Wear What You Make: In Praise of the Cropped Sweater

June 18, 2018

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121 Comments
  • Clothes that look too small, no matter how beautifully knit/sewn, in my opinion, continue to make women look as though they’re wearing “little girl clothes”. There are other ways to look stylish that don’t involve lopping off hem inches or saving yarn yardage. Good fit is paramount. Poor design is sad.

    • A cropped cardi or jacket is such a classic look that I think it’s a question of whether it’s a shape that you like to wear. For me, the long layer underneath the cropped topper is a game changer.

      • Yes, a cropped cardigan like a classic Chanel jacket. Perfect. Knowing the right shape for your body is key here – just as raglans are not for everyone.

        • It works for her body and shape beautifully, conveys a joyful freedom of expression trancending the dictates of souless fashion and nose in the air critics; it pleases her which pleases the heck out of me. You do you and leave her to express herself as she likes.

          BTW ***anyone*** can wear a well fitted raglan.

    • This red cropped cardi is SUBLIME. I can’t wait to knit up something similar. You look ***ahh-mazing*** in it. Just have to finish what’s on the needles, too many half finished projects, you know!

      Maggie, your pettiness we could all do without.

    • Hi Maggie, from the outset I realized that what I write (and wear) isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. What one might label poor design is totally excellent in the eyes of another and that subjectivity is what makes for a multi-varied and interesting world.

    • Agree 100%. I feel the same way about sweater sleeves that are a couple of inches too long, falling down around the knuckles like a teenage girl in her boyfriend’s sweater.

  • This makes such good sense. I have not made a cropped sweater since my own extremely brief period of time when midriff bearing would not have made the villagers run screaming. I hereby vow to knit myself a cropped sweater to wear as a layering piece before the end of the year!

    • Villagers run screaming! Oh Wendy, that is such a fantastic image, too funny. And have fun knitting your layering sweater.

    • I saw a very cute short, loose, cabled ,u neck pullover vest over longsleeved tshirt dress the other day…looked great!

  • I love this layering style – but I’m always cold in the small of my back when wearing a cropped sweater (even in summer !)………

    • Monica, perhaps you and I need to embrace cropped with a high low hemline, low in back. I wore what we called “floods” when I was a kid because I grew so fast, my arms and legs were too long for anything. So I despise and avoid anything cropped. (cropped pants, 3/4 length sleeves, cropped sweaters, etc.) But I love my tail coat (tux coat with tails), so maybe there is a middle ground. Cardigan with a Bolero front, perhaps?

      • It’s funny you mention floods, I have a dear friend who is very tall and cannot stand wearing 3/4 length sleeves, I wonder if it’s related. Really good suggestion of the tux styling.

      • I have finally come to embrace 3/4 sleeves, Monica, but I have your same fear of cropped.

    • Aren’t out bodies kind of crazy that way? For me, it’s the back of my neck, which is why I am almost always in scarves and shawls. Maybe a high-low style of sweater. Norah Gaughan has several designs: Currer, Linear and Sous Sous. Also there’s Bristol Ivy’s Bridie and Callas.

      • Cool! Thank you for the tips/leads/ideas!

  • Love Sonya’s work, especially the colors. The pictures with her modeling her sweaters have a sense of fun.

    • Thank you so much Peggy!

  • I love this article – and I love cropped sweaters! As a short-waisted woman, longer lengths make me look “dumpy”. I think we do ourselves a huge disservice by clinging to what we looked like when we were 19, and not celebrating the beauty of our bodies today. Sonya is so beautiful and her zest for life leaps off the screen. Thank you, Sonya!

    • Hurrah for cropped sweater devotees – Sisters in Short-Waistedness! Thank you so much for your sweet words Karen.

  • Love this push to be OK with knitting cropped sweaters. Whenever I hold a sweater up and see that it’s above my waist, I get nervous, even though that is the design, and end up adding length. But if I’m going to wear it over a loose, longer button down, why not?

