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Suss Design Essentials

Filed under: Books,Knitting,Reviews — folkcat at 12:30 pm on Wednesday, September 12, 2007

suss design essentials book jacket.jpgSuss Design Essentials by Suss Cousins

Published by: Potter Craft (Random House)

Acquired by: Free copy from Publisher

List Price: $30.00

Available: Sept. 11, 2007

Suss Cousins grew up in Sweden, and learned to knit as a child. When she became a fashion designer, it was natural that she included many pieces of knitwear in her collections. Her latest book, Suss Design Essentials, gathers the thirty patterns that Suss herself considers the best knitwear designs of her ten years in fashion.

First Things First

Let’s clear the air about one point right away – sizing. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m a large woman, and if you don’t have patterns that fit my body, your book starts at a disadvantage with me.

The sweaters, tops, and dresses in Suss Design Essentials come in several sizes, but the largest tend to be about 40 inches at the chest. So for me, there would be a lot of work to re-size and re-write the patterns.

That being said, I had mixed feelings about the designs offered in this book. A number struck me as beautiful; a few as outright ugly; and one or two as impractical or ill-conceived.

Target Audience

Although a couple of patterns are fairly easy, most of them are at least a little more involved. Finishing and seaming are important elements in most designs in this book. Some patterns knit in sections might be convertible to knitting in the round, but to my eye, it appears that Suss has usually created seams that are important to the final look, fit, and drape of the garment. I’d be reluctant to change that.

In the introduction, Suss herself calls this “a book for those who have knit a sweater or two.” I’d place the average skill level required for these patterns at Intermediate and above, but I also think it would be worthy inspiration for an adventurous beginner.


The style of presentation for the instructions supports this assessment. Materials lists are thorough, even specifying every last notion you might need while working. Gauge instructions are very precise – if you should measure while the swatch is stretched flat, Suss not only tells you that, but tells you why.

Schematics are offered for all pattern pieces, with full measurements in both metric and English.

Sizing is a bit more vague – Small, Medium, and Large, mostly, with measurements given for the finished knit, but not for the body that pattern size is expected to fit. No reference is offered for how much ease was designed into a garment.

Actual step-by-step instructions are given in a style that more experienced knitters will be able to cope with, but that beginners may need help understanding. “Bind off 4 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows.” “Maintain cable-10 pattern when shaping armhole and shoulder.” The expectation is clearly that the knitter following these instructions has an understanding of how they go together to achieve the desired results.

I wouldn’t warn beginners away from this book completely, but I would recommend they enlist the support and aid of a more experienced knitter before committing to a project.


In 2006, Suss Cousins released her own line of premium knitting yarns. Her own products are called for throughout this book. A full substitution guide is offered at the back, however, listing several alternative yarns by brand name for each of Suss’ own selections. And where the yarn needed is specified in the pattern, full weights and lengths are given in both metric and English measurements.

The Good

Click on any picture to view a larger version.

The designs themselves run the gamut from gorgeous, to indifferent, to outright ugly. Most of the designs I really liked had classic lines and a simple elegance.

Embroidered Dress
Embroidered Dress

I so wish I had a body that could wear this dress! Alas, it looks better when your curves are concave, not convex. Maybe one day, if I can ever get the idea of dieting to work.

Button Tee
Button Tee

Simple raglan lines, with a whimsical detail in the buttons at side seam and sleeve. I like that the model isn’t a waif, either. I may not be able to knit the pattern as written, but I can take inspiration here and re-work it to make one my size.

Deep V-neck Cable Vest
Deep V-neck Cable Vest

This has a very 70’s feel to it. I like it. It’s preppy without being preppy. I like that it’s a longer, tunic-length vest – I think that’s very flattering on many figures.

Fuzzy Scarf Coat with Bell Sleeves
Fuzzy Scarf Coat with Bell Sleeves

Suss is pretty straightforward with the names for her designs. And it works – you don’t have to wonder what this coat looks like, do you? Again, we have a design that is very 70’s in feeling. I can see myself wearing it. But then, I’m a child of the 70’s – those were my teen years. I think we always have a fondness for what we liked in our teens.

