Casual wardrobe planning #2 – The Tops

In my last post on my new casual wardrobe I discussed the range of tops I would like to make that might go my four casual trouser types.

I am planning to make jeans, drapey trousers, elasticated waist jogging bottoms and legging/ski pants.

To wear with them I am thinking of four knitted tops

  • short sleeve T shirt type
  • longer sleeved indoor sweater
  • cardigan or jacket
  • thick outdoor jumper that can be worn over others and instead of a jacket for spring/autumn walks

I am not sure this makes sense. Do these tops go with these bottoms? When I first thought about trousers I had jersey tops (T shirts and sweat shirts) in mind. The only one I feel confident of is the ski pants with the outdoor jumper – a sort of late 1950s apres-ski look perhaps.

I am keen on the knitting as I want to learn to be a competent knitter, and as many have suggested, knitting can fill the spaces when sewing is difficult (eg car and rail journeys). It can also, like hand sewing, be combined with social life. As Ellen W indicated, you can take your knitting into the living room and either watch the TV or talk to family members. And while I have friends who watch TV while sewing, I am a silent, solitary sewer. But I can watch over the little children and have great conversations with my husband while knitting away.

I thought I would try to draw what I had in mind. But before that let me give you the tops I am think of (not necessarily the final pattern choice, but more the garment type). I have taken the designs from the Vogue vintage knitting book I previously mentioned. I bought one other book, second hand, which has more modern Fair Isle patterns. It is Mary Jane Mucklestone Fair Isle Style. These patterns do not have a difficulty rating but I will assume that all the Fair Isle/stranded colour work patterns are fairly challenging, but I love the look and think it would work in my country setting. It is also important not to get too bored with knitting.  It is of course possible to produce a knitted jumper with some cabling or other patterned stitch instead. These patterns are necessarily my final choice.

Short sleeve pullover or Tank top

Long sleeve indoor sweater

I had originally rather fallen for this design as I really love the neckline.

Cashmere Square-neck twin set 1980
Cashmere Square-neck twin set 1980

But as Erica kindly looked up the pattern and gave me some sage advice.

“That particular pattern also has a distinct advantage for the beginner of having a cardigan without buttonholes to worry at. It is an ’80’s “vintage”, re-created in an ’80’s book, so I would bear that in mind (as they can tend to be longer and sometimes boxier than one might want today); you might want to alter it and make it shorter (easy enough to do to adjust length normally – just adjust length to armholes). There is also some detail at the bottom of the sleeves that looks a little bulky – the jumper cuffs are rib, the cardigan has a reversed piece – do you like that detail? – would you rather it was simpler? (it is not terribly clear from how it has been styled – and they have cut off the original half way down the forearm, so you can’t tell anything from where they started).

In other words look at the boxy 1980s shape, especially in terms of the fullness of the sleeve. I am not up to doing alterations so I think I will leave this one. There is plenty of time to find a better pattern.

Cardigan or Jacket

The 1980 Cashmere jumper, above, has a matching cardigan (but I am not sure I could put up with knitting two garments almost identical and in the same colour {yet I know this is the sort of garment I like to wear}. There is a nice looking “Fair Isle” twin set in one of my Vogue books that I like the look of. This also includes a long sleeve jumper and matching cardigan, in a very pretty Fair Isle floral pattern. This could equally provide the indoor sweater and cardigan requirement.

Vogue Knitting Library
1951 Fair Isle Cardigan and Sweater


The final outdoor jumper is, in some ways, the most interesting to me. Here are two tops that I love. The first one is for “adventurous beginners and it’s got that early 1960s look about it – skiwear, Norwegian, bold – that I love. I like the neckline too. But the modern “Fair Isle”, designed in 2003 by Cheryl Burke is, to my mind, stunning. It is inspired by the aurora borealis – the nothern lights – known as mirry dancers in Shetland dialect. I don’t know if you have ever seen the Northern Lights – we spent a fruitless week in the Finnish Arctic circle one year hoping to see them – but the purples and greens, luminescent and wonderful against the dark sky are certainly inspiring. However these are not my colours – I prefer a cooler palette. So if I make this sweater I would use a different set of colours.