    • I feel like Kate Davies’s Carbeth pullover and cardi have done strong work spreading the good news of cropped sweaters. For every person who added length to it, there were a bunch of people who discovered a new shape that worked for them. I’m short waisted so too long is worse than too short for me: instant swamping. My favorite hemline hits at the hipbone, but I am going to try this short-over-long.

      • While I love how my Carbeth cardi came out, I still regret adding length. I was just too nervous about it being cropped. I’m going to try to cast on for another one.

        • Could you do a post-game edit on it, and remove the length at the bottom? Might be a fun bit of surgery.

        • Ann, I think I just got heart palpitations thinking about it! The cardigan wears well, but not the intended way. I have some DK I’ll hold double for the next one.

    • I totally understand that nervousness! I am all for mixing up the long and cropped, snug with flowy. Have fun with it!

  • Love it! Sonya rocks those cropped sweaters. I, on the other hand, have never made myself a sweater. Someday, someday…

    • Diane I hope that someday will be soon! No pressure, no pressure. But when you’re ready – top down in the round are a great way to dip your toe in the pool.

  • I wish clothing makers, for all their attention to design, would recognize the realities for some of us. I am a big fan of the cropped sweater because I am short, so they fall just below my waist, rather than 2 inches below my hips as most mass produced sweaters do.

    So I’m happy to see this appreciation of the short sweater, but what I don’t get is the style that leaves an enormous gap in front (in cardis of all length). Where I live, a sweater is to help keep warm, so leaving all that midriff exposed seems to defeat that goal.

    • Conversely I need to leave a gap so that I can justify a sweater in the mild California winter.

      • Thanks for the insight. Seems like maybe it’s not fashion but good sense that’s the source – how refreshing!

    • Ah Nancy, this is where I come in to spread the gospel of Making Your Own. But since you’re on here, you are undoubtedly already a knitter. I totally agree that mass produced clothing does tend to skew heavily to one-style-for-all, even though within one size there can still be so much body variation.

  • I began knitting the Goodale cropped cardigan after seeing Sonya wearing it in another “First Person” article. I’ve long added length to tops but am a short person who probably shouldn’t. Thanks, Sonya, for opening my eyes to try something new (to me)!

    • I have to tell you Grace, I am forever modifying patterns! And along with this is a tendency to resist new things, so I totally understand!

  • Words cannot adequately describe how much I love Sonya’s columns. She has such great and bold color sense and just has sense. When first I spotted photos of her outfits, I was drawn not only to the riot of color but also to her. Seeing a person past a flamboyant outfit is rare but Sonya’s personality sparkles through.

    I am a competitive bodybuilder (think sparkling bikini and Cinderella heels). All the emphasis on shaping our bodies into a winning silouette and staying super lean can really mess with our heads. When I discovered Sonya’s writings for MDK I showed the photos to my life coach and said, “I wish to be like her”.

    I am a Fangirl! I love boleros too.

    • Wow. Your comment made me gasp as it hit too close to home for me. I initially was taken aback at Sonja’s happy body exposed pics. I wanted her colors and happiness which didn’t jive with “hide your body!” My priorities have officially shifted. Happy colors are beautiful, especially with a smile.

      • Then I am in good company.

    • She is an amazing woman !

      • Isn’t she? Truly an inspiration.

    • I think your comment is completely lovely Lucinda! Thank you so much. I can only imagine how something like competitive bodybuilding, where emphasis is placed on how you look, can over time take a real toll. On the one hand you have the passion and perseverance to achieve goals. But when everything is centered around being judged, it must be so hard not to take things to heart. I hope you can find that balance between competition and caring for yourself.

  • I prefer my cardigans to be functional and to close in the middle (I live in Minnesota after all), but as a relatively short woman with a very short torso, I like the cropped pullover over a long top formula a lot, and I have another such garment on the needles now. I have a couple of cropped cardigans as well, but they do button up completely. If you feel great about yourself when you wear it, thts really what its all about, isn’t it?

    • I am a cutaway cardigan kind of person, which suits me because while I love buttons, oh how I drag my heels when it comes to sewing them on. And Ellen, I absolutely agree with you – feeling great about yourself when you wear something is the ultimate reward!

