How to improvise a top-down sweater, Epilogue: The possibilities are endless

How to improvise a top-down sweater, Epilogue: The possibilities are endless

When we left off last time, we’d talked about how to calculate shaping for your body and sleeves, so all that was left to do was knit them to the length you want them, work your ribbing (or whatever) and bind off. Block your finished sweater. Then how much “finishing” there is to do depends on choices you’ve made along the way:

– Just like with a thumb gusset on a glove, there may be a little gap at each side of the underarm where you cast on and then picked up stitches, even if you picked up an extra stitch at each corner and decreased them out on the next round. My preference is to simply take a tail of yarn (ideally the tail you left when reattaching yarn for the sleeve) and weave the holes closed. I use a tapestry needle and, as with the duplicate-stitch method of weaving in ends, essentially trace the natural path of the stitches around that area, matching the tension and closing up the gaps.

– If you’ve included a basting stitch in the raglans or sides seams, and/or knitted the sleeves flat, go ahead and use mattress stitch to seam those up.

– If you’ve knitted a cardigan and still have button bands to do, or have left your neckband for last, that will be your final step.

Other than that, voilà: A sweater has emerged from your needles, fully formed and ready to wear.


The thing I want to leave you with is that, once you’ve grasped the basic process, you can throw nearly everything I’ve said out the window and do whatever you want. If you have a large chest, you might want to have more stitches in the front of your sweater than the back, rather than making them match. If you want a slower slope to your raglans, perhaps for an extra-deep armhole, you might work your yoke increases every third or fourth round. You might also increase for your sleeves and body at different rates, for instance if you’re creating a comparatively wide body and fitted sleeves, or vice versa. When you get to the hem, you might choose to do a split hem (maybe bi-level), or use short rows to create a curved shirttail hem or to make the back of the sweater hang lower than the front. Whether you knit the body first or the sleeves is completely up to you. If you don’t like rotating a whole sweater in your lap while knitting sleeves in the round, you might choose to knit them back and forth (still from the underarm down) and then seam along the underside of the sleeve. If you’re truly improvising, or averse to grade-school math, you can even just feel your way through the shaping of the sleeves and body. Pull the sweater over your head every couple of inches; decrease whenever the sweater needs to get smaller; increase whenever it needs to get larger. The point is: You’re in total control of your sweater, and you can and should do whatever works for you.

As I said in the intro, this is really just scraping the surface of what’s possible with top-down. I wanted to show you the basic method so you can see how simple (and empowering!) it is, and to that end, I’ve kept the sample sweater as simple as possible. But with this method, the world is pretty much your oyster. The type of neckline, the gauge of the sweater, whether it has raglan sleeves or contiguous set-in sleeves, whether it’s a pullover or cardigan, striped or two-tone or colorwork, what kind of stitch pattern, what kind of edging … the possibilities are endless. Make just about any sweater you like, no pattern required.

POSTS IN THIS SERIES: [Favorite it on Ravelry]
Pattern + overview / Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans / Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping / Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke / Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body / Part 5: The art of sweater shaping / Epilogue: The possibilities are endless

NOTE: The photos and methodology described in this post were both updated in August 2016.

34 thoughts on “How to improvise a top-down sweater, Epilogue: The possibilities are endless

  1. I’m off to start at the beginning, this looks great :)
    When I’m picking up under the arms I pick up two extra stitches and on the first round k2tog and ssk them with the first and last existing stitches. Voila! no holes.

  2. Hi Karen, thanks it’s great!
    I have a question though.. When you are sizing on the body as you knit, how do you deal with changes in the size after washing and blocking?
    Thanks, Marije

    • Hi, Marije. Same as anything, really — if you’ve been thorough, you’ve blocked and measured your swatch and are keeping any growth or shrinkage in mind as you knit. I tend to knit bulkier sweaters, which are more susceptible to gravity, so tend to make them a hair shorter than I’d like them, figuring they’ll grow a little when worn.

  3. I have just finished reading through this series and it has answered so many questions that I couldn’t find answers to elsewhere – THANK YOU! You’ve explained it all so beautifully. :) I’m going to start with a sweater for my toddler before I’m brave enough to start one for myself, so I’m sure I’ll be back with questions! X.

  4. I recently found your blog and have been all over it. I am using your process right now. Hope to end up with my first sweater that actually fits.

  5. I’m knitting my first sweater using this process, and it’s going beautifully so far – I just separated the sleeves from the body last night! I’ve also ripped back two neckbands – one comically loose, one too high and tight. The third one is just right. Thank you for such a beautiful and useful series!

  6. Thanks for this tutorial! I finished my first sweater ever. You mentioned cardigans work with this too. Do you go back and forth, turning after each row to do a cardigan?

  7. I’m close to separating sleeves from the body of my top down cardigan. I’m on a long circular needle but it won’t allow me to try it on, I’m sure. I’m guessing the only answer is to take all the stitches onto a length of waste yarn in order to check the fit. Any ideas?

    • My preferred method is to knit halfway around with a second needle. Make sure each cord is more than half the circumference, and that way you can pull the needle tips out at each end (so the stitches are all resting on the cords) and pull it on over your head. Then when you’re ready to proceed, you just start knitting again where you left off.

      If you’re using interchangeables, you only need two tips in the size you’re using — you only need your proper gauge needle for the end you’re knitting with. The one on the other end can be any smaller size, since it’s really just a stitch holder when you’re knitting in the round.

      If you don’t have two cords or two fixed cable needles that size/length, then yeah, waste yarn it is.

  8. Got it! My cables have screw on ends so I can even stop the stitches falling off. I thought there’d be an answer somewhere. Thank you!

  9. Hi,
    this is great for me
    if I want to knit a sweater with a hood
    How can I do for neck and hood.

  10. Pingback: Top-Down Ideas for me and you | Fringe Association

  11. Pingback: Improv: Basic pattern for a top-down seamless sweater | Fringe Association

  12. What a great tutorial!! Thank you for your heard work on it! It is so helpful!! I often wonder if there is any way to incorporate cables or other that stockinet stitch stitches into raglan patterns?? I could see how it could be done with round neck raglans, but with v-necks ,maybe, a simple cable in the middle going down, but I can’t see how a different stitch could be incorporated, those increases would throw off the count in the rapport? Does that sound about right? If not, do you know of any good books or tutorials on making raglans more whimsical ?? Thank you again, Anya

    • I recently tried the tubular bind-off for the first time — on cuffs — and loved it, but not every yarn would hold up to doing that for the full count of body stitches. I also like EZ’s sewn bind-off.

  13. Do you have any recommendation for remedying the sleeve/body increases from “spreading”? No matter how much I try to focus on doing the increases correctly, it seems that the sleeve body increases spread, causing slight holes (on either side of the stationary knit stitch). I don’t know if this makes sense or not. I was hoping that your seaming technique might help – open for any suggestions. Appreciate any help – thank you!

  14. Ive just read like 3 days in blog posts, but this series just gave me the courage to finally knit that dreadful sweater. Thank you so much for posting all of this.

  15. Thank you so much for an excellent tutorial and freely sharing your knowledge with all knitters

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