Saturday 7 October 2017

Designing a Crocheted Garment

Hello, for those of you who don't know me I'm Marta and it's my turn to contribute to the Back To School Sweater CAL Blog Hop! Last week's post was by Fay and was crammed full of advice on blocking and finishing garments and you can find it here Today I am going to have a look at the topic of crochet garment design; starting with the various different construction techniques, where to begin yourself, a very basic template for making a garment, writing up and finally a bit about working with pattern editors.

Once you have crocheted a few jumpers or cardigans you will begin to notice the way in which a garment is constructed. There are 5 basic construction techniques out there: top-down; bottom-up; individual sections sewn or crocheted together; freeform crochet and one-piece construction. I have crocheted jumpers and cardigans in all of these ways except for the one-piece and each has its own merits ...

  • In top-down design you begin with a short length of chains which are worked into and rapidly increase to form a yoke which is later split to form front, back and armholes, picked up again and continued in the length. The huge advantage of this process is that you (or your recipient) can try it on as you make.
Top-down is perfect for pretty yokes eg. my Summer Cardigan

  • Bottom-up starts with a chain to fit the hip or waist circumference and is worked up towards the chest, splitting for armholes and decreasing for the neck. This technique does allow you to try on as you go, but with gravity against you it is a little harder to tell for sure how it is looking.

Bottom-up - to achieve the lavender motifs my
Lavender Cardigan had to be worked in this way 

  • For an individual section garment, pieces are worked up in a similar way to a dressmaking pattern and can either be sewn or crocheted together later. One huge advantage of this technique is that stitches can go in any direction, horizontal, vertical or even diagonal - opening up a world of possibilities! The pieces can be placed against the body to give an idea of fit, but it's not as reliable as top-down.

an individual section garment from Vogue Guide to Crochet, 1971

  • Freeform crochet is one of the most artistic ways to make a garment where lots of much smaller pieces (eg. flower shapes) are made and then sewn or crocheted together to form a more loose and free garment shape. Erika Knight's Asymmetrical Cardigan is an excellent example of this, I made one 4 years ago, it's a brilliant pattern!

Freeform crochet - Erika Knight's Asymmetrical Cardigan

  • One-piece construction is possibly the simplest technique out there; a simple rectangular shape is crocheted and joined at the short ends to make arm holes. A variation of this is to start with a circle and work outwards, adding arm holes as you go. I haven't tried this method so here is a link to a pattern I really like over on Ravelry.
Once you have chosen your construction technique, the best place to start your garment design process is with a set of measurements either from your own body if the garment is for yourself or from the intended recipient of the cardigan or sweater. Measure the bust or chest circumference at the fullest part, the waist and the widest part of the hips (this will depend on your figure and your intended length), the length from the most prominent bone at the base of the neck to where you wish the garment to end, the diameter of the upper arms and the arm length from wrist to the centre of the back at the neck. If you are making for yourself it will be best to ask someone else to measure you to achieve more accurate measurements.

If you have been following this Blog Hop series you will have read the post from covering guage, measurement and fit. If you missed it I would go and check it out because it offers invaluable advice on how to measure properly amongst other things!

The above blog post also covers ease, ie. the amount of movement the garment has around the body. Tight fitting jumpers have less ease whilst floaty summer cardigans have a lot of ease. As a general rule for adults - slim, figure hugging jumpers have up to 5cm of ease and looser fitting garments have about 10 - 15cm of ease. Obviously these measurements will be much smaller if you are designing for babies and toddlers!

Another website I refer to all the time is because it has all the standard body measurements used for crocheted and knitted garments.

When I designed and crocheted my first adult cardigan I had a look at my favourite shop-bought cardigan and took measurements from it, then throughout the making process I placed my WIP on top of my shop-bought cardigan to compare and check I was on track. This method was very successful and I still wear this first cardigan with pride!

A huge source of inspiration for me are crochet stitch dictionaries - there are all sorts of different swatches in them and I often I combine a few together or change them from working in rows to working in the round. I have a growing collection of vintage crochet books too and I love the stitch samples in them! Crocheting from other crochet designers' patterns can also spark new ideas - perhaps using their construction technique or stitch combination and altering it to make it your own. Caution: do not outright copy their work because you will be found out, you will loose your credibility as a designer and could even end up in legal trouble!

