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Ponchos! Common style for knitting

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 Love’m or hate’m, they are a perennial favorite. 10 years ago, they were, at once, both popular—Martha Stewart had emerged from prison wearing one, and at the same time, fashion pundits were claiming the idea was “dead”.

Many knitters don’t seem to realize, there are a limited number of templates that are used to ‘design’ poncho’s. Learn the templates or basic shapes for poncho’s –all are easy to learn—and you are half way to designing your own. Learning to design something as simple as a poncho is a good way to start learning to design. There are about 8 basic shapes/styles—though some have other names (like serape, or ruana, or tabard,) and some styles of poncho's could also be called capes--The details make difference.  There are so many options, (yarn, gauge, stitch, and fit) that it is easy to customize any of these 8 templates.

With these guide to basic poncho's, you can learn the basic shapes and how those shapes work.

Most are of the templates are easy..the final design, is the result of pairing a basic template with specific yarns, and stitch patterns, at a specific gauge.

Every template/style has advantages and disadvantages—and defining what is an advantage is what is a disadvantage is mostly personal opinion.

So here one of my governing opinions--
I like symmetry in clothes.
I personally think that asymmetrical clothes are unbecoming on everyone, but stunningly tall, thin and naturally very symmetrical bodies (ie, super models) can still look good in them.
Normal people, (ie not exceptionally tall, or exceptionally thin, or exceptionally symmetrical) look less than their best in asymmetrical clothes.
Anyone who is short, or fat (or just not thin!) or is slightly out of balance just looks terrible in asymmetrical clothes--or they do in my opinion!.

And given my opinion as a basis, I tend to fined all asymmetrical patterns unattractive.

If your opinions (the only ones that count!) differ, you might find some of you disagree with my advantages and disadvantage tags. 

I have other opinions about clothes, but most of them are not big factors in poncho’s.
So what are the basic shapes that define ponchos, and what are the advantage/disadvantages to them? I have created some drawing to help explain them. I have defined 8 basic shapes.


1—Folded Rectangles

2—2 piece Rectangular

3—Folded Rectangle, seamless

4—Rhombus (knit in the round

5—Knit in the round, almost square

6—Rondel Knit in round,

7—Folded Triangle

8--  2 Piece notched square.

In many cases, there is more than one way to knit the basic shape. And in every case, there are many options available to the knitter/designer to customize the shape.

1—The Folded Rectangle. 

The folded rectangle can be knit length wise or cross wise. It can be solid, or stripes, it can feature fancy stitch work (from lace to cables are suitable)

Advantages ------Very Easy, Can be worn several ways.

Easy to customize. The fold (and seam) are most often worn on shoulder, (as in view 1) but the fold can be worn center front, and the seam center back.

Disadvantages –Asymmetrical—and can stretch out of shape. The knitting can stretch along the fold line, -significantly more than on the seamed edge.
Links to external images:
See  this page for an example of type 2 -with seam at center back 

See this page for an example to a buttoned side shoulder (rather than seamed edge)
This poncho is knit, starting at narrow edge as a large rectangle—or less commonly starting at the long edge.

It is ‘finished’ by folding it in half, and sewing 1 side seam, leaving a 10 or so inch gap at folded edge, which creates a neck opening.

Normal worn with the fold line at one center shoulder, and the seam line at other center shoulder.

It can also be worn with seam as center front, (which makes a shawl-like back, and a v neck front, or with seam line in back (and back v neck) and a boat neck in front.
No matter how you wear it, its not symmetrical!

The center front /center back styles are at least right/left symmetrical, (but not front/back symmetrical)

When its worn with one side having a seamed center shoulder edge, and the other arm having a folded edge, its totally skewed. And it gets more skewed with every wearing.

It can be modeled to look good, but I think this style is the most disappointing for knitters (especially new knitters who are least familiar with model tricks!)

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2--2 Piece Rectangle Poncho

2--2 Piece Rectangle Poncho

Advantages ---Very Easy, Less Asymmetrical than ponch design --1
Disadvantes--Asymmetrical, Seamed, Requires 2 identical pieces

The seamed 2 rectangle poncho is another popular pattern.

It is less asymmetrical than ponch 1, but I still don’t like it. It's often shown with a striped element, (either real stripes (horizontal) or cables or other Vertical stripes.
And right there at the seams, (2 since this poncho as mirror symmetry and the back is the mirror image of front) the “stripes” are at right angles.

This creates a strong diagonal line across the body—its not too bad on children, or any one thin, but its not the best choice for adults.

Secondly, since the knitting drapes and folds differently, (and stretches differently over time) it becomes more asymmetrical over time. It also tends to twist while being worn--the seams end up a the center shoulder line, and the poncho ends up hanging even more asymmetirally.

External links

See this page for an example with lace edging (and seam to other side)

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3- Rectangular Poncho (this style is know as a serape, and as a tabard. Serapes tend to be oversized, with a thick fabric and worn loose.

Tabards tend to be lighter, and closer fitting. Tabard frequently are belted, or have side closures.

Advantages----- Easy, Symmetrical, Versatile (can be knit and worn several ways), can be worn belted.
Disadvantages---Creating Neck opening,

This is a great poncho. It's easy, and it's symmetrical.

It can have a boat neck or V neck. If it is made with open front and closed back, it is known as ruana.
It's suitable for stripes --knit color stripes, or ‘stripe like patterns' (cables)

The side seams can be left open, sewn all or part way shut.
Depending on how you knit it, and which neck opening you chose, it can be more or less difficult to knit and to wear.
It can be knit in 2 long rectangles, with a center back seam and center front open as well.

