Once in awhile, I make a point of eating a food I think I don’t like, talking politics with a person whose views are the polar opposite of mine, letting someone point a camera at me. I try not to get locked into my opinions, habits or worldview, in other words. People are changeable creatures, and it turns out vegetables are delicious! Anyway, I was stopped short recently by something Julie Hoover (designer of these recent Favorites) said on her blog, and so I asked her about it.
Thanks so much, Julie, for the thoughtful response —
Q: You recently posted on your blog with regard to your Hayward pattern: “The seams up the sides and deep raglan shoulder shaping help the garment to hold together structurally (just in case you’re inclined to knit it in the round — think twice!) and give you the opportunity to expose the seams during finishing for a more urban look.” I’m a top-down devotee, definitely inclined to knit this one in the round, from the top, but am curious what finesse or detail I might be missing. Stabilizing side “seams” and deep raglans are possible with top-down, so I’m wondering whether you could elaborate on your parenthetical above. Do you just find sewn seams to be more stable (or attractive), or is there more to it than that?
Julie Hoover: It’s a personal preference, for sure. It’s also the way I was trained to construct certain garments — in pieces. Deciding what technique to use is subjective from designer to designer and from knitter to knitter, and there’s always a case to be made for making an exception to the rule.
I like to knit garments from the bottom up because I prefer the look of a decrease stitch over an increase stitch, visually. You might find the opposite to be true for you. There are other reasons as well, but that’s the main one.
Generally, I don’t object to a garment knitted in the round if the entire garment is knitted that way. A knitter’s gauge can vary quite a bit when knitting back and forth vs. knitting circularly, so there’s always that to consider.
As for seamless vs. seams for Hayward … I’d have to hear exactly what “reinforcement” technique you would use to replace a seam and give it a try in order to know whether I would find it as suitable as the real thing. That might sound a bit inflexible, but particularly when working an oversized garment that has stress points at the shoulders and neckline seam areas (as Hayward does), you have to think of the seams as you would the load beams that support your home. Over time, you want them to be as strong as possible. I understand that many people hate seaming, and no matter what, they will avoid it. I certainly am not going to argue with them! But for me, I love the change in pace it offers at the end of a project, to slow down and see it all come together. Most importantly, I know that after all the time it took to knit, my garment is going to have the professional finishing touch it needs to last over time.
And just like that: worldview challenged. I’m still seriously pondering doing a top-down version of Hayward (I bought the pattern) — and may have daydreamed briefly about the specs and benchmarks for an A/B test of seamed and unseamed versions — but I often think I should at least consider knitting a seamed garment, and this exchange has given me new reasons to think so. I might even learn to love it.
How about you — thoughts on all this?
What a great interview. Although, it’s a bit above my knitting level to understand what is meant by giving structure to top-down sweaters… My top down sweaters never seem to have the same firmness and ability to hold shape the way my seamed sweaters do but I only use the raglan increases. I haven’t done the set-in sleeve top-down construction yet.
Seaming up a sweater does require a whole new skill set, but it’s worth the effort. And, knitting smaller pieces is nice. You don’t have to turn the entire sweater as you knit around. I would love to see a side-by-side AB test… but that sounds like a lot of effort! :)
That would be cool to see! After they had both been worn for a couple months.
Compulsively seamless on this end. I have been wondering if you couldn’t just crochet a ‘seam’ up the inside sides to add stability in the same way you can do that across the neck, shoulders, etc.
Also have been considering the use of nice cotton ribbons as a little inside seam detail to add non-stretchy structure.
There MUST be a way! I despise seaming, but do see the logic…
I love knitting seamless sweaters of all kinds but I have to agree with the above post that the flipping around of an entire garment while making the sleeves is, to me, a bigger chore than seaming. Additionally, I think it’s much easier to block smaller pieces than the whole sweater and it’s much easier to carry smaller pieces around with you if, say, you’re a commuter or traveler. Bottom line for me, it depends on how I intend to use the sweater. But, I will say, I agree with JH that the seams give better and longer lasting structure and can often give a more professional finish to my garments.
I dont mind seaming one bit! But I see the appeal….great interview, I love all of Julie’s designs .
Once I learned how to do it, I don’t have a problem seaming either. I’ve done it a few times, and each time I get better at it. I do see the difference seams make in some things too. There is more structure in the things with softer yarns, which seem to give things (at least the things I’ve made) a more durable feel. There’s even a faux seam (both yarns held together in just the first stitch of each round) in the White Caps cowl I’m doing right now, for the sole purpose of adding structure. It needed it.
I’m often afraid to try new things in knitting, but lately, I’m making a point of finding projects that offer new skills I haven’t tried yet. Seaming was one of those things a few months ago. What I really need to try is a top down sweater, in the round :)
This is great, you guys — thanks for weighing in.
For me, there are two solid reasons why I love top-down construction (even over bottom-up seamless) and neither of them, actually, is a dislike of seaming:
1) I do not enjoy knitting flat, as you know. For reasons I’ve never been able to quite figure out. I know that seeing an object emerge fully formed from my needles — whether it’s a glove, a hat or a whole sweater — is akin to magic. You can imagine my jaw slightly ajar and a look of wonder on my face … every time. And a little voice in the back of my head saying, “Do it again!” “I want to see it again!” Whereas when knitting flat, my brain goes limp. It just doesn’t hold my attention, for whatever reason. So projects languish. The idea of knitting a bunch of flat pieces definitely doesn’t light me up.
