When I first published my top-down tutorial in early 2013, I’d only been knitting for about 17 months, hadn’t yet struck on my basted knitting theory, and didn’t take much care with the tutorial photos. In the interim, I’ve published many related posts about various details of the process. And I also never imagined how popular the tutorial would be or how many countless sweaters would be knitted from it! So in 2016, I felt like I owed it an update — factoring in some deeper thinking and linking — which is now in place. (And which also feeds into the Top-Down Knitalong!)
I also realized what was missing was a short and sweet outline/pattern for how to knit a seamless top-down sweater — without all the explanation and elaboration — which would be sufficient for sweater knitters who’d simply not done it from scratch before, while also serving as a gateway to the full tutorial for those who need it. So that’s what follows. And both the short-form version below and the full tutorial now contain specifics on how to incorporate basting stitches and/or flat knitting for those (like me) who choose to add seams to their seamless knitting, to get the benefits of both!
I can’t wait to see what you make with this pattern and tutorial! Please link your Ravelry projects to the new Improv pattern page. And if you’re participating in the knitalong, please use #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 wherever you share. Enjoy!
Knitting a basic sweater from the neck down is one of the easiest ways to gain an understanding of how sweater shaping works, which builds your confidence as a knitter and enables you to begin modifying published patterns to your liking or to knit without a pattern. And it’s so simple that, as I said in the original tutorial intro, if you can knit a fingerless mitt, you can knit a top-down sweater.
– Improv pattern at Ravelry
– Full top-down tutorial
– How to measure a swatch
– How to knit the right size sweater
– How (and why) to seam a seamless sweater
– How (and why) to knit top-down sleeves flat
– Hot Tip: Save time at try-on
– How to incorporate a stitch pattern
– How to knit a compound raglan
– How to knit inset pockets
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For this pattern, you may use any yarn and needles you like; you may choose between a pullover and cardigan, as well as the specific details thereof; and you’ll establish your own stitch and row gauge.
First: With the exact yarn and needles you intend to use, knit a large swatch (swatch “in the round” if you’re knitting your sweater in the round), measure your stitch and row gauge once, then block the swatch and measure it again. The blocked dimensions are what you’ll base your sweater on, but if your counts changed with blocking, bear that in mind when trying on your sweater as you go. (And if so, you might find it worthwhile to steam your sweater whenever you’re trying it on.)
Read through the entire pattern below before starting. Reference the “Target Stitch Counts” section below that for calculating the numbers used throughout the pattern, see the notes below that for including optional basting stitches, and click through the linked pattern subheads as needed for the corresponding tutorial for that step.
- A sweater’s worth of your choice of yarn (see yardage requirements for comparable sweaters or consult a source like Stashbot)
- Needle Size A: in size needed to achieve your main fabric gauge, one 24″ circular needle for neck/shaping and start of yoke; one circ slightly shorter than your intended body circumference for yoke and body; DPNs or preferred method for small-circumference knitting in the round for sleeves
- Needle Size B: in size needed to achieve your edging fabric (ribbing, or as desired), one 16″-24″ circular for neckband; longer circ for hem edging; DPNs or preferred method for cuffs in the round
- Optional Try-On needles: Second long circular needle gauge or smaller than Needle A for trying on sweater in progress (See: Save time at try-on)
- stitch markers
- waste yarn
- tapestry needle
Note: If you are knitting a cardigan and are a Magic Loop knitter, you can knit the entire sweater with one long circ
- Taken from blocked swatch, see headnote above
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1. CAST ON AND MARK RAGLAN POSITIONS
CO [A] sts for neck edge, placing markers for raglan positions (and any “seam” stitches if desired) on this or the next row. (See Basting Stitch section below if using)
Work back and forth in rows, increasing on both sides of each raglan on every right side row (or as desired) and at front neck as needed for your intended neck shaping (every other row for crewneck or shallow V; every fourth row for deeper V; or as desired).
(8 sts inc at raglans, 2 at front neck, per inc row)
For crewneck pullover: Continue neck shaping until you’ve worked to your desired neck depth [B] and have completed a RS (inc) row. Count back neck sts and front neck sts (combining the two fronts), and subtract to get the difference — this is your additional CO count. Placing a marker (BOR) in the center of them, CO the number of sts needed to make front and back equal, then join in the round.
For V-neck pullover: Continue until your front sts combined equal the number of back sts. At end of the inc rnd that brings them equal, place a marker (center front neck, BOR) and join in the round.