  • Very excentrique the way you wear your clothes. If it fits your happiness GO GIRL.
    WONDER: verb (SURPRISE)
    ​[ I ] formal to feel or express great surprise at something:
    I think you are made of wonder
    Have a WONDERFUL /JOYFUL/ HAPPINESS DAY
    Mtl.MIMI YOYO

    • Thank you so much Yolande!!

  • Proportion is such a fascinating topic when it comes to picking out what clothes to wear. Sonya, your use of a cardigan as a sort of visual condiment is just so inspiring to me–I have not made cardigans much in recent years, preferring the speedy pullovers that let me knit in circles for days. But all these images show me how much fun there is to be had in a buttonless cardigan just adding a layer of color and texture to the game. So great.

    • Steek Ann. Steek.

  • After reading a lot of Sonya’s posts and watching her IG feed, she very subtly introduced me to this concept a little over a year ago. Since then I’ve knit 3 cropped sweaters and I find them extremely wearable here in the South, where AC is rampant in the Summer, and our Autumns are luxuriously long. Sonya is such an inspiration in so many ways!

    • Welcome to the way of the Cropped Cardigan Judy! I think it grows exactly from needing to quick-change from one temperature to the next. There’s not much AC here in San Francisco, but lots of fog!

  • Love your thoughts on cropped sweaters, they’re much like my own. I gave up trying to look like “Barbie” years ago and when I layer or only need a small piece this works well for me. I just keep fit in mind and tell the “haters” to look elsewhere

    • I totally agree! Why try to dress to satisfy some outside standard of beauty? After all, we are wearing the clothes.

  • Thanks to Sonya, I got brave and have sewn myself two skirts! Her articles are so inspiring! I have tried to wear cropped cardigans on multiple occasions, but still hear my mother and grandmother’s voices saying that my blouse should never stick out beneath my sweater. Where does that come from? Was that considered bad fashion in the 50’s and 60’s? I love the look on others, but can’t wrap my own head around it…

    • I hear those voices, too. And I’m 75 years old! Let’s both try this: when we try on something that goes beyond the boundaries of our 50s and 60s mother/grandmother standards, and we start to hear their voices in our heads, let’s say “Sorry Mom/Grandma, but you’re dead and I’m not. So I’ll wear what I want.”

      • Judy! You made me laugh out loud!!

      • You made me snort!!

      • Judy, you rock !

      • Thank you, Judy! I will spread that thought far and wide.

    • Susan I am so glad to hear you’ve stitched up some skirts and thank you for your kind words about my article! As for hem differences, it’s a funny thing. I don’t quite know why we hold on to those kinds of rules and conventions. They seem to exist expressly for putting people out, not to mention sell more garments!

  • Game changer. I have a swingy dress that I bought last year and I haven’t been able to figure out what to wear *under* it to make it decent around the armpit/side boob area. The dress is cute but always seemed to be lacking; it’s never made it out of the house. I always think of sweaters as something that should touch my hip or hang below my bum and none of these sweaters worked with the dress so I had ruled out adding a sweater…but now Sonya has me thinking differently. Time to find something short and sweet to try *over* it!

    • So glad this helped Jilianna! It’s so sad to have a garment in need of that something to make it wearable. I particularly like Dew Point by Laura Chau as a cute shrug for swingy dresses.

      • Thanks Sonya!

  • I am also a short person, so I like short sweaters. What stands out to me in this article is how Sonya puts colors together in such a fun, funky way. It inspires every to get a bit braver with color combinations! Thanks!

    • Thank you so much Wendy and here’s to being brave and wearing bold colors!

  • So I have done this fangirl thing and created a bundle on Ravelry of Sonya Sweaters: https://www.ravelry.com/bundles/sonya-sweaters

    Most of these sweaters are easy knits…great for keeping the hands moving while watching, listening, and reading.

    Frees up my knitting for shawls, of which there can never be too many!

    Layering works so well for me…and even though my color palette is way different from Sonya’s, it is really liberating to feel so good in my clothes! Thanks, Sonya!

