Unpicking the Stitches: How I designed the Snuggle cardigan

Hi everyone!  Where has the summer gone?  The last few months have been and gone so quickly I’ve had almost no sense of time; only the sense of rolling along with whatever life brings.  But the equinox brings with it a sense of coolness and calm.  As I write, the autumn sun is streaming in through the window, casting its gently golden beams across the room.  The feeling makes me want to write, and tell you a little bit more about the cardigan I designed to be worn at this change of seasons.

I’ve been wanting to design a cardigan like this for a long time: something that can be pulled on for those days when you really cannot be bothered to make an effort, but don’t want the world to know (or see!) that you don’t care how you look.  At times like that, you need clothing that will do all the work for you, put in the effort that you can’t muster.  Sometimes, on days like that, you need the feeling of something comforting throughout the day: the air is turning colder, you wish you could take your duvet to work with you, and you’re drinking more tea or hot chocolate than you have done for the past few months because it. is. getting. COLD.  The nip in the air tells you to wrap up, but the bright autumn sun means you can’t quite bring yourself to don darker, autumnal shades.

And the idea for Snuggle was born.

Naturally, cables were my first thought for a cardigan like this, but I didn’t want a look that was too overworked and traditional.  It had to be clean, streamlined and flattering to as many people as possible: who doesn’t appreciate a cardigan like this in their wardrobe?  So long, linear patterning was the way to go.  As I mused, I recalled this early experiment, when I was teaching myself how to design, practising and testing ideas on my own:

This must have been getting on for 8 years or so ago.  I don’t dislike it now, but I would make some changes to the composition.  First, I would not put the fancy rib with the cable panelling any more; I think it is a bit too busy and the two textures are fighting for attention.  A plainer sweater with that rib detail would be lovely, and if I revisited this I would develop the lacy rib more; perhaps incorporate it into the main body of the jumper in some way so that it isn’t just plain stocking stitch with nice edgings.

The central panel with horseshoe lace and symmetrical rope cables is also pretty and works well, but I didn’t think that keeping this would work for the cardigan I wanted to design.  To me, the proportions were just right.  One design development idea would be to increase the width of the horseshoe lace panel at the centre, so that there are about three-ish repeats as the main focus.  I may yet still find a way to make that idea work, so you may be seeing this photo again in future!  But my main takeaway from this was getting a feel for editing, curating my ideas so that there was more clarity and less busy-ness.  Sometimes the eyes need a rest.

 

The detail I zoomed in on was the braid and lace at the sides.  I thought that it would be ideal for the cardigan if I flipped one of the lacy panels to face in towards the cable plait; that way, the paths of the stitches would mirror each other and create the clean, vertical lines I wanted for the design.  It’s fun working with cables and lace because you can manipulate stitches in so many ways to create line and shape; plus, texture is something that everyone appreciates about knitting because there is pretty much no other constructed textile that affords so much inspiration in this regard.  I decided to develop the texture offered by the 3-strand braid by incorporating a wider one for the central panel.  The feel would still be traditional, but the lines would be clean and the relationship between the two stitch patterns would be obvious.

So, here’s the initial sketch and swatch:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the swatch above, the central panel isn’t wide enough because I didn’t want to run out of yarn!  But it’s enough to get the idea.  I knitted this in Rooster Almerino Aran, which isn’t a bad choice and has the lovely plushness of alpaca, but a good quality wool would be equally soft and give the cables the definition they deserved, and Debbie Bliss Falkland Aran was perfect; plus 100g hanks mean fewer ends to sew in or that annoying situation when short balls of yarn = long ends that aren’t quite enough to knit a row, grrrr…  The final decision came when Christine and I were discussing styling options, and we both liked the idea of a longline cardigan finishing at mid-thigh.  Also, we both like yellow 🙂

The last design challenge for me was to create a shape that fitted well enough over the hips.  There are far too many ill-fitting cardigans in the world!  You know the ones I mean: the ones that ‘seat’ really badly or, slightly worse, CANNOT find their way around your lower half so that you can do all the buttons up – should you wish to do so.  Instead, you get a triangle that draws perfect attention to your womanly width whether you like it or not – and I doubt most women do!  So I built some much-needed tolerance into the waist-to-hip shaping (notes on how to get this right for your shape are included in the magazine pattern).  Hopefully, the plan will work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are a few other detail shots I took whilst knitting Snuggle.  If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember seeing these in my feed several months ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I chose to keep the sleeves plain for three reasons: one, to keep the cost to knit down; two, bulky cabled sleeves can be all kinds of annoying when you want to wear a cardigan and a coat (making three layers of fabric on the arms if you include the top you’re wearing under the cardigan); and three, it kept the look clean and modern.  If you’ve gathered from all this that I’m not a fan of fussily-designed knitwear because I think it’s a very quick and easy way to make something beautiful also a bit too old-fashioned, you are CORRECT 😉

 

After choosing buttons – I was very lucky to find the perfect ones during a trip to Bath earlier this year, when I also visited the Lace in Fashion exhibition (brilliant, by the way!  And open until January 2018), I did a few fit tests to see whether the plan to have a good fit around the hips had worked, and whether I needed to make any changes to the pattern before emailing the final version off to Knitting.  I think I did okay, but if anyone reading this also intends to knit Snuggle, please let me know your thoughts – I’d really like to know!

 

After everything went in the post, life whizzed on: I had the end of year fashion show for my BA students, Graduate Fashion Week, finished studying for and achieved my teaching qualification (whoop!), and visited the Anna Sui exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum (as I write, a fortnight left to see it before it closes on 1st October).  Then, less than a week after I was absorbing the impact of a big decision and feeling a bit wiped out, this photo popped up in Knitting’s Instagram feed:

Sometimes things have a way of popping up just when you need to see them, and this photo definitely gave me a lift!  So much so that I had to do a double take 🙂  As with Bonnie, the front cover was a complete surprise, and I was reminded of the thoughts and feelings I shared at the beginning of this post: the change of seasons, the cooling temperatures, the feeling of wanting to be enveloped and nurtured but not hidden in the shade.  The sun is still streaming in.

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