Believe It Or Not, My Favorite

Open-front Pullover
Open-front Pullover

I know – it surprised me, too. This is clearly a gimmicky design, but for some reason, it resonates with me. It looks comfortable to wear, and awfully sexy.

The Bad

Half-Moon Bag With FlowersShirtdressSoft Fringed Shawl

Let’s just say that not every design in the book was appealing to me. The bag on the top left made want to say, “I do not like it, Sam-I-Am,” even though it’s clearly not green, nor eggs, nor ham. The white shirt dress almost worked, but I felt the fabric looked a bit stiff. And then the sleeves were left so long, but with functional snaps, but which you weren’t meant to snap closed at all. Huh?

And then there’s the orange shawl. Knit on size 50 needles. I just don’t think that the results here look like anything I’d want to claim I made myself!

The Why?

Asymmetrical Buttoned Sweater
Asymmetrical Buttoned Sweater

Why would one design a carefully tailored, asymmetrical, sweater, and then photograph it in such a way that you’ll never know it’s asymmetrical? Asymmetrical details can be fun, if handled correctly. But we’ll never know if Suss achieved that here, because the model is twisted and contorted until the button line – which actually goes at a slant towards her right hip – is straight up and down from our point of view. The only other photographs offered show the back – which looks absolutely symmetrical – details of the collar and button band, and one front view that doesn’t show the full length of the sweater. You get a hint of the assymetrical line of the button band from that last photo, but not the full impact.

The Final Assessment

I actually liked enough patterns in this book – and my skill level is within the range of the target audience – that if I had the body for it, I’d probably have a struggle over how many to cast on for, and how soon.

As I prepared to write this review, I did some research on the Web to bring myself up to speed on the author. I’ve learned that Suss Cousins is something of a controversial subject, with many people feeling she has an attitude that she’s God’s gift to knitting. I can see their point – many of the descriptions in Suss Design Essentials contain casual mentions of the film stars who bought this design or that, and she frequently talks about how she’s designed for movies. As she describes how luxurious the yarns are, it’s as if she were a devoted fan gushing, and not the person who designed them.

Arrogant, or showing a proper pride in her accomplishments? I wouldn’t try to judge that unless I had a chance to spend time in Suss’ company.

The overall style sense in this book is a bit retro, harking back to the 70’s and 80’s, with a hint of punk thrown in now and again. Many commenters I found on the Web call her unoriginal – I felt that she brought her own perspective to the styles she chose, adding details that made them different from what came before.

Bottom line – not all designers, books, or patterns are for all people. I liked what I saw in this book. Others may have an issue with how she presents herself. Me – I’m content to enjoy her talents as a fashion knit designer, and to consider creating some sweaters in a Suss-like style for my goddess-size body.

Related Links:

I won’t link to any of the anti-Suss sites I found. That would just be spreading negative gossip, without having any knowledge of where the truth actually lies. If you really insist on seeing it, just Google Suss’ name.


Comment by Carrie K

September 12, 2007 @ 7:31 pm

Size 50 needles? So…….rolling pins? Ye gads.

I like that asymmetrical top but….you’re right. It looks completely symnetrical in the picture.

Comment by Sarah

September 12, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

All the ones you liked so did I, and the same thoughts for the dress, except mine tend to drift to if I was only the size I was when I was 15-18 and pre-baby instead this thing I am, post. I may have to sit down at the lbs and browse this one.

Comment by Carol

September 12, 2007 @ 8:54 pm

The Button T and the Open-front Pullover are definitely things that catch my eye. As for the weird white dress thing…well, any garment that requires the model to stand in a very unnatural pose suggests that she is hiding something that is wrong with the garment by posing strangely. Like the sweater I once ordered through the mail. The model was posed with her arms over her head. When I got the sweater, the sleeves were too long. Like gorilla long. Lesson learned.

Pingback by Crafting Jen » A Book for Freebie Friday, Sept. 14, 2007

September 14, 2007 @ 6:51 pm

[…] This week’s prize is the newly-released book Suss Design Essentials by Suss Cousins. I reviewed this book on Wednesday, both here and at the Shopping Jen blog. […]

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