Recently, I shared my Birthday Dress with you. This is a dress I knit from my Alice Tee pattern (find it here on Rav). In this newsletter you'll find my tips for creating your own custom dress from a sweater or tee pattern. You'll also get the scoop on the mods I made to this dress myself.
Handknit dresses are having a huge moment in fashion right now. I love it, I think knit dresses are stunning achievements in the portfolio of any garment maker. Knit dresses are incredibly wearable, especially in plant fibers during warmer months. At any yarn weight or gauge, they require dedication and a certain level of mastery to execute. Yarn selection, shaping, and measurements need to be more precise because these choices hold more weight (literally) when knitting a dress.
Choosing a Base Pattern
Assuming you're looking to modify an existing garment pattern into a dress, choosing a strong starting point helps a lot. Choose a pattern with good fit information (like intended ease) and a detailed schematic. Seamed patterns can be intimidating but in many cases will make a much more tailored finished dress. Top-down seamless patterns offer an advantage if you're not sure exactly how much yarn you'll need, or if you have a limited amount. At the end of the day, a well written pattern is always a better base for modification.you're lookg to modify an existing garment pattern into a dress, choosing a strong starting point helps a lot. Choose a pattern with good fit information (like intended ease) and a detailed schematic. Seamed patterns can be intimidating but in many cases will make a much more tailored finished dress. Top-down seamless patterns offer an advantage if you're not sure exactly how much yarn you'll need, or if you have a limited amount. At the end of the day, a well written pattern is always a better base for modification.
Yarn selection is one of the most crucial choices you make with any project. This is even more true when your intention is to knit a dress.
Dresses are, obviously, longer than tops. That means that whichever pattern you choose to modify, you'll be adding extra weight to it. For this reason, loftier, lighter yarn is highly recommended.
If you're working with a pattern for DK, worsted, or bulky weight yarn, choose a lofty yarn. Consider that adding a long skirt to these heavier yarns is almost certainly going to create distortion. Places that are most likely to be distorted are the shoulders, neckline, armholes and the waist shaping if there is any. Hand knit dresses knit with wools in these weights will work best if they are above the knee, and if they include seaming.
Lighter weight plant fibers in fingering and sport weight can make incredible, highly usable dresses. These fibers will not cause as much distortion when knit at an heirloom gauge, additionally they are breathable enough to be comfortable during several seasons.
I designed the Jane Dress in DK weight, superwash merino. The construction of this dress is intentional to protect the bodice from distortion as much as possible. The bodice and sleeves of this dress are knit flat and seamed. After seaming, the skirt is picked up and knit in the round top down. This creates structure to hold the weight of the skirt.
Construction and Fit
You could use this same style of construction that I used with Jane to add a skirt to any existing, seamed sweater pattern. Look for a seamed cropped sweater which ends around your natural waist, or a bit higher as the skirt will likely pull the waistline down. (Do not count any ribbed trim at the bottom if you don't intend to knit it). After you complete the sweater and seam, pick up stitches from around the base. You can work one round of increases to add stitches for your hip measurement plus ease, or shape in a more A-line manner over time.
Bust and Butt Darts
Speaking of hips and butts, the most frequently asked question I've gotten about this dress have been about the hip and butt shaping.
I did not add darts to this design. In fact, I did not use typical horizontal bust darts for my bust either. This is for two reasons primarily.
First, I chose to work with a hand painted, speckled yarn. Short rows in this type of yarn will create obvious lemon shapes that I find distracting. I opted for vertical bust darts instead to keep the most consistent layout of speckles. I added a few extra stitches to the front only based on my measurements. Then, I decreased those stitches out of the side seams after reaching my bust apex.
You absolutely can work short rows both for bust and butt shaping in a dress. However, much like vertical bust darts you can also choose to shape for your butt with additional increases along the side seams or at princess seam locations. You can work these decreases all around, or in the back only.
I chose to add extra increases in both the front and back of this garment. In addition to having a full butt, I also have full hips and thighs. I personally feel that increasing the width all the way around works best for me. If you find that your dresses ride up in the back, adding short rows for your backside can be a great help. As a starting point, add about 5 inches or 12.5 centimeters of length across the back only.
In addition to vertical bust darts and increased hip shaping, I added extra waist shaping to this dress. The original pattern does not include waist shaping and I love that for a tee. For this dress, adding waist shaping allowed me to create a more precise fit which keeps this garment in place... very important for short t-shirt style dresses.
Initially, I decreased the overall circumference about 2 inches or 5 cm for the waist and then began increasing about 1/2 inch or 1 cm later. When I finished knitting this garment, I had made the whole thing a little shorter than I preferred. I decided to do all of the finishing, and then perform surgery to add length just to the waist. This ended up being just perfect as it lowered the hip shaping and more closely followed the contour of my body. I ended up adding about 2 additional inches, 5 cm.
You can knit a dress!
Knitting a dress for yourself is a grand experiment. One that starts with your measurements and your ease in reading a schematic. If you've been eyeing projects like these, I can't encourage you enough! Go for it, be prepared for surgery to achieve that very perfect length, and take the time you need to complete a garment you love at a pace that won't burn you out.
Have you knit a dress before? Are you ready to try? I'd love to hear from you about your experiences, your questions, or any other thoughts on hand knit dresses! Comment below and share with me.
Until next time, Happy Knitting!