Knitting It for Themselves: That Prada Sweater
Thanks to a certain runway sweater from last fall’s Prada show, I’ve been completely smitten with knitting little shells. As you may have guessed from the arrival of the Eddy Wrap Pattern, I’ve been inserting the idea into just about every kind of garment you could imagine: cowls, vests, sweaters—voluminous and fitted.
We Happy Few
As I knitted through my own cardigan version of the idea, I have been surveying the internet for fellow travelers in the Prada Odyssey, as evidence of a shared mania.
Soon after the sweater landed in glossy magazines, Anna corralled Prada experimenters with the Instagram hashtag #knittersaredoingitforthemselves. I had a chance to speak with Anna in person during my summer trip to London for Pomfest, a celebration of Pom Pom Quarterly’s fifth anniversary.
Anna was quick to connect the interest the sweater ignited to a history of the do-it-yourself response to haute couture. In the age of ready-to-wear and fast fashion, fashionable clothing is something we can take for granted, but not too long ago, it was a popular practice to draw inspiration from photographs for making one’s own garments. I look forward to more thoughts from Anna on this subject.
Elsewhere at Pomfest this summer, Olga Buraya-Kefelian explained to a crowded lecture hall about how she learned to knit by looking at photos and figuring it out. Her earliest projects were wild leaps of faith based on photos she admired. Patterns were rare to find in Soviet Belarus, and even when available they served just as a jumping off point. As a result, it was—and still is—a standard practice among Eastern European knitters to go their own way. True to Olga’s experience, I found many examples of Prada attempts among Russian-speaking knitters on the web.
This example from Vika Knits was among my favorites. I am pretty sure she nailed it.
Olga also helped me out more directly, as we chatted on Facebook about the sweater and the mania it inspired. As the designer of Aranami, a popular and beautiful shawl based on a version of short row shells, Olga is very familiar with the concept.
Olga directed me to interpretations of the Prada sweater that I hadn’t yet seen, like this magnificent pullover from a talented Ukrainian knitter, Ljubov. In the project notes on her Ravelry page, Ljubov points to a counterpane pattern from 1860 as a candidate for what she thinks may be the earliest example of the stitch.
The original Prada is clearly directed at the more color-confident, so I appreciate how Ljubov chose a palette that may better suit the intended wearer. Her tailoring is so precise, the shawl collar a master stroke, and she tells me that she wove in every one of her ends. I am in awe.
A Moody Blue Version
My most thorough of Prada conversations was the exchange I had with Natasja Hornby whose moody and mellow colored pullover graced the front page of Ravelry on the 20th of July, leading to a frenzy of almost 2,500 favorites for her project and innumerable requests for a pattern.
Natasja credits my article here on MDK with giving her the courage to try the Prada shell motif for herself, first applying it to a slouchy hat, and then to the full-court press of a tailored garment. The results are both stunners, and also beautifully photographed. Natasja has designer superpowers and a wonderful eye.
I had watched Natasja’s process on Instagram (she also wove in all of her ends) and finally wrote to her near the end of her knitting to find out how much we shared in our parallel pursuit. Like me, Natasja hesitates about publishing a straight-up sweater pattern for the design, but feels something may still come of her playing around with the technique.
Knitting it was addictive, Natasja says. “I guess you’re familiar with the just one more (row, pattern, stripe) syndrome? Well, the scallops evoked that in full force.” Pushing her own boundaries a little, making a piece that was extravagant in design, color and construction, reminded her about how exciting knitting can be.
Natasja says that she will continue to make wardrobe staples in practical colors to wear everyday, but the adventure, challenge, and entertainment of the Prada sweater made her feel happy and empowered. What better reason is there to knit a sweater? So without further ado, I have my own sweater to share.
An Interpretation of My Own
If you’ve checked in on my Instagram account since the original Eddy sweater article, you’ll know that I have been knitting steadily away on it, posting my progress piece by piece since March.
I sewed on the last button just a few days ago, and had my husband take a picture for this article.
You can see how it fits: oversized like a jacket, maybe a little wide in the shoulders, but easy enough then to pass along to either of my guys.
I love the Harrisville flyWHEEL sportweight colors, and the gentle wildness of it.
Like Natasja, I feel that making the attempt had many lessons, the best of which is that I had the power and the perseverance to tackle such an ambitious knit. And I don’t think I’m done with the shells quite yet; maybe a vest will come next.
I hope that this project inspires more knitters to stretch a little, whether it be to follow our Prada Odyssey path, or to reach for something else just outside of their comfort zones. I’d love to hear in the comments about knitting projects (past, present, or future) that excited you more than they scared you and what you learned from them.