A few of my vintage pattern guides

Choose some yarn and a stitch pattern and swatch to see how it feels, how it drapes and how well the stitches are defined. If you are happy with it, calculate the number of stitches and rows per 10cm to give you your guage or tension (see The Crochet Project's post above for how to do this). From here I am going to take you through a very basic template for crocheting a bottom-up jumper. For this example, your hip measurement is 90cm+10cm of ease = 100cm and your pattern swatch has a 10 stitch repeat per 10cm, giving us 10 repeats per row pattern. Rather than launching into the main pattern, you will probably want to start with a band of plain stitches or a cable rib (2fptr, 2bptr will work well in this example).

So, you have chained 100, joined into a ring to work in the round, cable ribbed for 6 rounds and begun crocheting in your main pattern. Taking your underarm to hip measurement of 43cm, work straight for 41cm in total, including the waistband. Stopping short of 43cm allows for ease. If this jumper was for a woman you would portion slightly more stitches for the front than for the back to compensate for the bust, but to keep things super simple this is a man's sweater! 100 stitches÷2=50 stitches for the front and 50 for the back. Begin to work on the first 50 stitches only, turn and start working in rows rather than in the round. At this point you may wish to use a contrast pattern because your stitches will no longer be the same as when you were working in the round.

Your measurement from the hip to the prominent bone at the base of the neck is 65cm, so continue to crochet evenly until the total length of the work measures 62cm then fasten off. Go back and crochet into the 50 unworked stitches for the back section and repeat the same steps as the front section until it measures 62cm in total. Join back into the round and work 6 rounds of rib for the collar.

At this point it would be perfectly acceptable to work into the ends of the rows with a round of double crochet stitches to finish off and you would have a simple vest top. Or you could carry on and add sleeves ...

Measure the length from armpit to collar, it should be 19cm. Doubling this gives a 38cm circumfence and you can calculate the number of stitches needed for this in the same way as you did for the waistband above. Work evenly from shoulder to cuff, or if you prefer with a slight taper - decreasing as you go - until you are a few cm short of the cuff. Join into the round and work the same rib as you did for the collar. Either sew or crochet the sleeve seam together before pinning to the armhole and sewing/ crocheting the join. Et voilĂ ! A very simple, box style sweater! To stop this blog post from turning into a book I have avoided shaping for the neckline, raglan sleeves and for a woman's jumper it is likely that you would have some increases for the bust.

One top tip I find useful when I am planning a design for an adult size garment is to make it baby or toddler size first. This allows me to visualize my design and any frogging will be a lot less painful!

an almost-ready-to-publish
top-down cardigan design of mine
Perhaps you want to design your own crocheted garment so that you can wear a totally unique sweater that no one else in the whole wide world can possibly have or perhaps you want to write up your design for publishing and selling your pattern. The Craft Yarn Coucil website (link above) is really useful for listing all the correct crochet abbreviations and covers what needs to be included in your pattern too. If I am working on a small item, such as a scarf, then I tend to prefer the freedom of crocheting with a notebook at my side, then later I type these scribbles up into the official pattern format. However if I am designing a garment I have my crochet and my laptop on my knee because I know that inputting the lengthy pattern onto my computer will be a long and daunting task!

After I have finished typing up any crochet design and I am satisfied with it I send it to 3 or 4 crochet friends for testing. I now have an excellent team of testers, some are real life friends but most of them I only know throught the amazing Instagram community. Testers are great at picking up things that you can't see because you have simply spent so long looking at your pattern your eyes have gone cross eyed!

Once your pattern has been tested and you are intending to publish your garment design I would thoroughly recommend employing a technical editor to proof read your pattern. Tech editors are amazing at spotting everything from typos, incorrect abbreviations to missing information. A second editor will be required if you need help to add smaller and larger sizes to your range. I have successfully worked with 2 pattern editors; Sam - and Deb -

I hope you have found this blog post useful. If you have questions about any aspect crochet garment design please leave them in the comments and I will try and answer them (or find someone who can!). The next blog hop post in the series will be from Tamara in which she will share a little of her Back To School Sweater CAL progress - you will find it at

Happy hooking,

Marta xx

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