Friday, 2 January 2015

When First We Knit to Deceive

Recently I've been stumbling upon some trompe-l'œil knitwear, and because I wanted an excuse to spend several hours drooling over researching trompe-l'œil patterns, I decided to do a post on trompe-l'œil patterns. Trompe-l'œil (French for "deceive the eye"), is an artistic technique that employs realistic imagery to create an optical illusion. The Wikipedia entry on trompe-l'œil is interesting, but doesn't even mention knitwear design. The very first trompe-l'œil knitwear design appears above, and most of you will probably recognize it as an iconic Elsa Schiaparelli design from 1927. It was a startling innovation and became an immediate success after Schiaparelli wore it to a luncheon. The bowknot sweater pattern is available for free.

Less recognizable but as well-designed are these later trompe-l'œil designs from Elsa Schiaparelli. I was disappointed to find that Ravelry had only a handful of trompe-l'œil patterns and that of those there was only one I cared to share, though I suspect that there are quite a few more in Ravelry database that just aren't tagged by any term that would allow me to find them. I resorted to a general internet search and to using images of trompe-l'œil knitwear for which there are no patterns, as well as sewn trompe-l'œil designs to fill out my post, but then this is a simple and easily replicated technique. In a case like this an inspirational photo is nearly as valuable as a pattern.

Other designers were to take up the trompe-l'œil torch. This is a Hermès trompe-l'œil dress from 1952. It is not knitted, but sewn fabric with the scarf and collar design painted on to it, and it's possibly my favourite of any design in this post. I'd love to see this one translated into knitwear.

This is a 1966 design from U.K. knitwear designer John Carr Doughty.

Trompe l'oeil sweater and dress from 1975, as they appeared in an issue of American Home Crafts magazine. I can't say I like either of these items exactly, but they are interesting examples of what can be done with trompe-l'œil. And the hot pants are optional.

This is a 1970s trompe-l'œil "coat" dress that was listed on Etsy and has sold. It's another example that's more useful as a starting point than as a design to copy.

To get to some contemporary versions of trompe-l'œil, here's one from Vogue's May 2008 issue.

This cute little number is the Trompe L'oeil design, by Gyorgyi Suta. It's available on Ravelry for $7(USD).

A t-shirt designed by Paule Ka. I'd love to see a knitted trompe-l'œil "trench coat" coat design.

A Moschino Cheap & Chic crepe jersey dress. Incorporating jewelry into trompe-l'œil is another possible direction for designers.

A Paule Ka machine knit mini-dress. The great thing about trompe-l'œil is that one gets to add dimension and visual interest without adding bulk.

Spectator socks, source unknown. The one draw back to these is that the effect would be spoiled by putting shoes over them, and it would be a shame to only be able to wear them around home.


  1. Fun post! I'm so glad the hot pants are optional, too...
    : )

  2. OHHHHHHHH Spectator Socks <3

  3. Very enlightening. Thank you! it's not really my cup of tea but it sure got me thinking 😊

  4. Those spectator socks are just shouting for clear shoes. Have you seen them? Perfect for showing off hand-knitted socks.