For cardigan: Work neck shaping as above but do not join in the round; continue working back and forth in rows.
Continue working in the round (for pullover) or back and forth in rows (for cardigan), increasing at raglans as needed until desired st counts are met for front and back [C minus F] and sleeves [D minus F], then work even until desired yoke depth [E] is met.*
Dropping raglan markers as you come to them, and dividing any sts within the raglan seam between body and sleeves as desired, work to first raglan marker; transfer left sleeve sts to waste yarn; CO underarm sts [F], placing a marker at the center of the underarm; work across back sts to next raglan marker; transfer right sleeve sts to waste yarn; CO underarm sts [F], placing a marker at the center of the underarm; work to BOR marker (for pullover) or end of row (for cardigan).
Body: Continue knitting the body with shaping as desired until intended length before hem treatment. Work hem treatment and BO.
Sleeves: Return sts to needle, making sure you’ve got the correct number. Pick up and knit one st in each underarm-cast-on st, placing a marker at the center of the underarm, and join in the round.** Continue knitting the sleeve with shaping as desired until intended length before cuff treatment. Work cuff treatment and BO. Repeat for second sleeve.
(To minimize holes at the corners of the underarms, pick up and knit one extra st in the gap between the cast-on and held sts, then decrease it out on the next round.)
Neck: Pick up sts and work as desired for your preferred neckband/buttonband treatment. BO.
(This can be done at any point after the neckline is complete — for a pullover, I prefer to do it shortly after the neck is joined.)
Weave in ends; close up any gaps at corners of underarms with a tail of yarn; seam anywhere you included a basting stitch or knitted a sleeve flat. Wear with pride!
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TARGET STITCH COUNTS AND DIMENSIONS
A / CAST-ON COUNT
[back neck width x sts per inch] + [~30% of that number for sleeve top x 2] + [1 front neck st x 2] = CO
(See how to subdivide with markers for raglans in the tutorial.)
B / NECK DEPTH
desired drop from back to front neck edge x rows per inch = neck depth
e.g. For 3” neck depth at 5 rows per inch, you’d work 15 rows
C / FRONT AND BACK ST COUNT (at underarm/chest)
1/2 chest circumference x sts per inch = front or back st count***
e.g. A 44”-circumference sweater is 22 inches across; at 4.5 sts per inch that would be 99 sts for the front and 99 for the back
NOTE: subtract F from this number to get the number you are increasing to during the raglan shaping. E.g. if you’ll be casting on 16 underarm sts, you’ll work raglan increases in the front/back until you have 83 sts, then 16 will be cast on at the underarm, giving you 99.
D / SLEEVE ST COUNT (at underarm/upper sleeve)
desired sleeve circumference x sts per inch = sleeve st count***
NOTE: subtract F from this number to get the number you are increasing to during the raglan shaping; see above.
E / YOKE DEPTH
desired distance from shoulder to underarm x rows/rounds per inch = yoke depth****
F / UNDERARM CO COUNT
desired underarm width (rule of thumb is ~8% of body circumference) x sts per inch = underarm CO count
For how to calculate sleeve shaping and body shaping, see the sweater shaping math section of the top-down tutorial.
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FOR BASTING STITCHES (optional)
– Yoke: Add one stitch in center of each raglan (do not include in any target stitch counts), work in reverse stockinette for duration of yoke
– Sleeves: Give the extra yoke stitches (above) to the sleeves on the separation round; use them as the two extra selvage sts needed for flat sleeves, or decrease them out right away for circular sleeves
– Sides: Work one stitch at each side seam marker in reverse stockinette
– Mattress stitch after blocking finished garment. For the basted seams, work mattress stitch back and forth under the bar on either side of the basting stitch for the length of the “seam”
– – – – – – – – – –
BO = bind off
BOR = beginning of round
CO = cast on
circ = circular needle
inc = increase
rnd(s) = round(s)
RS = right side
st(s) = stitch(es)
WS = wrong side
*You may reach your desired counts in the sleeves before the front/back, or vice versa. As desired counts are met, simply work even in that portion of the sweater.
**Or for seamed sleeves, knit flat as described here.
***You may need to round up or down on either your target count or your cast-on count, so that both are either even or odd numbers. Every increase is an even pair (2 sts) and you can’t increase evenly from an odd number to an even number, or vice versa. Use whichever your stitch pattern requires, if applicable.
****Make sure you have enough rows to work the number of increases it will take to get from your cast-on counts to your target-minus-underarm counts.