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Design 101 - Goth sweater

Design 101

Project 1 - Goth Sweater


      Many knitters,  even expert ones, spend a lifetime making beautiful things for themselves and others. A high percentage of that number will also complain on a regular basis that they cannot find exactly what they want as a pattern and so 'settle' for something not 100% perfect. We see a lot of them in the shop and here is a list of some of the major complaints to be heard.

  •       'Gorgeous, but I hate the colour'. 
  •       'If only it wasn't so long/short/close fitting/loose fitting'.
  • ​       'Lovely but it doesn't go up to/down to my size'
  •        'So nice, but I prefer a fitted sleeve/shorter or longer sleeve, really want a drop shoulder'.
  •        'Too plain/fancy/textured/smooth'
  •        ' I want something really original.'
  •        ' It just isn't me...'
  •        'It's too hard/too boring/too time consuming/too expensive a yarn/not wool/not cotton'

​and the list goes on ad infinitum. Yet even a novice knitter has the ability to create exactly what they want every time. The answer is easy,

enlightenedKeep calm and design it yourself!enlightened

      The first and most difficult step in many ways is to decide exactly what you want. This may sound blindingly obvious, but is the major stumbling block if you are knitting for somebody else. Of course the obvious answer is to ask them, and that is what I did.  My 28 year old daughter, who has been one of several flavours of goth during the past 13 years, always complains that, as far as the high street is concerned, Halloween is pretty much the only time to shop. However, if she wants something that is good quality from a specialist goth shop throughout the year it can be very expensive. When asked what she wanted for Christmas this year she requested a Christmas jumper - with a difference. The brief was as follows,

  1.  Long and baggy like a mini dress with semi-dropped shoulder seam so she could wear layers beneath it.
  2.  Rib framing to pull in just below her bum and a scoop or v-neckline to show off jewellery.
  3. Chunky yarn but lightweight (she liked Brushed Fleece best in the Colourway shop.)
  4. Dark non-christmassy colours, she chose a deep grape purple and black.
  5. Bats! She wants a large intarsia bat dominating the front of the sweater, the outline picked out in sequins to catch the light and give a more dominant outline on the slightly fuzzy yarn.
  6. More bats - this time smaller ones, scattered about the jumper and probably all in sequins (different colours OK she says as long as not too gaudy.)

      The brief took a lot of thought to put together but once we had it pinned down, I could take my next step in the design process, which I call

Not reinventing the wheel!

      Unless your project brief is for something entirely wild and wonderful, there are numerous resources available to help the novice designer.  My first job was to organise measurements of the garment and yarn quantities and a blindingly obvious thing to do was to find an existing basic pattern, ideally using the yarn we wanted as well as a similar basic stitch type, as a launch pad for the design.

      I found a sweater that Helen didn't like in a Quail Studios book for Rowan called Brushed Fleece Knits. In its favour, it was the right yarn, the right sort of fit and the right shoulder-line.


Original base pattern

from Rowan, Brushed Fleece Knits

      Next I went to the blocking diagram which appears on most modern knitting patterns. This gave me an accurate idea of the measurements of the piece, and given that Helen wanted a baggy fit on her and slightly longer in the body so I decided to adjust the number of stitches cast on width ways as I wanted an additional 4 inches (10 cms)  in total so needed to adjust my own version of the diagram. Here is the original with my marked up notes on changes required superimposed.


       I decided to change the round neck to a deeper v-neckline after consulting with Helen, and as the body was going to be wider  left the sleeve length as it was as Rowan sleeve lengths tend to be plenty long enough. So now I needed to create my basic pattern without the intarsia motif which I decided to create as a separate graph later.