2) I love love love the row-by-row control you have with top-down. How utterly empowering it is. And that the whole process is fluid. All you have to decide up front is whether you’re making a cardigan or pullover (and not necessarily even that) and what kind of neck. Everything else can be decided (and adjusted!) as you go. So you have the power to make essentially anything you want just by knowing the system. It gives you so much freedom and, again, control. No guessing how your sweater will fit or whether it will suit you — or waiting until you’ve knit, blocked and seamed it to find out — because you’re trying it on and fitting it the whole time.
The fact that there’s generally little to no finishing work involved is, for me, just a bonus.
But I hadn’t given a lot of thought to seams as they relate to durability. I remember when I first started looking at patterns, seeing remarks about faux side seams, and giving idle thought to whether a sweater without side seams looks naked. Elizabeth Zimmermann was the first person I read who suggested that a sweater without them might twist on you. (She advocates faux seams — I think her first choice is simply slipping one stitch, right?) But I’ve only ever had the twisting problem with linen sweaters, and I stopped buying them for that reason, and never thought I’d make one. So now I’m rethinking what I thought I knew about linen sweaters.
And how perverse is this? I’m now pondering the idea of knitting seamlessly from the neck to the underarms, then dividing the front and back to knit the body halves flat, and seaming up the sides. In other words, the opposite of the common bottom-up approach where you knit the body upwards in the round and then divide for the upper front and back. I’m sure I’m not the first to consider this, but don’t think I’ve seen a pattern written that way. Is that crazy? Because it seems like it might be the ideal compromise to me.
I prefer top-down because the moment I learned to knit in the round was the moment my life changed, the possibilities seemed endless, in fact I’ve only used straight needles once since then.
I have avoided seams like the plague, yes because I love knitting in the round, but also because they intimidate the heck out of me! Every time I have seamed anything, it looks well, like it’s been seamed, not subtle at all. However, I imagine that if I made time to learn how to seam better or have someone instruct me, I could definitely see what Julie is talking about.
Thanks for this awesome and insightful post Karen and Julie! xo
Love the way you talk about the sense of wonder in knitting – that ‘Oh wow’- ness – which I totally relate to! Now that I think about it, it is one of the main reasons I knit! Once that goes I will likely stop.
I think your solution would work. It would give the jumper structure on the sides, but you might want to reinforce the shoulder and neck seam, depending on the yarn you use. If I recall correctly Julie mentions talked about the weight pulling from the neck…so you could crochet an invisible chain on the inside of the shoulder and across the back of the neck, maybe? (I swear I saw something, somewhere of someone doing this effectively. It looked really simple and quick!).
Seems like it would depend on the sweater — the shape, the yarn and gauge, whether it’s an everyday or special occasion thing — as to how much it would really even matter. Right? I’m not very hard on my clothes anyway, generally speaking. But it makes me favor a crewneck that’s picked up and knit upwards over one that’s cast on and knit downwards before segueing into the yoke. I can already see myself evaluating those kinds of choices differently.
Well, that is just it, isn’t it? And the sweater looks like it SHOULD be schumpy. Also if you used something lightweight and not too drapey- geelong maybe?- it would likely be fine. (in my humble and oh so sketchy opinion!)
I definitely need to take a really good finishing class. I’ve never felt very confident in my abilities, because everything I know I learned from book illustrations or YouTube videos, and it’s just not the same as learning from a real live person. That’s on my to-do list.
I need one, too. I bought that finishing book. I LOVE Julie Hoover! Great post!
What finishing book did you buy, MJ?
What an interesting interview. Personally I completely prefer top down knitting and I much prefer the look of an increase stitch over a decrease. Maybe this is a new type of personality test in the making?? Top-down vs seams, increases over decreases. It’s probably a more accurate reflection of personality than what blood group you are, for instance!
Yeah, my increases are more attractive than my decreases.
A bit tangential, but one thing I do think is a big point in bottom-up’s favor is that the pace of the project gets faster and faster instead of slower and slower — each row/round getting smaller rather than larger.
I think it depends on the construction. There are ways to get structure without using seams by picking up stitches or using three needle bind offs, but structure is definitely needed with certain sweater shapes. I recently tried a seamless set in sleeve construction method that doesn’t involve picking up stitches around the armholes or anything that would give the sleeve cap structure, and it stretches everywhere. It’s awful. I love knitting seamlessly when I can make it work because it makes me feel clever, and the ability to work seamlessly is so unique to knitting and crochet, but sometimes seams are the right choice.
I’ve done both and I enjoy them both from a knitter’s perspective. However, I do think it really matters how the garment is worn. Comfortable and warm around the house? Sure, go seamless. Stylish and professional in the office? Seams will give you a better look and fit.
I’ve never thought about the look of increases vs. decreases, but I have to agree with Julie, I like decreases better. I haven’t actually owned a seamed or seamless sweater long enough to really say how they hold up, but it’s definitely something I’ve though about with designing.
Great interview question!
Right — the nice thing is we don’t have to choose! To each project its own parameters. But it’s all very interesting to weigh and consider, and it’ll definitely affect my choices here and there.
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