    • This is a great idea, thank you❤️

    • I love your bundle, Lauren! A handy clip ‘n’ save for us all.

    • Sonya, your styling is always an inspiration. It’s not like anyone (especially any knitter) has to be only on TeamLongSweater or TeamCropped…it’s a matter of wardrobe along with the knits. I like a big loose sweater with tight pants and a shorter cropped cardi over a tunic or dress, as you so beautifully do it. (especially over loose layers–its fantastic). It’s such a good look for those of us who are short plus short waisted and not waif-ish in build. Keep your essays on style and clothing coming! xox

      • Oh Gale, you’re exactly right. I was just “talking” (if commenting on instagram can be construed as talking these days) with Karent Templar about how these binaries aren’t necessary and how you don’t need to be one way exclusively. Such an excellent reminder. xo

    • What a great idea Lauren! Thanks for sharing. : )

    • Thank you! I was just thinking of starting a Sonya Cardi’s document. Sonya Philip’s statements on body image, sewing, and cardigans always inspire me to be more me. Now back to work!

    • Thanks! I am definitely in!

    • Look at all my sweaters, I can’t believe you’ve gathered them all up, thank you. And that liberation of feeling good in what you’re wearing, isn’t it an incredible? I’m so happy for you Lauren!!

    • Thanks for the bundle. The Quintessential Cardigan from Churchmouse is another good one for creating this look.

  • OK, you officially have my interest piqued enough to try a cropped cardi – I’m a fellow shortie, I love wearing the perfect length (for me) longer-but-not-tunic tops, and I’ve always worn a full-length cardi with them. It does hide my shape, and the cropped cardi might expose more of my belly than I’d like, but maybe I might just love it, right? Worth a try! Thanks for your always fun, positive posts. I feel like we are friends when I read them. 🙂

    • Try dipping toes into the look with a cropped sweater over a slightly longer trapeze or a-line shell.

    • I highly recommend playing around with where a sweater hits, whether it’s at your natural waist or just above. Especially if you make it top down, you could even give it a test run, with the option to add to it later if you’re not happy. I love that we can have these options!

  • Life is too short to worry about fit rules. Wear what makes YOU feel good! I have the cropped Maple on my list: https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/maple-13

    • Ohhhh! Just added Maple to my queue as well.

  • Shortly after I read this post, which is delightful and joyful as are all of Sonya’s posts, I happened to watch a Ted Talks video that seem to confirm and coincide perfectly. I’m hesitant to include a link, but if you googled it, I’m sure you could get right to it – it is called “Where joy hides and how to find it.” Sonya totally understands this. Serendipity at work! Please take time to watch it, ~ 14 minutes, totally worth it.

  • I think you’ve convinced me. I absolutely loved this. I’ve been giving lots of thought lately about “slow fashion” although I have to admit it’s because I love the slightly offbeat, unique style especially when add that special knitted or crocheted piece. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration!! I may even attempt to go see something today!

    • You’re so welcome René and there’s a lot of wonderful eye candy around slow fashion. So happy to hear you’re inspired to sew!

  • This was an interesting and well reasoned article. I like to remain open to a new style or design idea. Oftentimes our preconceptions of how a piece of clothing will look on us are blown out of the water after we try something on – good or bad.

    • Thank you Elizabeth! You’re right about those preconceptions we carry around, it’s only too easy to close off the possibilities because of whatever reason.

  • Hmm… I don’t generally like my appearance in things that make a horizontal at my waist (I never tuck shirts in), and so I generally dismissed cropped sweaters. But as I consider the look of the shorter, open sweater over the longer, full layer it reminds me of my favorite outfit of vest over big shirt that I wore to death in the late 80s (I think). I LOVED that look, and isn’t this just an updated version of it? With sleeves?
    Looks like I’ll be contemplating adding a cropped silhouette into my knitting possibilities…. after I knit the others in the queue. So it may be a while.

    • I think this might just be an iteration of that 80s look! They are coming back in style as my teenage daughter reminds me.

  • “…visual condiment…” what a perfect description/phrase for what a wee sweater is and can do!! Love love love that! Put me down as a continuing and ardent Sonya fan. She just beams love and acceptance.

