Sweater Workshop: Nora’s Sweater

A note from Kathleen: We're starting a new feature on Knitting Daily: the Sweater Workshop. We've done a couple of these in the past, but now there will be one for each issue of Interweave Knits. The Sweater Workshop focuses on one pattern, deconstructing it for you. We'll go over the details of the pattern with you, pointing out the special parts of the design and suggesting alteration possibilities that will make the piece a perfect fit for YOUR body.

Here's Interweave Knits editor Eunny Jang to take you through this showstopper, Nora's Sweater.


We've certainly noticed that there's been quite a bit of buzz over the cover sweater of the Winter 2009 issue of Interweave Knits. And with good reason: Pam Powers' design, Nora's Sweater, is a tour-de-force of handknitting. Bringing together a well-considered fiber and yarn choice, some seriously elegant construction, and just enough thoughtfully placed detail, Nora's Sweater a perfect storm of Good Knitting.

What makes it so unique?

1) Yarn. Nora's Sweater calls for a worsted-weight 100% alpaca. Alpaca may not be the most intuitive choice for a hip-length jacket—it has a reputation for drooping over time—but take a closer look at the specific yarn called for (Misti Alpaca Worsted) and you'll see that it's a lofty yarn with a sturdy 4-ply construction. It also uses crimpy alpaca fibers, not the smooth, hair-like (and inelastic) Suri type fibers, giving the yarn some bounce-back qualities. The selected yarn works in concert with the jacket: The alpaca has lush, heavy drape that makes the pleated skirt hang smoothly, as well as enough loft to show off the cable stitches.

2) Construction. Take a look at the schematic for this pattern. The pieces are simple: A lower back, two lower fronts, and two yoke pieces that grow into sleeves. An insert that joins the two sleeves/yokes at the back and a sewn-on collar that runs from one front bottom edge to the other complete the garment (figure 1, below).

The lower back and front pieces have no shaping built into them, and as knitted, their top edges are much wider than they'll be in the finished piece (they're folded along built-in pleat lines before assembly). Both fronts and the back are shaped with short-rows at their upper edges, creating wedge shapes and a point, respectively.

The sleeve pieces are interesting: Each begins with a piece of knitting wide enough to run over the shoulder and form both front and back yokes. Because they will be joined with an inset at the back, and the jacket is designed to hang open in the front, there is no neck shaping built in—they have a square profile. A quick decrease and then more spaced-out decreases create underarm and sleeve shaping.

  Figure 2       
 Figure 1   Figure 2   Figure 3  

The back inset is a simple rectangle with a bite taken out for the back neck shaping, and the collar is two straight strips.

The genius of this pattern is in how these pieces fit together (figure 2, above). The lower back and fronts are first pleated, and then the squared-off yokes, which would be pretty unflattering if used as is, are sewn to the pointed edges of the lower back and fronts. The tilted edges of the lower pieces actually give our square yokes a natural fit: They force the yokes to follow a gentle downward slope, creating a shoulder slope and eliminating any bulky extra fabric. The inset allows for a naturally shaped back neckline and spans the gap left by two yoke pieces that don't quite meet in the middle. Finally, two long strips are sewn onto the front edges and joined at the back neck for the collar.

And there it is: A handful of mostly-square pieces turn into a beautifully tailored, empire-waisted A-line jacket with a bit of clever construction.

3) Details. Nora's Sweater has two major surface details that set it apart from other jackets—sweet pleats and some unusual texture patterns. Each pleat is neatly outlined with a slip stitch (which forces a mountain fold) and a corresponding purl column (which creates a valley fold). The fabric falls into pleats that stay crisp and nicely defined (Figure 3, above).

There are also three gorgeous texture patterns on this cardigan: long irregular rope cables that run from the cuff to slant up toward the neck, a sweet cable diamond that outlines lace panels at the back, and a densely patterned cable and eyelet pattern that runs the entire length of the collar (worked in two pieces joined at the back for symmetry). The long cables create an illusion of shaping at the yoke, the cable diamond adds a dramatic focal point to the construction—critical back inset, and the movement of the collar pattern draws the eye up and down. Very charming.

Make it Yours!

How could you make Nora's Sweater your own? The silhouette is flattering to nearly every figure; in the magazine, our model is wearing it with plenty of ease, and it looks very graceful. If you made it with less ease, you would have a more tailored fit.

The skirt length is very easy to adjust, since it's just straight pieces—simply knit more or less, matching the fronts to the back, to make the cardigan hit at just the right length for you.

Another adjustment worth thinking about is the slope of the points at front and back-a more dramatic slope might work for you if you want a more fitted look; a subtler one would  create a softer, more baby-doll silhouette. Because the straight yoke pieces conform to the slope, there is no other shaping to adjust.

You could also vary the depth and fullness of the pleats simply by putting the fold lines further apart or closer together.

Finally, if you have some cable patterns you've been itching to try, this sweater might provide a great canvas for them. Any cabled rib, cable panel, or dense cable pattern could stand in for the patterns at sleeve, back inset, and collar. Simply make sure that they have the same gauge, or adjust for the difference.

How will you knit Nora's Sweater? Leave a comment and let us know, and when you're done knitting your sweater, post a photo in the Reader Gallery!

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