Reader Request: Styling Boxy Handknits

How to wear chunky sweaters
An anonymous reader threw this bad boy into the suggestion box:

All the women in my family are knitters and so I have a lot of hand-made sweaters and cardigans. The problem with these are they tend to be not very well fitting and also they somehow don’t look very polished. I would never give them away, but at the same time I feel bad for not wearing them enough. I know belting is one option, but it doesn’t always work with all kinds of sweaters. Mostly I end up wearing them when I’m going for the relaxed, slouchy look. Any suggestions on how to incorporate them more into my daily rotation?

Although I’ve never been gifted a hand-knit sweater, I’ve certainly owned ones that sound similar to the ones the reader has described: A big bit, possibly boxy and thick, don’t take kindly to belting. And the fact is that an ill-fitting sweater is always going to look like an ill-fitting sweater because … well, it doesn’t FIT you. A hand-knit sweater that fits your bod, flatters your curves, and sits happily in place can look as pretty and posh as a designer one. But floppy and loose are tough, especially when combined with bulky. So here’s what I’d suggest if you’re in possession of a few loose, boxy sweaters.

  1. Skinny pants or jeans: If you’re comfortable in this style of pant and your figure is such that wearing them with a loose sweater on top will create the boxy-top, sleek bottom dichotomy, go for it. Throw a contrasting color tank top under the sweater if it’s too short on its own.
  2. Balance with boots: A biggish top calls out for biggish shoes, in my opinion. Tinker with a few boot-based ensembles.
  3. Long skirt: If you can find a floor-length skirt that both flares at the hem AND hugs a little at the hip, it can work with these loose sweaters. Scrutinize in the mirror first, though, as you may get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fabric you’re wearing.
  4. Mini skirt: And on the opposite end of the spectrum, a fitted mini can look super cute with bulky, boxy knits. Pair with tights and boots for a funky fall or winter look.
  5. Add jewelry: An oversized sweater in a solid color can be made sassy and chic simply by donning a long necklace. Or roll up your sleeves and slap on a chunky cuff bracelet for a modern look.

For some examples of oversized knits done well, poke around Pinterest.

The reader request was for ways to make these items look more polished, but most of these tips still skew casual. I think it can be truly tough to style this kind of knit for a semi-conservative office environment, but hopefully some of these ideas will work for business creative or business casual!

Image courtesy madelinetosh. (Not that this sweater is undesirable, you understand. I actually think it’s quite cute.)

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  • Kelly @ blackdog finds

    I think Sal's right on target with picking something sleek to off-set the boxiness. I think playing with proportions will be your best bet to making it work. Julie at Orchid Grey does ithere is a good example.

  • Someone

    I can't really answer this well because I myself am a knitter and do not knit boxy or bulky items, neither have I been given any.

    The reason I comment though is that readers and knitters should know (though most knitters probably already do) that today's knitting patterns have TONS of options that are fashion-forward and flattering!

    So if there are knitters out there who want to give others some handmade gifts, there are WAY more flattering and fun patterns to choose from than what most people assume.

    Maybe this giftee can let her relatives know which knit items she would love to have them knit for her and thus have knits that are a easier to style?

  • Trish

    I'd like to chime in as another knitter. If you know there are knitters in your family who might knit you a sweater some day, first of all know that they are most likely giving you the gift of MONTHS of their time–secondly, help them out! Give them a notecard with your measurements. Measure the chest width, armhole depth, sleeve and torso length of a sweater or top that fits you perfectly. Plan an outing to the yarn shop together–a knitter will never say no to that!–and point out the patterns, fibers and colors that you like.

    Many of us like try to make these gifts a "surprise," which doesn't always have the best results. Help your knitter out! (But please, be tactful in doing so. These are handmade gifts–you're not ordering from a catalog.)

  • futurelint

    I think your suggestions are perfect. The few times I've worn bulky, boxy sweaters, I pair them with skinny jeans or mini skirts to show that I have a figure lurking somewhere under there! I wouldn't do it to something hand-knit, but for other boxy wool sweaters, I've had a lot of success with hand-felting them so they are more fitted!

  • Law Girl

    Good suggestions Sally! I'd pair it with skinny jeans or leggings, boots and dangly earrings. Embrace the hippie snow bunny look 🙂

  • Charlotte

    I can remember a particular orange ombre-striped vest my dear MIL knitted just for me. . . Ah well. I think you've got the right idea–bulk with fitted. Also, suggest how much you like knitted berets, knitted afghans, knitted handbags. I'm a crocheter, even more bulky than knitting. If I never see someone wear the crocheted beret I made for them, I get the hint. But everyone likes a throw to cuddle up with!