    • Thank you so much and visual condiment is terrific. That Ann has a way with words!

  • Truly inspiring! I always like tunics, but feared the very word cropped. Now I see these combinations I’m ready to try it as soon as temps here go below 99 degrees F. Sonia, have you considered a travelogue? I’d love to have a tour of SF with you, even if only virtually.

    • Sonya! Good grief I cannot even spell. Sleep deprivation is a terrible thing. Anyway I love your clothes.

    • Thank you and I’m glad I’ve dispelled some of the fear! I would love to do a San Francisco travel post and maybe I can send some cool fog your way to bring those temperatures down!

  • I have not made a cropped anything since my weight escalated to almost triple my age – let’s just say I qualify for senior discounts everywhere. However, Sonya may have just convinced me that layering shirt over long would work for me. Will have to try! Thanks,girl!!

    • You’re very welcome Pati! And I like to think making something pretty to wear is kind of like a little love note to our bodies, regardless of weight or shape.

  • I really enjoy wearing cropped sweaters over dresses. Often the waistline of a dress is higher than the length of the average sweater and the skirt gets bunched up. I have come to really appreciate the cropped length.

    • I agree, bunching up is definitely something to avoid!

  • Sonya: I was so pleased when I saw it was a Wear What You Make day on MDK! Words cannot express how much I love your self-made outfits with your wonderful color and pattern choices, and today was another fun visit to Sonya-land! You should definitely keep doing you, and sharing it with us! Re: the cropped sweater for me. I have worn a black cropped jacket over a black top/dress in order to “add sleeves,” as you say, and have liked the subtle effect, but would not choose it as a contrast. I love experimenting with color and shape in my wardrobe, but with the exception of scarves, tend to wear bigger prints and bright colors on my much-narrower bottom half. I am tall and top heavy with large, um…low slung? breasts, plus I have a long torso and broad shoulders, so I have years of experience with inadvertently cropped tops that fall just a couple of inches below my breasts, and don’t like the look on me. But…I do have lots of “cropped” 3/4 sleeves and pants in my wardrobe!

    • Sonyaland, that’s so wonderful Laura, thank you for coming along with me on this journey! And I totally agree with you, there’s just so much variety to our bodies, I want women to figure out their personal preference rather than have things dictated to them. It sounds like you’re very attuned to what you want to wear and that’s terrific. Hurrah for knowing your body and wearing what you like!!

  • I only found Sonya a couple of days ago & already I am so in love with her exuberant style! The combining of shape, color, & pattern are so appealing. I always feel borderline clownish when I try, so glad to have a role model with such a compendium of combination inspiration. I know this piece is about cropped cardis, but love her scarf game too!
    Thanks to MDK, too for helping Sonya spread the word!

    • Jennifer, I joke that I joke to go for subtle clown! I think it’s all about finding what makes you happy and not self-conscious – because what are clowns but totally exaggerated. If a color is too loud, you can overdye it, indigo is wonderful unifying shade. And thanks for the scarf love!

  • I have a beloved shrug pattern (Knitting Pure & Simple #286 Bulky Shrug) that I have made three times. Once in super bulky yarn that made an oversize short-sleeve sweater, once holding bulky and worsted together in a close-fitting sweater, and the last time holding mohair and aran and lengthening the sleeves and body. I’m short and round and find that a cropped sweater or jacket makes me look taller and more proportioned. After 66 years of life I’ve finally learned to dress in what makes me feel good and look good to myself, no matter what’s in fashion at the time. Who knew it’d take this long to grow up?

    • I love it when I find a favorite pattern and Knitting Pure & Simple patterns are so versatile. Learning how to wear what makes you feel good seems to be a lesson long in the making. There’s a whole system out there designed to keep you unhappy with yourself so you buy more, those effects of modern advertising are hard to shake off.

  • I really like your creations if one can sew, and knit and crochet do ! And wear your stuff it works

    • Thank you very much Rhonda! Wearing what you make is a badge of pride.