      The tension given on the original design was 14 sts and 21 rows to 10cms so for my cast on row, instead of the 84 stitches stated to achieve the 60cm width I changed it to add another 2 inches on each section, so I needed another 7 stitches (given that 14 sts = 4 inches/10 cms) plus 1 stitch so I was dealing with an even number, giving me a cast on row of 92 stitches for each body section. On these stitches I needed to work 5 cms in rib, which I decided to do 'freestyle' in that I wouldn't bother with making a tension square for the rib (which I really should, but I wanted the flexibility to simply work the rib until it felt and looked right using a slightly smaller needle.) To follow the rules and for piece of mind a novice designer should swatch for all major pattern stitches worked. For this design it would mean a stocking stitch tension square and a ribbing tension square. and I only knitted the one to make sure I matched the given stocking stitch tension.

      So, so far my pattern reads,

With 5 mm needles cast on 92 stitches and work 5 cms in 1/1 rib. (K1 P1 for first row, reverse for second). Switch to 6 mm needles as in original pattern. 

      Now back to my blocking diagram where I wanted to lengthen the body by 7 cms plus the rib. I want to increase the length of the main body section, not the armhole depth, so I need to add that 7 cms to the 49 cms to the armhole shaping in the original pattern. giving me a new line for my pattern, the pattern said to knit to the 49 cms in the original instructions.

Work in stocking stitch until body measures 56 cms from top of rib.

      *(At this point I intend to measure the piece of knitting up against Helen so we can double check that the length is as required before I commence the armhole shaping. If it is possible I always like to check a design  on a real 'in and out' body at several stages before completion so I can make adjustments as and when needed. If you cannot do this, make sure you have the following measurements derived either from the recipient his/her self or a garment which has the fit they like to measure up.

  1. Centre back neck to level of lower hem.
  2. Centre back neck to wrist or point where the sleeve is supposed to finish.
  3. Chest at widest part, (remember you will be adding extra inches for ease depending on if your design is a close, classic, loose or baggy fitting).
  4. As 3 but for hips if garment is long enough to cover hips.
  5. As 3 but for waist if garment either finishes at, or will be shaped into waist.

       ​When the armhole shaping is reached and I am certain I am happy with the length I can return to the original pattern. (If Helen had wanted a different sleeve type I would need to work out the new shaping here, so this is an obvious reason for trying to find a blocking diagram as close to the armhole styling that you want as possible.) In later Design 101 projects we will look at how to create entirely different sleeves and sleeve heads, they really aren't difficult, but in this case we will follow the original armhole shaping from the pattern but only as far as 8 cms below the start of the neck shaping on the original. So instead of knitting until the armhole measures 23 cms deep, we only knit 15 cms ending with a wrong side row (but only for the front section as we are not changing the back shaping,) again following the original pattern. Remember that having started with more stitches we will also have more stitches than the original even after the shaping so don't panic.


Shape armholes as for original pattern, ignoring the stitch counts for the end of each row. Continue to follow pattern until armhole depth is 23 cms (there should be 68 stitches on your needles at this point), Finish with a wrong side row. Knit 21 sts, turn, replacing remaining stitches on a stitch holder. Next row, P2, P2 tog, P to end (20 sts). Cast off. With RS facing place centre 26 stitches on stitch holder, Rejoin yarn at RS outer edge and work next two rows as previous 2 but with all shapings reversed. Cast off.

            This gives us the back, with a back neck width of 26 stitches. For a v-neckline front section we need to divide the front at a lower point and then decrease from either side of the neck divide in a nice even line to reach the shoulder line with a 26 stitch gap between the two shoulders. We start at the 15 cm armhole depth for the front section, (68 stitches at this point). Divide stitches in half to make centre point of V-neck by knitting 34 stitches, turning and placing remaining 34 stitches on a stitch holder.  For the front we need to create the v-neckline as we work to 23 cms plus 2 rows each side, leaving us with a cast off central gap of 26 sts and two shoulders with 21 stitches on each shoulder. This enables us to work out our shaping as follows,

  • Go to tension details and work out how many rows are needed in your stocking stitch tension to give your neckline depth of 8 cms. Our tension gives us 21 rows to 10 cms so 8cms needs approx 17 rows but as we need to finish with a wrong side row add another giving us 18 rows.
  • We need to reduce each side from 34 to 21 stitches, decreasing 13 stitches evenly both sides over the 18 rows. I decided to decrease 1 stitch at the neck edge on every row for 13 rows then knit the last 5 rows straight before reaching the 23 cm armhole depth and completing the last 2 rows identically to the back section. If we were using a much finer yarn, the rule remains the same, work out the number of rows first, calculate how many decreases needed to reach the correct shoulder stitch number, and spread your neckline decreases as evenly as possible depending on the shape of your neckline.


