Break out the quill, Rookies, because today we’re going to have a history lesson! During the 1920s, some high-society women were like, “I’m so sick of sitting pretty in parlors and doing nothing! How many tea sandwiches can a girl eat, you know? I want to play sports and release my inhibitions and feel the rain on my skin!” Obviously, they couldn’t just hop over to their local Target and buy cute athletic apparel, so a lot of active women turned to sweaters, because of their flexibility. Unfortunately, sweaters of that era lost their shape pretty quickly, leading to a sloppy look. Young fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli noticed this problem and discovered a way to knit fitted sweaters for women using a double-layered stitch. Finding them still boring, though, she began knitting bow patterns into her sweaters using a “trompe l’oeil” technique, which a quick Google search reveals to mean “something that deceives the eye.”
The sweaters put Schiaparelli on the map as one of the most innovative designers of the century, and she went on to create many other iconic looks. She even collaborated with artists like Salvador Dalí. Nowadays, it’s rare to find her sweaters outside of museums or auction houses, but do not fret! I’m going to show you how to deceive the eyes with a sweater of your own.
- An inexpensive sweater. (I got mine at Goodwill.)
- Fabric paint. (You can use multiple colors if you want.)
- A round sponge brush
- Disposable cup or plate
- Parchment or wax paper
- A few old magazines
1. Spread your sweater out on a flat work surface, like your floor or kitchen table. Place the old magazines inside the sweater, so the fabric paint won’t seep through to the other side of the sweater or the work surface.
2. Tear off a piece of parchment or wax paper that is slightly longer than the length of your sweater. Place it over the sweater, and trace the shape of the neckline and armholes.
3. Following the traced neckline, draw a bow on the parchment paper in the style of your choice. I did a big, classic knotted bow with a collar, but a sailor’s knot would look nice, too.
4. Cut out the bow shape, being careful not to tear the paper. (If you do, that’s OK. Just tape it back together.) Tear off a few pieces of tape, stick the ends together so that they’re double-sided, and place them on the back of your bow stencil. Attach your bow stencil to the sweater, making sure that the neckline matches up. The tape ensures that your bow won’t shift while you paint.
5. Begin dabbing the paint on the open areas of your stencil. Focus on the edges first, then tackle the center. Reload your brush with fabric paint as needed:
7. Let it dry for about an hour, then remove your stencil. Look for any areas that are not opaque, and go back with your brush to fill them in.
Let the sweater dry overnight, remove the old magazines, put it on, and go fool everyone you know!