Top-Down Knitalong: FAQ and addenda

Top-Down Knitalong: FAQ and addenda

There have been some questions and suggestions on the Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2016 announcement — aka the Top-Down Knitalong — and I want to make sure everyone sees those, so I’m collecting them here (and will add to this over time as warranted). Forthwith:


Without a pattern, how do I know how much yarn to buy?

You can only guesstimate, and I usually do so based on the yardage of similar sweaters I’ve knitted in the past. Hannah Fettig created Stashbot for this, which is available both as an app and a printed booklet. You put in the general shape of the sweater you’re planning, your intended chest circumference, and your gauge, and it will estimate yardage for you. Or what I typically do is find a similar sweater on Ravelry — same gauge, volume and type of knitting (don’t compare a cable sweater to a stockinette one, for instance) — and check the yardage requirements on that. No matter which way you derive your estimate, buy more than you think you’ll need, just to be safe. Most yarn stores will let you return unused skeins, but I never mind having a leftover for future repairs/alterations or a hat or whatever.

Can we start planning and sharing now?

Absolutely! That’s why I announced it so far in advance. You’ll need to figure out what it is you’re making; knit, block and measure a swatch; and buy yarn. You can either start that on August 15th, or do the legwork now and be all set to cast on. If you do start dreaming and scheming, by all means go ahead and post it to the hashtag #fringeandfriendsKAL2016. I’m excited to see what you’re thinking about! You might base your sweater on a photo of something you love, or on your own sketch. And of course I highly recommend my beloved Fashionary panels (or the sketchbook) for working out your ideas. I find it HUGELY helpful to use that template when putting my ideas on paper — to tinker with where the hem falls (cropped? high hip? low hip?) and how long the sleeves are, and really zero in on what will look best. For me, it’s definitely a pencil-and-eraser exercise, and a big part of the fun.

Does it have to be a sweater?

It is a sweater knitalong, yes — the idea being to learn how to plan, plot and knit a garment, relying only on a swatch and some grade-school math. One of you asked if it could be a top-down onesie, and that sounds like a full-length sweater to me! (Hey, maybe that’s what I’ll make for myself!) I think as long as it is knitted top-down, without a pattern, and is a garment with a neckhole and sleeves, it qualifies. And again, it can be a pullover or a cardigan, plain or textured or colorwork (whatever you’re capable of planning!), long or short, narrow or wide, crewneck or v-neck or boatneck or turtleneck, cap-sleeved to long-sleeved, for yourself or a friend or family member.


As noted in the announcement, my tutorial covers top-down raglan construction and I don’t have plans to expand on that, but there are other top-down methods you’re welcome to employ — remember, the only rules are top-down and no pattern. If raglan isn’t your thing and/or you just want to try a newer method:

  • Dianna Walla recommended Andi Satterlund’s ebook on her top-down set-in sleeve method
  • A couple of you recommended Cocoknits’ method of top-down English tailoring, which I had no idea anyone had ever combined in one sweater! Cocoknits has an ebook available on how to do that
  • And Elizabeth Doherty’s recent book “Top-Down: Reimagining Set-in Sleeve Design” covers her method for what is said to be a more refined way of shaping a top-down set-in sleeve

If you’ve never knitted a top-down sweater (or improvised a sweater) before and want to keep it simple, I’d say stick with the basic raglan method for your first time.



PREVIOUSLY in the Top-Down Knitalong: Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2016: Preview and plan

32 thoughts on “Top-Down Knitalong: FAQ and addenda

  1. I’ll add a question…does Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Seamless Yoke Cardigan count as a pattern? I would consider it a guide, but some might consider it a pattern, which is why I’m asking.

    I’m a little busty, so ragalans tend to be a little weird on me while a yoke might be more flattering.

    • I don’t know that one off the top of my head. If it’s a method (and not a pattern) and you have to do your own calculations, it qualifies!

  2. the most overwhelming part of this is that I can pick any yarn I want because there’s no pattern and I won’t have to get gauge!!! I know you did your anna vest in fiber co terra. do you think the single ply is going to hold up after wear? I fear that raglans hold so much tension that it’ll just disintegrate a single ply yarn

    • I think it really depends on the specific yarn, but if you’re worried about it, I would avoid single-ply. Of course, I also strongly suggest using my basting stitch method to add seams, no matter what!

  3. I’m thinking the purpose of a top down is to try on as I knit. That means I better pick a yarn whose blocked gauge is the same or really close to the dry gauge.

    • Right, if your swatch changes in one way or another, you’ll need to bear that in mind as you’re knitting — like if your finished item will be 20% longer when blocked, don’t panic when it seems too short at try-on, and remember that will change.

  4. Gah! Dang it Karen, you got me.

    I’ve been wanting to improvise a top down for a long time, and I’ve got the perfect yarn in my stash – some bright red Harrisville Shetland Fingering Weight. Okay, so more motivation to finish my three other sweaters now… my Icelandic Wool Month Lopapeysa, my Gansey Project one, and my Swiss Check Pullover.

