Choosing a Yarn for Hand Knit Dresses
When you make your own clothing, you are an artist! Any knitter who knits garments is a fiber artist, and the choices you make about which yarn to knit a pattern with can have a big impact on how the finished garment turns out. Choosing yarn for hand knit dresses can be daunting, this post is designed to help with those choices!
In the case of hand knit dresses, regardless of the construction, you are creating more fabric and a heavier garment. If you skip the rest of this post, the best advice I have for you is to remember that seamless or seamed, the weight of a skirt will stretch your yarn. Your yarn choice will determine how much stretch.
Construction of a Knit Dress
Dress patterns are available in both seamed and seamless constructions. So, you'll want to consider the construction in making your yarn choice.
Generally speaking, seamless knits will lose their shape more easily than seamed. This is especially true when you're talking about a larger garment like a dress, and more true in larger sizes as well. My approach to designing dresses is often to use a kind of hybrid of seamed and seamless areas, especially with patterns that have more shape and require
For example, the Jane Dress, a pattern I'll be releasing this year, has a seamed bodice. After seaming, the skirt is picked up and worked in the round. The weight of a long skirt still absolutely stretches the short bodice, which is why I've made the choice to keep the bodice short. In my finished sample, the bodice finishes right around my natural hip after stretching.
Your yarn choice will play a huge part in the outcome of your make. Remember, this is a practice and it can take a long time to learn about all of the various fibers, yarn types, and how they behave.
You can review my short list of different yarn characteristics in my last post in this series. It's right here.
What's most relevant for dress knitting is that:
- Stretchier/drapier yarn will, of course, stretch your finished garment more.
- Yarns that pill will pill lots on the seat of a dress, and yarns that felt will also potentially felt here.
Knitting a dress is a delicate balance of these two points. Truthfully, while there may not be a perfect yarn to use, you do have options. You'll get your best results by choosing a pattern or construction that can support your yarn choice.
I would also add that hand knit dresses will likely wear harder than hand knit sweaters and may require mending sooner than a sweater. My dresses have only needed occasional attention for snags on the skirt, however someday they may require grafting or repair.
A hand knit dress is a thing of beauty, I do wear mine with care.
Shape and Stitch Pattern
The Jane Dress is my first wool dress design. I chose to use a superwash merino/nylon blend from Wildflower Yarn for this design for this blend's durability. A non superwash wool would also work well for this dress, because of the herringbone stitch pattern I chose.
A denser fabric will pill less and have more structure for a large garment like a dress. The herringbone lace stitch or a cable pattern both create denser fabrics. So do other knit-purl stitches with short repeats, knit at a tighter gauge.
A tighter gauge fabric has enough structure for a dress with sleeves particularly. Dresses with sleeves will look worse if they stretch, and it's not simple to easy to change the fit later.
Knitting a dress with a more open gauge is possible. I think it's important to know that these dresses are more delicate and require more care in wearing them. I designed two dress patterns I really love with an open, drape-y fabric.
The Renard Silk Dress is a slip dress I designed. You knit it seamlessly, with a modular twist. The waistband is knit separately, and in the opposite direction. The bodice and skirt are both picked up from the waistband. This has helped this dress keep it's shape over time.
The open gauge makes it much lighter than most knit dresses. This has helped it retain its shape overtime. Additionally, I sewed my straps together in a crossback to add some stability. If the straps stretch too much in the future, I should be able to shorten them easily.
The Therese Dress is the other design I want to highlight. I'm releasing it this Spring. I knit this dress with pure Tencel from
BzyPeach. A fiber that has lots of drape, and while I find it isn't the stretchiest plant fiber, it certainly can still stretch. However, this design is an elevated sack dress and takes advantage of the ultra drape for its shape.
I wear this dress on special occasions layered over a slip. So far it has handled that beautifully. This particular dress feels very special to me, and I do intend to handle it with extra care.
Your Project Your Choices
There is ultimately no wrong choice, however; the more you know the more you will feel in control of the garment you're making. When you choose yarn for hand knit dresses, you're making a style choice that's all your own.
If you want to go deeper, check out KnitFix and Chill with Jen & Bess, a podcast I co-host with Jen Parroccini. Our first episode is all about yarn substitutions!