How to improvise a top-down sweater, Prologue: The possibilities are endless

top-down sweater almost finished

Sorry for the lull in the action on this. It turns out I didn’t have enough yarn to finish this sweater over the weekend, but it’s not critical to being able to finish up this series! (I promise I’ll post the finished sweater at some point.) (UPDATE: Here it is, along with summarized specs.)

When we left off last time, we’d talked about how to calculate shaping for your body and sleeves, so all that was left to do was knit them to the length you want them, work your ribbing (or whatever) and bind off. While there’s no seaming to be done, just weaving in your ends, there is one other tiny bit of finishing, and that’s the inevitable holes at the underarms. Just like with a thumb gusset on a glove, there will be a little gap at each side where you cast on and then picked up stitches. Some people pick up an extra stitch or two at those corners and then decrease them out on the next round. My preference is to simply take a tail of yarn (ideally the tail you left when reattaching yarn for the sleeve) and weave the hole closed. I use a tapestry needle and, as with the duplicate-stitch method of weaving in ends, essentially trace the natural path of the stitches around that area, matching the tension and closing up the gaps.

Other than that, voilà: A sweater has emerged from your needles, fully formed and ready to wear.

THE END … AND THE BEGINNING

The thing I want to leave you with is that, once you’ve grasped the basic process, you can throw nearly everything I’ve said out the window and do whatever you want. If you have a large chest, you might want to have more stitches in the front of your sweater than the back, rather than making them match. If you want a slower slope to your raglans, perhaps for an extra-deep armhole, you might work your yoke increases every third or fourth round. You might also increase for your sleeves and body at different rates, for instance if you’re creating a comparatively wide body and fitted sleeves, or vice versa. When you get to the hem, you might choose to do a split hem (maybe bi-level), or use short rows to create a curved shirttail hem or to make the back of the sweater hang lower than the front. I mentioned before that whether you knit the body first or the sleeves is completely up to you. If you don’t like rotating a whole sweater in your lap while knitting sleeves in the round, you might choose to knit them back and forth (still from the shoulder down) and then seam along the underside of the arm. If you’re truly improvising, or averse to grade-school math, you can even just feel your way through the shaping of the sleeves and body. Pull the sweater over your head every couple of inches; decrease whenever the sweater needs to get smaller; increase whenever it needs to get larger. The point is: You’re in total control of your sweater, and you can and should do whatever works for you.

As I said in the intro, this is really just scraping the surface of what’s possible with top-down. I wanted to show you the basic method so you can see how simple (and empowering!) it is, and to that end, I’ve kept the sample sweater as simple as possible. But with this method, the world is pretty much your oyster. The type of neckline, the gauge of the sweater, whether it has raglan sleeves or contiguous set-in sleeves, whether it’s a pullover or cardigan, striped or two-tone or colorwork, what kind of stitch pattern, what kind of edging … the possibilities are endless. Make just about any sweater you like, no pattern required.

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POSTS IN THIS SERIES: [Favorite it on Ravelry]
Introduction / Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans / Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping / Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke / Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body / Part 5: The art of sweater shaping / Prologue

13 thoughts on “How to improvise a top-down sweater, Prologue: The possibilities are endless

  1. I’m off to start at the beginning, this looks great :)
    When I’m picking up under the arms I pick up two extra stitches and on the first round k2tog and ssk them with the first and last existing stitches. Voila! no holes.

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  2. Hi Karen, thanks it’s great!
    I have a question though.. When you are sizing on the body as you knit, how do you deal with changes in the size after washing and blocking?
    Thanks, Marije

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    • Hi, Marije. Same as anything, really — if you’ve been thorough, you’ve blocked and measured your swatch and are keeping any growth or shrinkage in mind as you knit. I tend to knit bulkier sweaters, which are more susceptible to gravity, so tend to make them a hair shorter than I’d like them, figuring they’ll grow a little when worn.

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  3. I have just finished reading through this series and it has answered so many questions that I couldn’t find answers to elsewhere – THANK YOU! You’ve explained it all so beautifully. :) I’m going to start with a sweater for my toddler before I’m brave enough to start one for myself, so I’m sure I’ll be back with questions! X.

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  4. I recently found your blog and have been all over it. I am using your process right now. Hope to end up with my first sweater that actually fits.

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