construction methods part of their signature style. Their individual garment patterns are well worth exploring. 

Jennifer Wood is consistently pushing the boundaries of interesting necklines, shoulders, shapes and textures; incorporating new contiguous or simultaneous sleeve methods with her romantic aesthetic. 

Norah Gaughan has built a career out of creating unusual garments based on organic and geometric shapes. Many of her patterns come together like puzzles: knit piece by piece and then suddenly coalescing into a sweater that drapes comfortably on the body; a perfect marriage of material and shape. If nothing else, spend some time looking at schematics to gain a better understanding of how these innovative shapes come together!

Anne Hanson is among a group of knitters known for their impeccable fit and tailoring. I recommend her patterns to anyone looking to achieve a truly couture, bespoke fit. While some techniques may be complex, Anne’s expertise as a teacher shines through in her pattern writing, making the designs accessible to knitters stretching their skills. 

Knitting is a constant opportunity to grow, learn and invent. While following the framework laid forth in a pattern can teach you a new technique, shape or construction method, it’s the retention and later application of that same technique that I look forward to in my knitting practice. I’m constantly seeking the moment of enlightenment that comes when evaluating a cleverly constructed shoulder seam and understanding how to re-create it myself. While using these books is an excellent jumping-off point, coming back to my own vision and creating from that “blank page” space is a way of freeing myself from expectations. If I don’t know how it is supposed to turn out… how can it be wrong?

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