The handmade wardrobe conundrum

The handmade wardrobe conundrum

Here’s the difficulty about knitting your own sweaters — for me, anyway: If I’m spending the time and money to make my own sweater, I want it to have as much longevity as possible. To not be anything trendy or that will look dated in a year or two, or that I’m likely to fall out of love with for whatever reason. This is true of purchased and sewn clothing, but infinitely more true of handknits. So I try to keep it classic. However, a closet full of classics is in jeopardy of being boring — both to make and to wear.

Take this black cardigan I’m working on, for instance. I’m at the point where I need to decide which direction I’m going with the shaping and then the edgings. The pragmatic thing to do is to keep it simple and basic (especially for a black, wear-everywhere cardigan!) — like the sketch on the right up there. But I have an overwhelming urge to make it more of a kimono shape. Wide sleeves, wide garter-stitch edgings, probably even a belt. Little kimono jackets are so trendy right now, and I LOVE them, but how long will I feel that way? Will I be on the blog a year from now lamenting the fact that I still don’t have a basic go-everywhere black cardigan that will be with me for a decade or more? Can I not knit the classic and sew a kimono jacket? In addition to the timelessness factor, there’s also the fact that I don’t really enjoy wearing garments with wide sleeves. They’re always dragging things across the table with them, and there’s no way to push them up out of the way when you need to. Clearly the Right Thing To Do is knit the sweater on the right — the sweater I want to wear. But what I want to knit is the sweater on the left.

Yes, I can also rip out those edges and sleeves and transform sweater A into sweater B at any future point in time, but will I? Maybe I will …


47 thoughts on “The handmade wardrobe conundrum

  1. neither of those sweaters look so trendy that you wouldn’t wear them in a year or two. A cropped sweater with wide sleeves could be a wardrobe staple for a long time!

      • I know that I am a day late, but I’d still like to put in my 2 cents! I would suggest that you make the sweater with the kimono sleeves. Kimono sleeves are not at all trendy in my opinion. After all the Japanese have been wearing kimono sleeves for hundreds, if not thousands, of years!

  2. The sweater on the left looks pretty darn classic to me…perhaps not as “traditional classic” as the one on the right, but classic nonetheless.

  3. I understand, and you are right on all counts – the kimono is so cute! and the sleeves will drive you nuts. And you likely won’t rip them back and reknit them.

    So, what if you keep searching ravelry and looking at patterns and find a third alternative – one that is fun to knit, will be with you longer, and doesn’t need to be reknit in the future? What if the sleeves aren’t so big? They don’t need to have ribbed cuffs to not drag across everything you do. :-)

  4. Can you do some sort of hybrid of the two? Or maybe make the kimono sleeves 3/4 length, so they don’t drag?

  5. I made Ysolda’s Cria, it is simple, but with wide garter edged sleeves. It’s grey ( my black) and I wear it ALL the time. I made it a few years ago and when it starts to wear out I will make another. You should check it out.

  6. If you walk into the studio wearing that non-Karen kimono on the left, I will laugh and point. Knit the one on the right.

  7. I get it…the sweaters that I wear the most are often the least interesting to knit. This is the reason that Fair Isle little projects were invented!

  8. I so want you to knit the kimono jacket. You need something in your wardrobe that has a bit of trend and you WILL rework the sleeves later if you get tired of the wider sleeve. Frankly, I think kimono jackets are classic as well. They’re a staple in my wardrobe.

  9. You could knit a modified kimono that would be a classic.

    You could knit a straight classic sweater.

    My studies on building a wardrobe is that you go with classic pieces for the foundation, and go trendy with tops and accessories.

  10. I cast my vote for 3/4 or elbow length sleeves on the kimono style if you go that route. I actually had to markedly enlarge both pictures quite a bit to determine the difference between cardigans right and left. This is not your one and only shot at either piece! I am with you in the thought and time challenge as well as the to knit…or to sew…except that you are actually sewing right now and I am not. I also need a basic black cardigan. I’m eagerly following every twist and turn of this saga, building the courage to draft my own pattern. Slowly.

  11. I know that Kimonos are riding a wave right now but in all seriousness they ARE a classic and basic shape same as the one you drew on the right! I might just be suffering from fashion amnesia (sooo contagious) but I don’t really remember them ever being out of place in anyones wardrobe really. I vote for doing what you want the most and then just rib and reknit if you’re ever over it, that just equals more knitting which is good right?

