How to incorporate a stitch pattern in a top-down sweater

How to incorporate a stitch pattern in a top-down sweater

For those of you wanting to incorporate a stitch pattern into your improvised top-down sweater, I’m going to do my best to explain how to do so. As much as I believe I have a grasp on the theory, I have only just done it for the first time (see above), so if anyone among you has superior sage advice to offer, please do speak up in the comments!

However you go about this, the tricky bit is “increasing in pattern,” right? If you establish a stitch pattern at the start of your neck, each section of the sweater (two arms, a front and a back) will get wider (more stitches) with every increase that you do. So you need to be able to figure out what each new stitch wants to be when you work it on its first row of existence. (Depending how you’re doing your increases, it may just be an increase stitch — i.e. a kfb — on the row where you create it, and you don’t need to decide what it is until the next row when you come back to it.) If you’re doing a really simple, symmetrical, 1-row pattern — like, say, 1×1 ribbing — it’s easy to figure out what each new stitch is, because it’s binary. If it’s next to a knit stitch, it will be a purl, and vice versa. Seed stitch, moss stitch, other simple repetitive patterns can be determined like that — just by looking at what’s sitting on your needles and deciding what the adjacent stitch should be.*

However, it gets more complicated if you’re using a more complex stitch pattern and if you’re doing neck shaping. I’m gonna break this down by difficulty level—

EASY

The easiest way of all to use a stitch pattern on your sweater would be to not start it until after all of the shaping is complete! You could definitely have a plain yoke with patterning around the lower parts of the body and sleeves.

The easiest ways to incorporate a stitch pattern on your yoke are: A) do the Reversible method described in the tutorial so you’ve got your full compliment of stitches in all four sections of your sweater and can simply establish your stitch pattern on the very first row, then all you have to think about with each increase is what those new stitches at either end of a section need to do. And B) stick with a simple repeat stitch pattern as noted above. As far as establishing the stitch pattern on row 1, unless there’s some reason to do otherwise, always center your stitch pattern within your stitch count and make it symmetrical. For example, if you’re doing 1×1 ribbing, start with an odd number of stitches in each section, so you can begin and end on a knit stitch. (Then think about what kind of raglan sts you may want to use to separate the sections visually.)

The easiest way to use a stitch pattern with a shaped neck (or more specifically a crewneck) is to restrict the stitch pattern to the center front panel of the sweater. Figure out your neck depth, how many increase rows it will take to get there, and how many additional stitches you’ll be casting on when joining in the round. Then center your stitch pattern within those cast-on stitches. At that point, there’s no increasing to worry about — you just have a set number of stitches within which you establish your pattern, then just carry on with it.

MODERATE

If you’re using a more complex stitch pattern — something charted and/or that plays out over a repeat of several rows — again, the easier way to do that would be to use the Reversible method so you’re working with a full set of stitches from the start. You may find it useful (or even necessary) to chart out exactly how the stitch pattern falls within your determined cast-on counts for each section of the sweater, and what will be happening as the stitches widen with each increase round. But again, in this scenario each section is only widening outward, so you only have to think about what happens as you add one stitch at each end.

How to incorporate a stitch pattern in a top-down sweater

DIFFICULT

Not difficult, necessarily, but the most difficult scenario is if you’ve got a more complex, charted stitch pattern and are planning to do neck shaping. In the scenarios above, the front and back are identical and all of the stitches exist as of cast-on. In this scenario, they are eventually identical — the front is the same as the back, only with a big chunk missing in the middle at the start. The two front neck sts at cast-on are the same as the stitch at each end of the back neck. But as you increase at the front neck and the front raglan at the same time, that section of your knitting is getting wider in two directions, forming a V shape as you increase, with the bottom of the V being that first stitch you cast on.

If your stitch pattern is a fairly straightforward vertical repeat like mine shown here, you might be fine simply charting out how the stitch pattern falls within the cast-on number for each section and then increasing in pattern. I wanted to be sure the front of the neckline (the additional cast-on sts at the join) wouldn’t hit at a weird spot in the cable pattern. I’m cabling every 12th row/round, so I took a minute to calculate how many rows my neck depth would take, how many increases would have been done in the back at that point, and thus how many sts I’ll be casting on for the front/join and on which row. What my math tells me is I’ll be casting on and joining in the round on the 26th row. So rather than doing the first cables on rows 12 and 24, I’ve decided to do the first one at row 8, then 20, then 32, so my front neckline (at row 26) falls comfortably between the cable rows.

Hopefully you can see in the image above that I also charted out the whole thing up to that point, just to be safe — centering my stitch pattern within the cast-on count for my back section (44 sts), which will eventually be mirrored on the front. The darker outward zigzags are the raglan increases for both back and front. The lighter inward zigzags are the neck increases on the front section only. (Getting one stitch wider at each increase point, every other row.) Where you see the cable symbol as half dotted, that’s where I’ll work the cable on the back on that row, but not on the front, because I don’t yet have enough front stitches in that spot to work my 6-stitch cable. (I use my trusty Knitters Graph Paper Journal for charting stuff like this and for keeping all my assorted notes and calculations and doodles.)