A recent trip to Loop in Islington was with this pattern in my hand. Although I did not end up buying the yarn (which is really the wrong weight of yarn for the project – although the salesperson tried to convince me I could just use different needles as she didn’t have sufficient quantities in the DK weight), I did love the colours. I especially would like to have yellow in the mix if I were to make this pattern. These bright, cool colours are the colours I wear and really love.

Quince and Co Finch 4 ply
Quince and Co Finch 4 ply

Some months ago, when I started to think about a casual wardrobe Joyce suggested a casual wardrobe inspired by our new holiday home in the Cotswolds. I think she was rather disappointed when I choose a colour scheme related to the environment – navy blue (the lakes), green/brown (vegetation), light grey/white (sky, clouds). I think she found me unadventurous. But now I have been thinking about knitting with colour the idea is occurring to me of a navy wardrobe (supported by the neutrals of white and light grey) with splashes of colour. I think this is more me.

18 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Great choices, K. I am especially drawn to the third short-sleeved fair isle. I’ve wanted to do a simple fair isle knit for some time, but I won’t copy you for SWAP! 🙂 The other sweater I’m particularly drawn to is the Norwegian ski one. You’re making me think about shapes in knitwear that I haven’t thought about for a long time. That one I like as the yoke sits a bit lower – draping over the shoulders in a flattering way – and the higher collar is a nice detail, lengthening the neck. I also like the 80s shape and the vertical stripes in lower part of the design. The final effect is quite chic I think. The Mirry Dancers sweater is also beautiful for the colour opportunities – I can imagine something quite striking. Thanks, too, for showing the Finch yarn. I had been looking at that 4 ply online recently as it comes from the US and so had seemed an alternative for me for some of the work that I am going to do (I settled on Brooklyn Tweed for this round instead, as I like a tweedy palette and that also is from nearby, but I will try the Finch for another project at some point now that I see how striking the colours are). Have fun with all of these lovely projects!

  2. Anne

    Nice choices.
    I used to knit but haven’t for a while. Like you, I preferred some interest. Unlike you, I could never do anything else that would distract me – I never got past having to watch my stitch. I have no plans to take up hand knitting again in any big way but do see the advantages of portability.

  3. Joyce Latham

    Disappointed? Never! I,m excited for the navy base…it will be fabulous!
    I like all the sweater styles. I think the t is useful , even with the fuller pants. Jeans usually go with anything and the thicker ones I’d wear long with tight legged ones. I just love a twin set, it does suggest “mother” and lots of times I want that,especially being a grandmother.
    Do you like a high neck? It can be bothersome of your not used to them, and depending on the feel of the yarn I suppose.
    That colourful northern lights influence sweater is phenomenal …..please make that one.
    So exciting!

  4. Lynn Mally

    I admire your courage in tackling these knitting project. Perhaps I’ve mentioned that after four years with knitting needles I am still making scarves! BTW, here in the US we call “elasticated waist pants” “pull on pants.” It’s less of a mouthful, don’t you think?

  5. Karen Kayes

    I think your knits would be lovely with jeans and ski trousers but not sure about the other 2. Your figure really suits fitted styles and on all the older knitting patterns shaping is often not included for the waist and even then it’s very simple and often unflattering (just decreases at the side) unlike vintage sewing patterns which are designed to give shape. Very odd! You need to do short rows front and back to get a decent fit – equivalent to darts. Patterns with a yoke design I think would really suit your figure and give great shaping at the neckline too. I’ve had lots of success with those.

  6. Esther

    I have knitted the Mary Jane Mucklestone short sleeve top and it is lovely. Fitted but simple to knit with rest sections of plain knitting after the fair isle bands – which are nice and simple patterns. I used variegated sock yarn as my fair isle pattern colours as I had lots of ends to use up. I also used Drops 4ply yarn as it is cheap but pure wool or wool/alpaca so would be a good place to start without a huge outlay on yarn. Drops also do lots of free patterns including the ski style/Icelandic style heavier knits. Happy knitting :0)

  7. Linda Wilson

    I love an eighties twinset!
    Those patterned knits look great too! But I’d have to concentrate very hard knitting these and would find it very time consuming. Hope you enjoy the learning and the process and I look forward to seeing the finished pieces

  8. SJ Kurtz

    Knitting was a great friend during the mom duties of attending the lessons and the classes of my children. I was the only knitter in most of these situations. One of the last projects I knitted (had to stop, hand issues) was a rewritten Bohus Wild Apple (I call it the Mild Apple, I only had two colors in each row and got it down to 14 colors in the yoke). It was lovely. And then I hand washed it. The yoke felted and the body grew.
    I still wear it, generally speaking no one knows there’s something wrong with it. It’s … interesting. It is beautiful.

