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.
Loving the sweater, Leigh! AND the top-down evangelizing, Karen! ;-)
I have to say, top down is the only way I DON’T have trauma with arms…it is just a total non issue, which is the hugest relief. Was starting to get a complex.
(more of a complex)
That sweater is lovely!
I began a sweater back in August, but from bottom up. I’m now at the spot where I need to connect my sleeves, but I haven’t the slightest idea how I’m going to do it. I’m hoping the answer comes to me as I finish up the sleeves.
I’ve only done that once — will be doing it again soon with Garance, apparently — but I’m interested in finding some smart advice about how to knit those first few rounds after the join without traumatizing the underarm. I know there’s some brilliant trick, and it likely involves some magic loop-ish manipulation of the cable as you’re going around the still-small circumference of the arms at that point. But I wasn’t able to find anything in my hour of need. If anyone out there has advice, please chime in!
I find the underarm recovers fairly quickly from the trauma of those first few rounds, so I just try to get them over as quickly as possible!
KICK ASS! (Is that okay as a comment?)
Thanks for your guidance, Karen!
Inspiring!! I’ve never knitted a top down and don’t really know what’s involved, but reading your posts is increasingly making me think I need to explore this top down malarkey! Guidance notes enthusiastically recieved.
It’s like magic!
The fabulous Leigh Wells in her glorious sweater. Well done Girl!
Are you using the Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Percentage system?
I need to try this so I can get over my fear of knitting math!
I tend to use Barbara Walker’s formula, which says when marking off your raglans you should make each sleeve top 1/3 the stitches of each body section. But for myself, I’ve been playing around with something a bit closer to half, trying to figure out what sits best on my broad shoulders.
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