  • Saralyn

    It is possible to alter handknits using a sewing machine. Use a double line of stitches and then cut away the excess with sharp scissors. You can use this for vertical waist darts, and if you are adventurous, start from a couple of thrifted sweaters that are expendable and play with your options for cutting down and resizing sleeves, adjusting length, etc. If things simply do not fit or are not your style, I would consider an out of the box solution like framing them in shadow boxes or turning them into throw pillows. Remember, our loved ones never intend for their gifts to burden us, so if it feels like an emotional drag, give it to a charity shop and don't feel bad.

  • V

    I would add straight skirts to the list. I've had great success with pairing a boxy knit sweater with a knee-length straight skirt and pumps. (You can't get more sleek than bare leg.)

    In my experience, boxy also means long, so I let the sweater be a tunic and fall, unbelted, to below my hips. That is when I take use the "broad canvas" to showcase a large pendant on the end of a long (22") inch chain (use a heavier chain, too). The goal is to get the pendant at the bust line or below. This frames the pendant in the middle of the sweater and makes it look more like art.

    I also have opera length (44" strand give or take)pearls that I like to wear with these kinds of sweaters. I knot the pearls where I want the visual v-neck to end and let the rest dangle. It does a good job of making the space look less blocky. (I'm a bit of a magpie so I have these pearls in copper, cream and black.) Pairing these with chunky earrings is also good. If you don't like chunky earrings, don't do earrings at all. Just the wear the pearls.

    I will add that these are all solid color sweaters.

  • Sarah

    Some knitwear can be reshaped with wet blocking. The internet has a wealth of information on this technique. Basically, wet or steam the garment, reshape it, and let it dry in position.

  • WendyB

    Sometimes it's the thought that counts. Accept graciously, put them in a drawer and never wear them!

  • K.Line

    OK, I'm with the commenter who suggested giving measurements to the loving gift knitters!

    I totally appreciate your suggestions Sal, but I have to say, if it doesn't fit – I'm probably not going to wear it. Chances are whatever I try is merely going to look "better" – not good.

    However, one can take her sweaters to people who will rework them – either in a Preloved style dress or to make them snugger. I'm sure this is pricey and runs the risk of offending the gift-giver. Nonetheless, it's an option.

  • daddylikeyblog

    GREAT tips, Sal! I've struggled with this issue a lot, too, not because I come from a family of generous knitters, but because I tend to buy any sweater with a cute pattern or sensuous fabric, only to later realize all my sweaters are shaped like kleenex boxes.

  • Sara Darling

    I'm largely just echoing what previous knitting commenters have said. If knitting as a gift, big boxy sweaters are easier as they'll tend to fit anyone. A fitted or sleeker knit tends to require exact measurements of the wearer for a good fit. So if those knitting relatives let you know ahead of time that they want to knit you a sweater, let them know your measurements, or the measurements of a sweater you have that you like the fit of. If they ask you about style, you might take a look at http://www.knitty.com which is a web site that publishes free knitting patterns and has a wide variety of styles — that way you can suggest a style you like and they don't have to pay extra to buy a pattern.

    Also, if these sweaters are non-superwash wool (ones you can't easily machine wash and dry without shrinking) you can try carefully shrinking it in the sink (so you don't over shrink it) ooooor steeking the sweater into a cardigan you can wear open to better show your figure. Steeking is where you cut the knitted fabric. A shrinkable wool yarn will tend to cling to itself and not unravel. You can't wear it like that but you can fold it over and sew down the raw edge to the inside of the sweater and hand sew in a zipper (so all you'd need would be needle, thread, scissors and zipper. Many people are more comfortable (if they have a sewing machine) running a line of stiches up either side of the cut to prevent unraveling (and pretty necessary for non-wool yarns) but with 100% wool you shouldn't need to do this.

  • lisa

    I've never been given a boxy handknit sweater, but I'd be inclined to wear it over an American Apparel minidress or bandage skirt with some leggings and boots.

  • Kate

    Just have to chime in as another knitter and knit-promoter 🙂

    The suggestions for steeking, fulling, and blocking given above are all great.

    If you adore the sweater's pattern or color and it simply doesn't fit, you shouldn't feel bad about telling your knitter – chances are she'd rather re-knit something and have it be a garment you wear and treasure, than know that all her hard work went straight into the back of the dresser drawer.

    As a knitter, I generally don't give fitted garments unless I know for a *fact* what the person's measurements are – my sister-in-law wears a size 8 shoe, so I knew how long to make her socks. My dad wanted a hat; I worked with him to choose a pattern, yarn, and size. If I don't know the recipient's exact size or measurements, I'll give them an item where fit is less vital – fingerless gloves, a scarf or shawl, or something for their home 🙂

    Kate
    http://www.twoclosets.com (daily style)
    http://www.kateohkatie.wordpress.com (knitting/everything else)