    The moral of the story: use the same kind of yarn all the way through.
    And sock yarn grows.

  9. Annieloveslinen

    To understand fit and the vagaries of wool you may need to just jump in and have a go.
    I echo Karen’s thoughts on shaping. Modern techniques and vintage style would be my preference because shaping is more refined. That said, you have the perfect proportions for close fitting 1930s style knits and for those vintage patterns would be fine, but a sweater in heavier yarn may turn out boxier from mid section to hem, that pink and brown sweater looks too loose around the model’s waist.

    I’m also on a blue theme for autumn winter, great minds.

  10. Kim Hood

    I like your choices, especially that square necked twin set but I agree that it may get boring to knit. I have knitted fair isle designs before and I’m sure you would cope – take care with passing the yarn behind or you can over tighten the tension. I’m inclined to choose patterns with a textured stitch rather than several colours but I may review that for this winters projects.

  11. ellen

    Lovely! That Mirry Dancers sweater is actually a great one to start with for stranded knitting. And honestly, the fair isle ones are also straightforward (just very fine yarn, which will make them slow–I’d find a pattern with sport weight yarn to start with, so it doesn’t seem like you will be knitting the same thing for the rest of time).

    Also, look for patterns where any given row only has two colors–and all of these fit the bill. You’ll be surprised how easy it is once you get the hang of it

    The other nice thing about the Mirry one is that it’s knit in the round. I find that easier for stranded, as you can readily see the logic of the emerging pattern. The one thing to watch out for there is that you can end up with a bit of a diagonal bias. (Easy to fix during blocking.)

    As SJ notes, use the same yarn all the way through. And I’d add, use pure wool–not a blend. Cotton and linen both stretch; haven’t used bamboo or rayon enough to say but it stands to reason they are also prone to it. Cascadian 220 is my go to yarn for projects like the Mirry; if you are feeling indulgent and it’s available in the UK, look for Brooklyn Tweed’s yarns. They are a nice old-school-feeling wool, but with a gorgeous contemporary palette. (But very dear!) But guessing you have many more options for traditional wool….

    Good luck!

  12. PendleStitches

    Knitting is such a joy. I always have at least one project on the go. And it’s great to chose patterns and colours that go with other garments in your wardrobe. They get so much wear then. I’m about to start a second outdoor sweater, a lovely boxy one by Joji Locatelli. I love her patterns for simple, mindless, tv knitting! Can’t wait to see how your projects progress.

  13. Jennifer Miller

    Oh goodness, I love the twin set! And the modern Fair Isle is fantastic! I’ll be so interested your color assortment for that one. I shall just admire the work of you and other knitters from afar, I seem to be all thumbs!

    • fabrickated

      Jen – I stayed away from knitting for years, so scared that I would be unable to complete a garment (I failed a few times), but I am determined to crack it this time if it kills me. When I have I feel it will open up so many new possibilities.

  14. Giorgia

    Oh my, planning a wardrobe from scratch is exciting isn’t it? Tricky though, when you get into all the variables that handmade offers it’s a labyrinth of choices… I’m not really sure how to advise on the shapes and matching of top and bottoms (I am still working on that myself) but I second most people opinion here that a bulky and colourful jumper is going to be a more fun knitting exercise than the twin set (which is beautiful and would definitely suit you, by the way). Besides, I love fair isle knitting! Haven’t tried it myself but it’s been in the books for a good couple of years now. Finally, looking at your skeins made me think of colours again! I love them all and I really look up to the clarity and control you have over your colours.

    With regards to knitting, my favourite project is usually hats. I love wearing hats and knitting is a versatile craft so in a very small project you can fit cabling, colours, textures and shapes. Besides it’s a super portable project. Maybe if you’re not sure you can try fair isle on a tam first and see how that goes before attempting a full scale jumper?

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