Shape armhole as original pattern and knit until armhole depth is 15 cms ending on wrong side. With RS facing knit 34 stitches, turn, place remaining 34 stitches on stitch holder. Continue in stocking stitch decreasing 1 stitch at neck edge only for 13 rows. Knit 5 rows Complete each shoulder by repeating last 2 rows from back section. Cast Off. Rejoin yarn at RS of stitches on stitch holder and repeat. "" As we have kept the armhole shaping the same and are relying on the slightly wide shoulder to create the generous length of sleeve that we want, the sleeves can now be completed using the original pattern with no alterations.

      Finally for the basic pattern I will pick stitches up even around the neckline and do a shallow rib on the smaller 5 mm needles. This is another of those things I like to 'play by ear' as I do it to get the neckline to lie correctly on Helen,  A recent Tips and Tricks from our previous newsletter deals with how to work this out in more detail so click here for the link.

      So       This gives me my basic sweater pattern, to which I need to add the bat graph. I created this in a really clever little free program called Stitch Fiddle, easy to find online and really easy to use. By typing in my tension for the stocking stitch area of the pattern, and stating the size I wanted the motif to be (I used stitches and rows to make sure it was a good fit for my front panel of the garment. I found a suitable piece of free clipart of a Bat, imported it into my Paint Shop Pro program (any package that will save your pictures will do) and then imported the file to Stitch Fiddle. I adjusted it to show just 2 colours on a background grid which reflected the tension of my swatch, then used the pencil icon to tweak the black square of the design. Finally I used the Share option in the File menu after saving the file, copied the address it popped into the box for me, and put the address into my browser.  click on address to see graph which has been designed so that you can copy it into your own free Stitch Fiddle account and edit it to your own requirements if you wish. When the file opens on your screen after clicking on the link go to the 'open with Stitch Fiddle' button in the menu to see the graph with each individual stitch block in your own account.

      As Helen is not sure yet whether she wants a bat(s) above the armhole decrease I will complete the sweater as far as that point on the front panel. If she does want more I will use the Stitch Fiddler program to create the graphs for the section from the armhole up which will be accessible along with the pictures of different stages of the knit and the final pattern for the sweater which you can download if you wish.

Watch this page over the next few weeks as my photographic record of the knit and final pattern emerge.


      The sweater is complete! Helen decided she wanted two large bats included so I put another into my stitchfiddle account at The larger of the 2 bats was started just below waist level  and finished at roughly the start of the armhole shaping, the other began just a few rows higher and was adapted to fit on the upper body.

      Whatever motif you choose for your sweater or whatever else you design, remember to scale your artwork to fit the available space, either using a program like Stitch Fiddle or simple graph paper. You can actually buy knitters graph paper which has the 'squares' proportioned to the height and width of stitches which enables you to make your designs look right when knitted up, and it is also possible to create and print off your own knitters graph paper. The following link will take you to the site I use for free printable knitters graph paper which is an excellent design tool. .

      The other change that my dear daughter decided she wanted incorporated was a simple crochet neckband so that pulling the sweater on and off over her head would not cause the ribbing to stretch and stop sitting properly, and stripes of the black on the originally plain sleeves. With the two sequin outlined large bats she decided that she did not want any others. I will make the complete pattern available as a pdf file in a range of sizes once I have had time to write it, but until then, here is a picture or two of the finished article taken in Colourway's back garden (typically on a rare sunny day which made shadows a problem but never mind. Very different from the original pattern I adapted as you'll agree!

I have described at length here what is actually a simple process, with this particular design using an existing pattern but adapted to meet the brief for my daughter's goth sweater. Why don't you try?













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