  • Ah Sonya you’ve done it again. I love your columns. You are really freeing up my thinking about wearing what I like and want. These are wonderful sweaters and outfits! And I don’t see anything that looks too small…they all fit beautifully.

    • Thank you so much Annie! Knowing what you like and want is so important to determining your personal style. I really like combining loose and tight as well as colors and prints. Experiment and play!

  • I love your creativity and passion. I say, “Wear what you love and love what you wear” ! It’s your life, Rock it! You look fabulous!

    • Thank you so much and wear what you love and love what you wear – you *know* I can totally get behind that Jackie!

  • I just love every piece ,so beautiful ! I have crocheted several pieces and love to start something new .this cropped sweater looks great ,all colors and styles ,end less possiblities.

    • Thank you very much Julie. Yes to lots of possibilities for hooks and needles!

  • I love all these outfits so much! And, I’ve often done the long shirt-short cardi combo and love it, especially for New England summers that can be 80-90s in the day, 60s in the evening. It’s a wonderful combo, and Sonya of course nails it. 🙂

    • Thank you so much Wanda! So much of my dressing comes about from dealing with the temperature shifts here in San Francisco. Flexibility is important!

  • I love, love, this article! While I’ve been know to wear sweaters in the summer in San Francisco, while I visit my beloved little sis, I regret that I still can hardly wear a sweater in the winters of Phoenix. I love the style I g, I love the dresses with cute prints, and fun pants! I’m not a small girl, and I haven’t been for years! I love to cook, and love to eat. Being married to a cook, was my downfall and my deliverance! Lol! I might not wear that cropped sweater, but my sewing machine is gonna get a workout! Thank you!

    • Jane I am so glad to hear your sewing machine will get a work out! I have a friend and wool lover who just moved from Arizona and is very happy to be able to wear her handknits more. Stitch up something you can wear and cook in!

  • Normally I do not have time to look over all of the interesting little tidbits in your column, but I am glad that I looked at this one! Sonya, you have given me inspiration and hope! I am a rubenesque woman and always feel that I “can’t” wear something because of my size and therefore to to baggy and unattractive! I can’t wait to get out my patterns and begin knitting something short, sassy, and bright! Thank you and you look not only amazing, but most assuredly – HAPPY!

    • You have sold me! Beautifully-written and soulfully-argued! “Think of it as a way to add sleeves,” you said, and so I did, and I realized I could now contemplate a whole range of dresses I usually pass over—the sleeveless—because I don’t like so much bare ness. Thank you!

  • Sonya, your posts and pictures make me so happy. I wish I had your knack of combining prints and colours. I am a woman who has spent too many years trying not to be noticed (and whining that I am invisible, ha ha!) but in my 50s I find I just don’t care what anyone else thinks. I want to be colourful and vivid, just to please myself.

  • I love cropped sweaters. I am 5’8″ but very short-waisted and not a fashion model. I love layering tunics, pants or leggings and a cropped sweater because a cropped sweater adds a pretty layer without the waist-area of the sweater hitting my already wide hips. The slight looseness of the cropped sweater around the waist is flattering too. With a short waist, any fitted garment doesn’t fit me properly, but cropped cardis nicely dodge that issue. And BIG PLUS, cropped sweaters knit up quicker. Woo hoo!!! Keep rocking the great creative looks Sonya!

  • Hello, I love what Sonya is creating through her designs but also her choice of color and patterns. I wish I could be as bold as she is but then that’s not me. I truly believe that here is always something to take-a-way from a design or color. Let’s try to do our best to be of a healthy mind and a healthy body — and focus on the important things in life!

  • I love Wear What You Make. Now that I have a craft room/office, I am going to do more of this coordinating of my knitted things and sewn things. Thank you so much for your inspiration! I love your style (writing and sartorial!).

    I also just realized I need to knit another Goodale. 🙂

  • I needed this today. Your entire suite of “Wear What You [email protected] articles, in fact. My husband took a photo of me with my toddler and I was seriously dismayed at how I looked. You inspire me to chill out with the negative and think instead of all the fabulous clothes I am able to make.