  12. The one on the left looks like Madder’s Uniform Cardi, which you listed a few weeks ago among your V-neck basic cardis ! It has the garter stitch edges, the A line, the bell sleeves, and the belt !
    So, as you said yourself, it’s a classic !
    But, on the other side, if you are making Channel in camel, it will have a belt. Do you really need two belted cardis ? (I certainly don’t !).
    Basic sweaters are certainly boring to knit, but they are the more worn and loved in the end.
    I’d knit the one on the right, and sew a kimono jacket.

  13. There are few styles more classic than the kimono which has been around for centuries. Slightly shorten and narrow the sleeves and keep them straighter rather than bell shaped, and they can be folded up when you have to wash the dishes , while still retaining the “spirit” of the kimono. The kimono sweater may be “on trend”, but its definitely not “trendy” in the sense of here today, gone tomorrow. And sweaters that we love get worn the most of all.

  14. I think I would make my nice classic sweaters, but then go trendy with blouses, slacks and accessories. But I also think you should free yourself from concern about being on trend, and wear what you love for as long as you love it.

  15. I’d think about the yarn you are using. Will it drape enough for a kimono? The picture to me on the right looks more like your yarn to me.

  16. actual kimonos do not have full length sleeves;) why not go with 3/4 or even better: bracelet length sleeves? let your wrists show! wear a bracelet. let the sleeve of whatever you have underneath show. or just let your wrists be your accessory :)

  17. Do not like full sleeves myself. I just knit The Uniform sweater and so happy that I made the narrow sleeves. If you have thin wrist a more narrow cuff only makes sense (to me).

  18. I like the look of the kimono sweater. If the sleeves could be in between tight and flowing you could always just change the cuff later not a major update.

  19. I think both sweaters inspirations are lovely, but I wonder if the knitted kimono sleeves might be too heavy. I have a wide-sleeved sweater that I never wear because I feel like my arms get lost in the thick material. And I just can’t fit the bulk of the sleeves into a jacket.

  20. I think you answered your own question with the observation about wide sleeves (and I’m right there with you on that — they’re so great to look at but SUCH a drag to wear, especially if you have to stuff them into a coat at any point in time).

    But how’s about this for a compromise: you make the more standard knit on the right, then you buy some wool boucle, a sweater knit, or even raw silk and sew a kimono. Kimonos are ridiculously easy to draft and sew, so if you’re itching to have one RIGHT NOW you’ll be able to do so in no time, and then you’ll have your other long-planned sweater when you’re done knitting. Win-win!

    • I totally relate to this conundrum. I guess I have two answers – like KC, I try to think about investment in trendy vs classic, and sewing is faster than knitting, and kimonos are easy to sew; but then, what I want in the end is to look interesting and unique, and maybe in cleaving to my own taste (in this case, kimono), I end up with classic-for-me, which will also achieve interesting and unique because my wardrobe will be in the end a rich expression of my aesthetic. And I can wear it for a long time because it will continue to go with my aesthetic. I think you’ve done this in your fashionary posts already – identify what’s classic-for-you.

  21. maybe it’s because I live in a place that is cold 3/4 of the year so I am always thinking about “how warm is this going to keep me?” esp with handknits that are so cozy. to me, the kimono cardigan will not layer well in that I couldn’t wear it under a jacket without the sleeves bunching up and without being able to button it, I can’t keep my trunk warm either. the classic cardigan will have slimmer sleeves and I can layer both above and below it.

    however, because you are knitting it in linen, this is probably going to be a summer cardigan where I think the kimono silhouette is more suited to summer outfits with a lot of ease and you won’t need to layer a jacket over your cardigan (god bless nashville). your channel cardigan is going to be your cold weather cardigan so I think you can do a kimono in linen :)

    • HOLD ON garter edge + linen might be too wide and heavy especially if the sleeves are already going to be wide. have you done a garter swatch in the linen quill? quince and co posted before and after swatch pictures of sparrow and the swatch just grows so much!!! be careful!

  22. I have a kimono jacket that I sewed 20 years ago. It’s still a go-to whenever I want a classic, yet contemporary and sophisticated, look, and I still get compliments on it. So yeah, I’d call that a classic.

  23. I also wear my black Minimalist cardigan a lot after 5 or 6 years–can’t remember when I made it. It’s quite similar to the one you are designing.

  24. When I started knitting sweaters I made a bunch of trendy sweaters and now I am trying to focus on classic styles knit in practical colors. But since I’ve got a lot of practice in, the basics fly off the needles in 30 – 45 days on average. I hope to learn to sew in the near future so I will definitely be taking into consideration my experience with handknits. Pattern selection is a big deal! (Picking colors that don’t show dog hair may be the biggest deal.)