The hardest part is establishing the stitch pattern for the front stitches in the beginning while you have only 1 and then 2 and then 4 sts. So here’s my best tip: To keep this manageable, use the same stitch pattern on the front and back of your sweater and remember that they’re identical. When you’re wondering which 4 stitches those are, because you’ve increased both directions from that single first stitch and maybe feel a little confused, consult the first four stitches on the back and make the front stitches a mirror image of them. Once you build up a few more rows, you’ll be able to see your stitch pattern and know how to keep increasing until your neck is complete.

But wait!

There’s one more thing to consider before you cast on. If you are using an allover stitch pattern that will continue beyond the yoke and onto the body, you need to think about how your stitch pattern will play out where the back meets the front at the side seams — especially if you’re doing colorwork or a large and distinct repeat like I’m doing. My stitch pattern is 12 sts wide, and I do want it to fit perfectly into my body stitches. My target circumference is about 36.5″ and my stitch gauge is 6.5 sts/in. That’s 237 sts, or 118 each for front and back. If I round that up to 120 each for front and back (240 total), my 12-stitch repeat fits perfectly into it. (12 x 10 = 120) So you either need to tweak your stitch count, or figure out the most optimal non-perfect side seam match, and/or put a contrasting panel of some kind at each side so that the two stitch patterns don’t actually meet. There’s no right or wrong — just whatever feels best to you, for your sweater. If you’re working side-seam increases/decreases, keep that in mind too.

(It’s less of a concern on the sleeves since they’re funnel shaped — you’ll be decreasing down the length of them anyway — and are much less visible than the body of your sweater. Most likely, it won’t really matter how the stitches meet in the middle, only that they were centered in your sleeve-top stitches to begin with.)

If working out what happens on the body is more than you want to think about, plan on doing the patterning on the yoke only and work the body plain.

In summary:

– Center your stitch pattern within the stitch count for each section of the sweater (sleeves and back/front) and make it symmetrical — unless you’re being deliberately asymmetrical, of course

– Increase in pattern, either by reading the adjacent stitches or charting it out ahead of time, depending on the complexity of your pattern

– If you’re doing neck shaping, use the back stitches as a crutch to help you know what to do with the first few front ones

– Be mindful of how the stitch patterns match up at the side seams

Again, if anyone has any contrary or additional advice, please share it below. There are a lot of people planning stitch patterns on the #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 feed, and I can’t wait to see them all take shape!

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*If you’re not comfortable reading your knitting, I don’t advise incorporating a stitch pattern.

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PREVIOUSLY in Top-Down Knitalong: Meet the Panel!

33 thoughts on “How to incorporate a stitch pattern in a top-down sweater

  1. This is awesome, as susual, but I am still wondering how I am going to incorporate my increases into the stranded-colorwork yoke I have sketched out without them showing! My previous top-down (which was all stockinette) had some nice, visibe diagonals lines separating visually the sleeves from the front (and the back) but now I don’t want them to show through the colorwork pattern. Is it just a matter of which type of increase I choose ? I am getting super-confused about how to chart out the increases within the colorwork!!! (I am clearly venturing far beyond my expertise here!)

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    • Typically (from what I can tell as an observer!) a colorwork yoke is done in a “circular yoke,” where there are more increases done within a smaller number of increases rows, and they’re distributed all the way around the yoke rather than concentrated at raglans seams. So for instance, you might increase 20 sts in one row, then not increase again for a few inches, then increase 30 sts in that row. Or whatever. And usually those increase rows are done on MC rows in between the colorwork bands, rather than within the colorwork. I don’t have any experience or advice on how you would do raglan increases and colorwork at the same time other than to say it would depend entirely on the specifics of your colorwork design and what would make sense with it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • In response to the people considering stranded colorwork and how to incorporate the raglan increases, while maintaining the charted pattern – I would highly recommend anyone interested to looking over the pattern “Baby Faroe” by Ashley Rao. It is a beautiful baby sweater, knit from the top down, that incorporates what looks to be a busy complicated stranded colorwork design. I just finished knitting this beautiful sweater for my first grand child and at first I was very confused about how the raglan increases would effect the growing pattern design. What I found is that the raglan increases only mattered where the pattern grows larger at the point of the increase, and that the (3) stitches where the raglan increase took place provided a design element that took care of how you incorporated the stranded colorwork design. If you look closely at that point of increase, you will notice that the pattern was not incorporated in the “overall” design, and yet it looks great. Ravelry would be a great place to get an up close look at this detail.

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      • I am doing colorwork on my sweater too – but modified…. if you look I have posted some pictures in Instagram with the #fringeandfriendsKAL2016 hashtag. I wanted a two color pullover in autumn colors with “reverse color” maple leaves (well I actually started out with a more complex idea but kept simplifying it as I realized what my gauge ended up being)
        I drew some leaves on paper, imported them into Photoshop and created a jpg where the size of it mapped to what my yoke would end up being. THIS is COMPLICATED!!
        In one of my photos you can see I enlisted my 18 yo son to “reverse” the colors. Then, the next morning I used KnitPro online (http://www.microrevolt.org/knitPro/) to turn that actual size jpg into a chart.
        I’m only on the plain section still – but as I move into the color work I am hoping it will come out the way I am dreaming it will come out!
        You may have some luck playing with charting online – you can try Tricksey Knitter too for creating a chart. I figured out my gauge, and Knit Pro takes that into account when making a chart from your image file.
        Really excited about this KAL – and love following everything on Instagram! It’s how I start my day, Instagram search for the hashtag, coffee, and working on my sweater.

