I’ve taken to calling myself a top-down evangelist, so determined am I to teach people. It’s a wonder I don’t stand on the street corner with a big hand-lettered sign and a bullhorn, trying to lure aspiring knitters into my studio.
It’s not that I think top-down is the One True Way to make a sweater, and I certainly wouldn’t want to knit exclusively top-down forever either — there are too many fascinating and nuanced construction techniques to be explored. BUT, I do think it’s a wildly empowering and transformative thing to know how to do. And a real gateway drug for beginners. It’s one thing to be able to knit what you want to knit, without a pattern, and customize the fit as you go. But in addition to all of that, it teaches you the nuts and bolts of construction, the true value of a swatch, and the basics of knitting math (so simple!) and shaping, all of which can change how you relate to the patterns you knit — enabling you to make changes to suit your own taste and shape, and to understand how those changes will play out. Simply put: It makes you a much bolder knitter.
So you can bet that whenever a friend can’t find a pattern that’s close enough to the picture in her hand or her head, I say, “Why not let me show you how top-down works.” Since I mention my pal Leigh so often around here, I thought I would show you the sweater she recently finished. She’d ordered a kit from Wool and the Gang and loved the wool but not the pattern. What she really wanted, it turned out, was a very simple, wide-necked, raglan pullover — the easiest possible top-down project. So with a little guidance from me and Barbara Walker, she improvised it. We took these pictures a few days ago and Leigh was being goofy for the camera, but I think it’s not surprising that the poses she jokingly struck were of triumph and pride. That’s exactly how your first patternless sweater makes you feel.
I’m thinking of doing a couple of posts on top-down theory in the coming weeks — one a broad pictorial overview of how the process works, to help demystify it for anyone who thinks it might be daunting, and then perhaps a more detailed dissection of how to improvise a sweater of your own. I won’t rest until I’ve wiped out episodes like this one, where 80 people ask for a pattern they wouldn’t need if only they knew. I remember looking at that project page a year ago and being utterly awed and perplexed at the idea that a person could just make up a sweater out of thin air and string. Unimaginable! to a noob like me.