  25. I understand the dilemma. The question is how many classics do you have now? Do you want another classic or something a bit on trend? What could you do with the kimono knit? I would. Firstly If I was knitting the kimono knit I would not make the belt loops so obvious so you could wear it with or without the belt loops. Also I would look at a way of having hidden buttons so you could change the shape by doing it up without compromising kimono look if you wanted it. Lastly you could always sew in some elastic or wool down the track to tighten the cuffs without ever having to redo the sleeves. Problems all solved! Hopefully…..

  26. Well, the sweater on the left does not sport any kimono sleeve I’ve ever seen and worn. The only drawback, that I see, is the inability to push the sleeves up a little, like I sometimes do. But hey, you are an experienced knitter, what is one sweater that is a little “out of the box” (maybe). I have a friend who knits all her own tops, in all types of yarns, colors, and designs…she has even worn some special ones to black tie events, and they are fabulous. In a basic pair of trousers/skirt and one of her wonderful tops, she looks chic all the time!

  27. I feel like I’d have to know you a lot better to give any meaningful opinion, but thanks for bringing up the topic! I struggle with this, too, and it’s interesting to read the discussion.

    For me, I think the answer comes down to grappling with my risk-aversion and perfectionism. My taste runs to “classic”, I don’t follow trends (or I don’t *think* I do), but if I take a brutally honest look back at the shapes and styles I’ve loved wearing over the past couple decades, I can see that my taste changes through time. I don’t know that there’s really anything wrong with that, and I think it means that as much as I try to choose projects that will have staying power, I don’t think I can perfectly predict what my workhorse items will be 5-10 years from now. Certainly if you’d asked me 5-10 years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined I’d love my current faves as much as I do (some of them I would have been violently opposed to!).

    So I’ve decided that worrying excessively about predicting what I’ll still love in 5+ years is yet another insidious constraint my perfectionist streak puts on my creativity. All I can do is make something I love now, and see what happens. If I fall out of love with it down the line (or my lifestyle or body change in ways that make it no longer work for me), I can figure out then how to deal with that in a way that satisfies my principles, whether it’s finding it a new home, refashioning, or recycling the materials. I shouldn’t consider it a mistake if that’s what happens — I loved it as long as I did, and I learned things and fulfilled my need to make things, and those all count, too.

    • Well said. I had similar ambitions of knitting items I would wear for decades. But not only do my tastes change over time, and surprisingly quickly sometimes, I have also gotten very proficient at knitting over the years. Those “classic” garments are starting to pile up and I can’t get around to wearing all of them. And I still want to knit new things all the time. So I have branched out to making more “interesting” styles and freed myself from the thought that my knits must last a lifetime because of all the work that has gone into them. The knitting is a necessary pastime for me and a process. Things will have to get recycled or gifted at some point. Though I am saving some of the very special pieces for my daughter when she grows up, if she’ll have them.

  28. I’m quite happy to make something I love now, and when it doesn’t feel right any more – safely store it until it feels right again. Because if you truly love it, its time will come again.

  29. IMHO you can’t go wrong with either, but as a very slow knitter I empathize. If I make a sweater, I want it to last and be versatile enough to remain wear-worthy for a very. long. time.

    I abandoned trends long ago, so I’m probably not the person to listen to. That said, I have two kimono-style jackets in my closet (both hand sewn, my sister made one for me and I made the other). They’re both well over 10 years old (did I mention I don’t follow trends?) but they’re in great shape, at the top of my go-to list and get worn regularly.

    With your combination of sewing and knitting skills, if you decide down the road the kimono look no longer appeals, you have all the talent you need to modify it to freshen the look to suit your evolving tastes. Looking forward to seeing what you decide to do.

  30. Kimonos have been around for centuries, so in my book, it is a classic. On the fashion side, the trend comes back at regular intervals. So if you get tired of it, store it for a while and bring it out again a few years later… On the selfish side, I would love to see how this turns out, and get your knitting lessons from it. Decisions, decisions…. Advice from another blogger : flip a coin and your immediate reaction to the result will tell you which one you truly prefer.

  31. Ah you need a button and a tab on the sleeves edges. That. Way youvan cinch the wide sleeves in when you have work to do.

  32. i have made countless garments and i find that in the end i should have stuck with the classic. because when i take it a different direction for more excitement in my knitting, i get done and think “Cool. I did it.” Then it sits in the closet and eventually gets given to someone else to wear.

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  34. I find this one of the hardest parts of knitting, will I still want to wear this in five or ten years? I’m I just producing or really making for myself. I would stick with your gut reaction, I find that I’m always happiest with the classic pieces for the bigger projects and a little bit trendy for the smaller projects.

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