  5. I’m so into this project that I am making a huge effort to finish what is on my needles. My local store even has some yarn I’m interested in using because I want to do something similar to the one you knit up in lopi :) This is exciting. Now to go finish my current projects!

  6. really need to make myself participate in this one. I have the book by Elizabeth and the technique is quite fascinating but i haven’t tried it yet. i think i just set a goal.

    • Hm, I see she doesn’t actually use the word “contiguous” but is it not the same method? I haven’t read either so am not sure what the difference/distinction might be.

      • I have tried out both methods and I’d say these two are substantially different: Andi Satterlund’s set-in-sleeves will get added when the body of the sweater has been finished, picking up stitches around the armhole and shaping the sleeve cup with short rows. The contiguous method is developed and explained by Susie Myers (see Ravelry) and works in a similar way as raglans do, but using increases in a different way. This -kind of magically- creates a shoulder-“seam“ and the sleeve-“seam“ in one go. The fit on the shoulders (if correctly calculated) is outstandingly great and, afterwards, you can do whatever neck and shape you wish with this genious method. (I am fan, as you might have noticed)
        Thank you so much, Karen, for your fabulous blog (am a faithful reader for about a year now) and especially for this KAL – I am looking forward taking part, too! (with contiguous method, probably).

  7. Hi I’m new to top-down knitting and loving it so far. I have one question concerning the increases for a raglan sleeve. If you choose an increase method that results in a patterned raglan, how do you maintain this pattern when you change your increases (for fit) from every alternate row to every,say, fourth row?
    Many thanks for this opportunity.

    • If it’s a visible increase (like a kfb), I like the way it looks as they sort of fade out like that. If you’re concerned about it, try one of the so-called “invisible increase” methods, of which it seems like there’s anew one all the time. But m1 increases would likely be less visible, for instance. You should play around with it on a swatch and see what works for you!

  8. I am very, very excited about this, particularly after fighting with a pattern that just wasn’t working for me – but so desperately wanting the end result. I’ve got the most beautiful indigo-dyed yarn from Swan’s Island, that knits up into an almost ikat like pattern. And now it’s down to me to make the most of it. Thank you so much for the push Karen!!!

  9. Hi KT I have a question about the tutorial. Say you were making a cardigan and were going to seam on a button band at a later point. To figure out how many stitches to cast on would I subtract the width of my button band x 2 from the widest increase in the yoke?

    • You’d subtract the width of your button band from the total width of the front. So it was going to 38″ around at the bust, meaning 19″ across the front, and you’re putting a 1.5″ button band on, that would mean you’d actually want the front to be 17.5″ wide. So however many stitches that is, divided evenly between the two front panels. Does that make sense?

      (Don’t subtract the band width twice because the two bands overlap, so their width is really just the width of one band.)

  10. Philosophical question… How important is the improvisational aspect for this knit-along? Here’s what I mean:

    If I want to make myself a sweater without following somebody else’s pattern, I start with yarn and a bunch of measurements, think about ease, think about construction, think about design elements, do plenty of swatching — then put it all together into a plan. I write myself a detailed outline of that plan, and then knit it up. I might measure a few times as I go, to check that my calculations were correct and I’m knitting to spec, but I’m not doing lots of trying-on. I guess I’d call this drafting a pattern (just not one that anybody else could easily use!).

    When you’ve talked about “improvising” a sweater, I’ve gotten the impression that trying the garment on as you go and making decisions in response to those try-ons is a core part of the process as you define it (as opposed to executing a detailed plan) — am I misunderstanding you?

    For the purposes of this knit-along, is a process like mine within bounds, or is it important to be taking a more exploratory and literally improvised approach?

    • Improvised just means knitting without a pattern, to your own specifications. The only requirements for this knitalong is that your sweater is knitted top-down and without a pattern. How much you try it on or revise as you go is completely up to you!

  11. Thank you! I didn’t realize there was a knitbot app which I’ve downloaded and it’s great. I’ve ordered some worsted twist (on sale!) from Purl Soho and am excited to start (and nervous).

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

  13. I tell my kids that there is no such thing as a dumb question, n
    But this is one: for the back measurement, from where to where do I measure? I will be doing the raglan sleeve

  14. Pingback: Fringe and Friends Knitalong 2016 : Preview and plans | Fringe Association

  15. I have a question: I understand that there can’t be an actual sweater pattern to work from and we need to calculate to fit our own body, but can we incorporate stitch patterns from an existing pattern? Say a cable, lace or colourwork idea from an existing hat/mitten/shawl etc pattern? If yes, I think I have a great idea for this knitalong!

  16. Ugh, something wrong with my browser, keeps eating my comment. So my question was:
    I understand that we have to calculate a sweater and can’t use an existing pattern for that; but can we use a favourite stitch pattern (cable/lace/colourwork) from, say, an already existing mitt/hat/sock/shawl pattern and stick it into our improvised sweater?

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