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    • You’ve set an interesting challenge. It may help to photo copy several of your pattern sketches and literally cut their square edges into sloped raglans and see how they meet. It may help you decide how to make the color choices at increases smoothly – or perhaps modify the color work at the raglans for not quite perfectly in-pattern movement across the raglans, but an interesting transition – something other than single color diagonals. Maybe it would help to do a mitered swatch once you’ve played with the paper? I bet there is some knitting design software that would help but I’d be the last person to know about that. Best of luck.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks heartily to both! your comments are so very helpful, as I have never knitted a colorwork yoke before. It makes sense to try and copy the pattern and cut the edges to see what it would look like and maybe change things around a bit. Also knowing that the increases are typically worked into the pattern between the color bands -and not within them-clarifies things enormously for me. I am obliged!

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    • Depending on the type of colourwork you are doing, I’d suggest trying to do the raglan increase with one purl stitch between the increases. This way you’re making a ditch, and eliminating the visible increase. If your pattern is in “stripey” sections, like on a classic fair isle garment, you might want to perform your increases in the “resting” rows, often done in a single colour, rather than in the middle of the pattern rows themselves.
      I don’t know if this is helpful, but I thought I’d throw it out there! :)

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    • Sorry, as I say in the tutorial I’ve never done short-row shaping on an improvised top-down and can’t advise on how to calculate those short rows. Less so where there’s a stitch pattern involved!

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    • I’m wondering why you would want more short row shaping in the back? If you are knitting a Shaped neck (vs. a Reversible neck using KT’s terms from the full top-down tutorial), it kind of has built-in short rows at the upper back – not technically – but by the time you’ve got the front neck on the needles, the back neck already has some depth. The Reversible approach doesn’t have this.

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  2. I agree with MJK…p-l-e-a-s-e take all your gems of wisdom and publish them in a book. Yes, I know you wouldn’t have a life for a little while, but you’ll be on the best seller list overnight!

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  3. A general concept question. As I was reading your description of figuring final number of stitches for circumference and splitting them between the front and back, I wondered if you’ve ever seen patterns that add more stitches to the front than the back for a large bust adjustment? I don’t need that … that’s the concept part.

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    • Yeah, that’s the beauty of going your own way. Pattern-writers have to write to generic human forms that rarely match up with our own! When you’re writing your own, you get to work to your own needs and shape.

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  4. Yes! when you are figuring it out without a pattern you DO have to rely on “reading your knitting.” I think that’s what is making this KAL such a good learning project.

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  5. In response to the people considering stranded colorwork and how to incorporate the raglan increases, while maintaining the charted pattern – I would highly recommend anyone interested to looking over the pattern “Baby Faroe” by Ashley Rao. It is a beautiful baby sweater, knit from the top down, that incorporates what looks to be a busy complicated stranded colorwork design. I just finished knitting this beautiful sweater for my first grand child and at first I was very confused about how the raglan increases would effect the growing pattern design. What I found is that the raglan increases only mattered where the pattern grows larger at the point of the increase, and that the (3) stitches where the raglan increase took place provided a design element that took care of how you incorporated the stranded colorwork design. If you look closely at that point of increase, you will notice that the pattern was not incorporated in the “overall” design, and yet it looks great. Ravelry would be a great place to get an up close look at this detail.

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. yes. you definitely have to be able to read your knitting to incorporate a stitch pattern.
    i don’t have fancy software for making knitwear but i like to chart out my stitch patterns and increases using excel. it’s easy to layout your stitch pattern repeat and then copy and paste in next to each other to plan the increases. i actually work it in reverse taking away stitches from the repeat to plan where the increases will fall in the patterning.
    also, i like to work my entire neckline and then use short rows to shape the curve and depth of the neckline and darts to give the back of the neckline a bit more shape and width. i like this tutorial for information on that with the contiguous method (but it works well with any top down garment; i have done it with raglans several times): http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/seelie-cardi

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  9. Great post Karen! I have a question regarding the beginning of the row once the front neck stitches are cast on. Since you are following a stitch pattern I find it odd to start working the new row at the centre of the front neck (the true BOR), but taking it to the edge of the front neck means having a sort of mismatched row in the front. What was your solution?

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    • It’s a really good question, and I think you just have to figure out what’s best for your stitch pattern. I definitely took a big pause when I got to that point, because I needed to make sure my cables would stay lined up. I decided to place my marker just after the center cable. But the best bet might be to make the raglan your BOR and just remember to work your first increase at the end of the previous row as you come to the marker. Does that make sense?

      Liked by 1 person

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