Every few months, a new pattern that resembles a Chanel jacket surfaces in the
knitting scene. Why are we so obsessed with Chanel? Coco is my heroine because
she elevated the lowly knit through styling, fabric choice and sheer creative genius
to the height of fashion and sophistication.
What is more luxurious than a Chanel? Many of us try to imitate the look, but with
little success. I believe the reason so many fail is that they focus on the exterior
trappings of the classic jacket—the round-collared neck and square pockets,
ornamented with a contrasting trim. You can knit up jackets all day long that are the
shape of a Chanel jacket, but without the luxe look of the woven Italian textiles
adopted by the house of Chanel, the end result is often cheap-looking and sad.
Instead of living up to the image of Chanel, the garment depresses us because of
how far it has fallen from the ideal. This is often the fault of execution,
but it can also help to look at the designs out there and learn to analyze the
elements that suit the purpose of the jacket you are dreaming of.
Here is an example of the use of variegated yarns and textured stitches to achieve a
look that may be inspired by a Chanel jacket. This is an ingenious design, and there
are some great ideas in this jacket. However, most knitted jackets do not compare
to an actual look from the Chanel fall/winter 2012 Couture show:
These jackets are both wonderful and unique in their own ways, but one looks like
couture and one does not. Why?
1. The hand-knitted jacket does not fit the model. The luxury look is
all about tailoring and good fit. By contrast, the proportions of the hand-knitted
jacket are off, in fact the garment swallows the delicate woman wearing it. This is
probably not the designers' intention, but just happened that for the purposes of a
photo shoot a larger jacket was put on a smaller model. However, we see this every
day with our own hand knits, which do not end up fitting us properly. Note
how, by contrast, the Chanel jacket flatters the models’ body and looks expensive
because of the correct proportions and tailoring.
The fastest way to elevate your knits to a designer look is to learn your
measurements, and choose a pattern with proportions that flatter your figure.
Customize the sleeves to your arm length, and make sure the jacket is not
too long on you. It should sit at the top third of your hips, above the widest part,
as Chanel believed this was the most flattering length. You can also play with
length like the two real Chanel jackets posted here--the green one is exaggeratedly
cropped, the silver one long, but remember your proportions and what looks best on
you. Chanel jackets also have high arms and well-fitted arm scythes and shoulders,
so do not start decreasing for the armhole too soon, it should be a bit higher than
you are used to. Make sure you also decrease enough for the armhole so that
the top of the jacket sits on your shoulders properly, without creating extra bulk
due to loose fabric bunching around the arm. For example, when I make a jacket,
I know that the correct width at the shoulders for front and back pieces for me is 15
inches, and then it will sit correctly on my shoulders, so if I have to add extra
armhole decreases to make the garment narrower towards the shoulders, and make
my sleeve cap a bit taller to compensate, I make those modifications every time.
2. The variegated yarn colors in the knitted jacket are bright and diverse. This is a
popular look in the knitting world, and there is much to recommend it. It
creates a look that is folk arty and fun, but it is not necessarily high
fashion. Variegated yarns are popular because they produce a colorful look without
resorting to yarn combining or color work, but they do not always look expensive. I
learned this years ago, based on a consensus by my readers. I had posted photos of
my knitting on my blog, asking my readers to vote on which tops and sweaters
were work-appropriate. Almost all of my readers felt that the pieces knitted in
variegated yarn were pretty, but too informal to wear in the work place.
Although there are some expensive and beautiful variegated yarns available to us, I
do believe we must be discriminating in analyzing their appropriateness for an
expensive-looking piece. If you look at the subtle variegation in the
Chanel jacket, and compare it to the strident color differences in many variegated
yarns, you see the difference immediately. Look at how quiet the
the color variations are in the woven Chanel fabric--all the colors are cool
grey-toned colors, and their differences are highlighted through uses of metallics
and neutrals. By comparison, high-contrast colors in hand knits can seem stronger
because of their brightness, and draw the focus away from the wearer and the
structure of the garment itself. In many variegated yarns, we have the additional
problem of random striping and pooling, made all the more obvious by marked
differences in the colors of the variegated yarn. I recommend using a subtle
tweed instead of a variegated yarn, or pairing a metallic or silk
thread with a merino that is similar in color to create the subtle variation
suitable for a luxury look.
