In terms of raw skill, sweaters might be one of the easiest items to knit. If you can knit a pair of socks, you can knit a sweater. Actually knitting the sweater, on the other hand, can be extremely time-intensive. I think many knitters are hesitant to pick up their needles and cast on for a sweater because it looks intimidating or there is unfamiliarity with the basic construction of a sweater.
Sweater construction has come a long way from the ubiquitous knitted sweater gift that is shapeless and itchy. The construction, quality and overall look of popular sweater patterns today is simply stunning. There are many different methods we can use to create a sweater that actually ‘fits,’ while having either a traditional or a more modern design.
In this series, I hope to share a bit of knowledge about how sweaters are constructed, and why some constructions make for easier, more durable or more ‘polished’ finished objects. Let’s begin!
Sweater Construction #1: Seamless Bottom-Up Sweaters – Round Yoke
A bottom-up sweater is a great choice for first-time sweater knitters. Basically, you will knit three tubes (the body and two arms) and then, once you have reached the underarm area, you join all three onto a single needle and knit the yoke. I love round yoke sweaters, especially the traditional Nordic and Icelandic yoked sweaters, and there are so many fun modern takes on the round yoke as well.
Bottom-up sweaters start with a stretchy cast-on, then usually have a bit of rib before turning into the main body, knit in the round. Then, there’s usually some waist-shaping in the form of balanced decreases, evenly spaced. Once the sleeves are joined, the yoke will be knit with a pattern or some colorwork, and there will be some shortrows for neck-shaping. The neck may have some ribbing, then a stretchy bind off. Easy!
The main ‘pros’ for this construction are that it is easy (no seaming!), has a beautiful yoke design that can be customized and is portable. The real downside is that you can’t really try it on like you would be able to with a top-down sweater. If the sleeves are too short, you will have to un-join them, rip-back and re-knit.
Sweater Construction #2: Seamless Top-Down Sweaters – Raglan
A top-down sweater really is ‘the classic pullover.’ Here, the neckline will be your cast-on, and the yoke will be knit in the round top-down.
A notable top-down sweater constructions is the raglan sweater (it can be knit bottom-up as well, though). A raglan sweater has sleeves that start at the collar and slope down, making a long, slanting diagonal line. This is an ultra-basic pattern construction that makes for a flattering garment. The sleeves are created just from increasing evenly, and are very easy to knit. The increases can be a simple sloping line, or decorative with YOs, cables and more.
For the raglan sweater, the yoke is knit in the round until the desire length is achieved, then it’s divided evenly for the arms. This simply means putting an equal amount of stitches ‘on hold’ on waste yarn, while you complete the rest of the body. Then, you will go back and pick up those stitches and completed the arms.
The main pro (besides the ease of this construction) of the raglan sweater is that you can try it on as you go. This is wonderful as we all have different bodies and sometimes we need to make adjustments to the pattern so that it will fit nicely. With top-down sweaters, you can try it on as you go, which makes for minimal tinking and no major ripping back (hopefully!). It’s also easier to gauge how much yarn you are going through, and if any immediate adjustments need to be made before the main body is knit.
A downside to a top-down sweater is that it will be less portable, as the sweater will grow in bulk as you go, instead of being knit in three separate pieces. Another detractor for the raglan construction is that the shoulders and underarms are not going to be as well-defined, as they are simply a set of increases. So, this can sometimes lead to extra fabric in the underarms or stretching as time goes on.
Which construction are you most interested in? The Round Yoke bottom-up sweater or the top-down Raglan?
Join me for the next part in this sweater construction series, where we’ll be talking about set-in sleeves, dolman sleeves and drop sleeves!