My favorite sweater construction is top-down – this means you literally start knitting at the top, i.e, the neck. You work your way from the neck down to the underarms, working increases along the way to grow the sweater out. Where and how you make these increases depends on the style of sweater – in my top-down patterns, I typically do raglan shaping. You can tell a sweater has raglan construction when you see 2 diagonal lines on each side (and on both the front and the back), starting at the inside neck and ending at the underarm. The style of these “lines” can be different depending on the design, but here are some examples of what it looks like this:
In this style you place markers right after you cast-on, at the locations of each of these diagonal lines. It typically looks like this (although sometimes 2 markers are placed at each diagonal line if you are working a particular stitch pattern):
You work increases on either side of each of these markers (in order to grow the sweater) – each pattern will be different in terms of how often you work these increases. And then after a couple of inches, it will start to look like this!
Top-Down Knitting Steps:
Below are video tutorials for each of the steps in my typical top-down knitting patterns, using my Audrey’s Cardigan pattern as our demo in most of these tutorials:
The “Underarm Divide” is usually the place where people get a little stuck on because it’s a bit hard to visualize what’s going on in this step just through written words in a pattern. I also know it’s a popular question because my original blog post about this topic back in 2010 remains one of my most popular pages! In this step you separate the sleeve stitches from the rest of the sweater by transferring these stitches to a piece of scrap yarn and then casting-on stitches (that serve as your underarm stitches, connecting the front with the back). I hope the blog post as well as the video above helps with this process!
What I love about top-down sweaters
- They make sweater-knitting seamless! Because you are working all sections of your sweater at one time, there is no seaming at the end! And even for your sleeves, when you separate them at the underarms, you later transfer them back onto needles and work them in the round to the cuffs.
- You can easily modify. Once you become a bit comfortable with this construction, you’ll find that you can easily tweak things to work for your unique body. You can add more increases or less, or work your raglan rows longer – it’s simple to adjust as you can. And because you’re working from the top-down, that means that you can more easily adjust the length of the body (because you can try it on and see exactly how it will look on your body!).
- Instant gratification! Because you start with such few stitches at the neck, your rows go by fast and you really start to see progress quickly as you increase your way down to the underarms. Sometimes that can make the rest of the body and sleeves feel like they are taking so much longer, but I just love that feeling at the beginning of a project where in an evening or two you go from a row of cast-on stitches to something that actually looks like a sweater!
First Top-Down Sweater Ideas
If you have never knit a sweater before (or never a top-down style), here are my top 3 suggestions for you:
Little Coffee Bean
Starting with a baby sweater is a great way to try out knitting a sweater! Above is my Little Coffee Bean bulky-weight pattern, and I also have a free version that is the original worsted-weight version.
As mentioned above, this is the cardigan that I did the KAL for recently and all of the tutorial videos are specifically about this pattern, so it’s a great option for your first sweater. In fact, for the KAL, many of the participants had never made a sweater before (click here to read my blog post about that!).
Originally published back in 2013, Ramona Cardigan remains my most popular pattern! And I’ve heard from many knitters how it was their first sweater, and many yarn shops have also used it for their “first sweater” workshops. So it’s a great option to consider too.
Ready to make your own top-down sweater?
I hope this little bit of background information about top-down sweaters has been helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me!