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4—The Rhombus (knit in the round)

Advantages -----Intermediate skills required, Can be worn several ways, Symmetrical
Disadvantages---Can be tedious towards the end, Doesn’t cover lower arm.

One of my favorite poncho styles.

Normal worn folded so that looks like a notched Square, it can also be worn as a boat necked rhombus. (especially suitable when very short!)

The Cast On edge is the neck edge, and the shape is created by increasingsets of paired increases, every other round. (one increase each side of center front/center back stitch, for a total of 4 increases in total, every other round.

Because there are increases every other round, the pleasant rounds at the or near the cast on edge soon grow to be endlessly long by the lower edge.

And unless you knit it long enough to have the center front and back touch the ground, the poncho will only cover upper arms, not the lower arm.

External links to images

See this page for a sample with a large center front (and back) panel between the paired increases)

See this page for an example with an cowl/turtle neck 

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5 The Knit-in-the-Round Square Poncho.

Another favorite style of mine.

This poncho is also started at the neck edge, but there are 4 points, and there are increases either side of each point, (8 increases every other round, in line, as 4 paired sets. Laid flat, it resembles a square.
But unless it is worked in garter stitch, it will not quite lay flat--still Square is the best name for the shape.

Using YO's for the increases, will make it flatter.

The neck opening is square too (Vnecked in front and back) --though both this poncho and ponchos 4 and 6 can be started with 8 to 12 inches of ribbing to make a turtle neck (something I never do!) 

I have made this poncho as a ‘cape’ too… (instead of knitting in the round, I knit it ‘flat, with center front opening.)

Intermediate beginner
Covers Arms
Can be tedious towards the end, as R's (rows or rounds) get longer and longer
Bulky, and can appear tent like

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6- The Knit-in-the-Round Round Poncho

Basically the same as the square poncho, with all the same advantages and disadvantages. 

A major difference is, the 8 increases every other row ,that are randomly spaced, or that are done in 8 sets of pairs, (16 increases in a single round) Then the increase are worked every 4th round.

As illustrated, the increases are spaced further apart( EVERY 4th round.) with 16 increases, worked in 8 sets of pairs, to create 8 spokes or segment design. 

The round poncho looks best when knit short (elbow length) and its especially suitable for lace. When worked in a lace pattern, or with YO's as the increases, it tends to be flatter. Other wise the circle shape can be slightly cupped.

The illustration show it knit in the round, but it can be knit flat, (cape like) with a center front opening, The increases can continue for the length of the ponch, or the lower half can be knit with out increases, or with fewer ones.

This style poncho is very suitable for lace patterns. When worked in a pattern like feather and fan, the increases can occur, inside of the pattern. You can even use Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Pi shawl formula, if you remember you are really starting your ponch not at center but at perhaps round 12-- and need to knit 4 rounds to be at a magic number (16) and double your stitches then, (and again at rounds 32, 64, 128, etc) –and fill the rounds in between the increase with small patterns, in lace or just using fancy stitches.
A variation on this basic design is the arc, or incomplete circle. Instead of starting with a multiple of 8, starting with a multiple of 6, and making a acr's with 6 segments, the poncho would be a tapered tube, that is closer fitting. The stitch gauge and the number of increases in each round are the decisive factors in making a circle or arc shape. Both the circle and the arc also work well as capelets.

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7-- The Triangle Poncho

Easy Versital
Very narrow/close fitting
Not perfectly symetrial
Can be tedious to knit towards the end

This poncho has less ease than most, (I’ve listed that as an advantage, but it could just as easily be seen as a disadvantage!)

Started with just 3 stitches, with increases every row, the poncho starts out as a large (very large!) triangle. It works best when the triangle is symmetrical, so garter, or even sead stitch are good choices.

The bound off edge is folded to make a smaller square shape, and then sewn together to make a center front seam, leaving the edge closest to the fold open a neck opening.

Because of the fold, the direction of the knitting in back is straight, but it's diagonal in front.

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8—A Notched Square

This style is very common in crochet ponchos, especially the “granny square” style poncho.  It is suitable for knitting, and can be knit several ways;

(1) as a shaped rectangle with a detent center on one of the long sides, (2)  as 2 shaped squares with 2 sewn side seam

OR and especially nice, (3) as entralac—with the woven squares, vs. the common crocheted granny squares.

Versatile shape
Roomy, with out being tent like
Good coverage for lower arm
Best suited for advanced knitting techniques.
It is made from 2 identically notched square are sewn together.

It could be started at several points, but I think this style would look wonderful in entralac. One of the side seams could be replaced with a provisional cast on, the second side seam could be eliminated by grafting.

Plain or fancy, single color or multi color (or Noro self patterning colors) a knit entralac square could be substituted for the normal granny squares.

I don’t think I have seen a poncho knit like this.. (but I would love to!)

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There are, no doubt, other styles/techniques for knitting poncho’s -- but these 8 styles are by far the most common. And each of these styles have many variations, and are open to improvements: the Rhombuis poncho often has an extra  increases at the shoulder line--for the first 3 or 4 inches, the Folded triangle benefits from this as well. (you'd need to work these increases out--since placement depends on gauge and yarn

Changes as minor as a fringed or not fringed change the final appearence of a Poncho dramaticically. Solid colors or striped with a self striping yarn, or striped with a variety of yarns area other way to change the final result.

Poncho's might seem project to start designing  with--but a simpley shaped geometric forms they offer a beginner opportunity to think about how to make shapes to fit the human form.

Links to original posts