3. The materials in many knitted jackets look less expensive than those in the
designer pieces they are emulating. Most Chanel jackets are made of woven fabric
from Italy, incorporating expensive materials such as silk,
merino, mohair/alpaca and metallics. Perhaps it is possible to make a
luxurious, expensive-looking jacket with cheap materials, but I believe
that you are increasing your difficulties a thousand-fold. If you plan to
spend a month knitting your jacket and another two weeks at least lining it by hand,
your expenditure of time is worth something, and you deserve to use expensive
materials. It is my personal feeling that a Chanel-inspired project is one that I
should save up for so that I can splurge on fabulous, high quality yarn that will
justify all my time and effort with a luxury look. This means I will not be knitting
Chanel jackets all the time, but after all, how many does a girl really need?
Achieve the luster of a designer piece by using pure merinos by reputable
companies, such as Karabella and Marion Foale, or pure silks and silk blends, such as
Habu NS28, Malabrigo silky wool, Handmaiden sea silk, or use high-quality metallic
threads for a knitting splurge. Remember, if the yarn looks cheap, your jacket will
4. The material of the Chanel jacket is finer than that of the hand-knitted piece.
The problem with trying to achieve a knitted fabric that looks woven is that the
combination of knit and purl stitches can create a bulky fabric which is not figure
flattering or elegant. This, to me, is the biggest challenge because knitting is more
limited than weaving is, and to produce a woven-looking effect that is still fine
enough to have drape can be quite tricky.
If you plan to line your jacket, don't use a pattern with a gage less than 24 sts = 4
inches. Avoid worsted weight and bulky yarns, and if you are using a textured
pattern to emulate a woven fabric, keep the yarns you use as fine as possible, as the
textured pattern will create more bulk.
This all seems rather complicated, and intimidating at first. Luckily, knitting
designers like Jean Frost have spent years experimenting with stitch patterns and
yarns that, when used judiciously, can create a jacket that resembles couture. I
believe strongly, however, that you should use your own taste and discrimination in
choosing yarns and designs rather than blindly relying on a knitting designer to
create a pattern that will elevate your knitting to couture. I had to make many
changes to Jean Frosts' wonderful pattern, Emerald Blocks, before I was satisfied
that it had the look that I wanted. If you don't invest the extra time on the finishing
details, such as the shape of the collar, the buttonholes and the trim, you
may feel that your time and money have been spent in vain.
Jean Frost published the pattern, “Emerald Blocks” last year in the Fall 2011 issue of
Knitter’s Magazine. This, to me, seemed like a much better approach to a Chanel
than the ones I had seen before, because the drama was all generated by a braided
crocheted trim which was easy to achieve, and was executed in subtle colors instead
of some extravagant feathers or rainbowed braid. Also, the fabric used for the body
of the jacket is subtle and fine, using a monochromatic yarn at a gage of 28 sts = 4
inches. Frost’s slip stitch pattern, to me, was one of the best emulations of a
woven-looking fabric I had seen, and I increased the woven look by using double
thread in a laceweight instead of a single 4ply thread, so that there were 2 separate
threads visible every time the yarn was passed in front of the slipped stitches, and
so the “woven” look was enhanced.
I chose Marion Foale’s 3ply Merino yarn in a deep teal, a high quality yarn that looks
expensive, in my opinion. It was really a fun project, and for the most part the
result matched my expectations.
The only complaint I have with the pattern is that for some reason, the round
neckline was far too low—it came out 5 inches below the collar bone instead of the
usual 3 inches for a standard jacket, which looked very strange. Unfortunately, I had
not basted all of my pieces together and tried the jacket on as a whole garment
before I had quilted a silk lining to each piece, so there was really no going back
after I sewed the whole jacket together. I strongly advise doing this to anyone who
knits this pattern. In the end, I solved the gap problem by picking up stitches around
the neckline and creating a collar. However, I feel that the collar, such as it is really
detracts from the look of the piece and betrays it as "hand-made".
A small detail such as buttonholes can also ruin the appearance of a formal jacket
like this, and cheapen the look. The buttonhole technique used by the pattern was
not easy to master, and to me, created a gapping look which was not up to par with
the rest of the garment. In the end, I used a technique that bounded the cast off
stitch with knit 2 togethers so that the hole was firmly bound, which gave it a more
One of the keys to success with ambitious projects is knowing your own limitations. I
am not an experienced crocheter, so I did not try to create the crocheted braid
myself. I was lucky enough to have the help of the master knitter, Pipapo, who
created a gorgeous crocheted and braided trim for me, which I sewed on to the
edges by hand (whip-stitching technique), and then I added antique glass buttons,
which I secured using a muslin backing behind the knitted fabric, which was then
hidden by the lining I sewed underneath.
For a first attempt at such an ambitious project, I saw that it was imperfect, but I
was pretty happy with it all the same. It is a functional winter jacket, and it
is work appropriate, and it makes me feel stylish, which is all that matters in the
end. In part two, I will write some tips for lining the jacket by hand with silk.