5 Top-Down Sweater Styles Explained
Whenever I have knitting construction questions, I can always count on one person to have the answers—Ann Budd. With more than a dozen books under her belt (or I should say, in her knitting bag), she truly has become the knitting community’s how-to guru. Whether I’m interested in socks, scarves, or sweaters, she’s written about them all.
Today I’m interested in sweaters and sleeves, so I’m turning to Ann’s best-selling book, The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters. I’ve read that different style armholes might better flatter my body type (or yours) than the usual raglans I knit. However, before casting-on a new project, I really like to have a clear understanding of how the knitting process will go. Ann’s book does a fantastic job outlining the basic knitting process of 5 different top-down sweater styles. Plus, she shares the unique canvases these styles create at the neckline.
1. Seamless Yoke
The seamless yoke style is the simplest sweater to knit in the round from the top down. Stitches are cast on for the neck circumference, then increased evenly spaced in four intervals to the widest circumference at the armhole depth. During the yoke, there is no definition between the front(s), back, and sleeves. When the yoke measures the desired depth, stitches for the sleeves are placed on holders and the front(s) and back are joined and worked in 1 piece to the bind-off at the lower edge. The held sleeve stitches are then worked in the round to the cuffs.
Seamless yoke sweaters are unique in their lack of visible arm¬hole shaping. The yoke is shaped with increases that are evenly distributed around the entire circumference of the upper body. Depending on the type of increases used, the shaping can be decorative or quite inconspicuous. Keep in mind that because the shoulders and armholes are not well defined, the yokes of these sweaters have a less tailored fit than raglan or set-in sleeve silhouettes. But you can get a trim fit if you add waist shaping. The lack of shaping definition at the yoke re¬sults in an uninterrupted canvas for color or texture patterns.
The next simplest style is the raglan, which differs from the seamless yoke in that the yoke increases are clustered along 4 distinct lines (2 each on the front and back) that emphasize the boundaries between the front(s), back, and sleeves. Like the seamless yoke style, the raglan yoke is increased to the widest circumference at the armhole depth, and then stitches for the sleeves are placed on holders and the front(s) and back are worked in one piece to the bind-off at the lower edge. The held sleeve stitches are then worked in the round to the cuffs.
WHY FRONT(S)? Putting an S in parenthesis after front is not a typo on our part. Sweaters that might have more than one front are cardigans!
Sweaters with raglan shaping have distinctive “seams” between the front(s), back, and sleeves that form diagonal lines running from the neck edge to the base of the armholes. Beginning at the neck, the number of stitches on the front(s), back, and sleeves increase at regular intervals along these lines to give each section a triangular shape. The raglan lines can be decorative or inconspicuous, depending on the type and sequence of increas¬es used. Raglan sweaters fit nicely at the shoulders and lend themselves well to a close fit or waist shaping. The raglan lines provide a nice structure for textural design elements, too.
3. Modified Drop-Shoulder
For the modified drop-shoulder style, the sleeves join the yoke in “notches” that extend from the shoulders to the base of the armholes. Other than stitches cast on at the base of the armholes, there is no armhole shaping. The front(s) and back are worked separately to the desired armhole depth, then 1″ to 2″ (2.5 to 5 cm) of stitches are cast on to add body width at the under¬arm when the pieces are joined for working simultaneously to the lower edge. Beginning and ending at the center of the underarm, stitches are picked up around the armhole opening for the sleeves. Short-rows com¬bined with decreases at the base of the armhole are worked to fill in the notches formed by the additional underarm stitches, then the sleeves are worked in the round to the cuffs.
Modified drop-shoulder (also called indented sleeve or square armhole) sweaters are characterized by a boxy shape and casual style. The sleeves are attached to the body along straight armhole edges that are in¬dented up to 3″ (7.5 cm) from the full body width. The resulting square shape provides a broad canvas on which it’s easy to incorporate texture patterns. Simple knit-purl stitch patterns can fill the wide expanse of the drop-shoulder silhouette.
4. Set-In Sleeve
Set-in sleeve styles have a classic tai¬lored fit. The front(s) and back are worked separately to the desired armhole depth, with increases worked along the edges to tailor the shape of the armholes. Like the modified drop-shoulder style, a couple of inches of stitches are cast on to add body width at the underarm when the pieces are joined for working simultaneously to the lower edge. Beginning and ending at the center of the underarm, stitches are picked up around the armhole opening for each sleeve. The cap is shaped with short-rows that are centered over the shoulder to smoothly fill in the armhole opening. At the base of the armhole, the stitches are joined and worked in the round to the cuffs.
Sweaters with set-in sleeves have tailored silhouettes and a timeless, classic quality. Because there is no excess fabric at the armholes, it gives a more refined look to even casual styles. The set-in style is par¬ticularly well suited for close-fitting variations that can be enhanced through hourglass waist shaping. The sleeve cap is shaped with short-rows that form a somewhat visible line along the armhole join, and differs more from its bottom-up counterpart than the other top-down styles in this book. However, this method eliminates the need for armhole seams and combines the refined set-in silhouette with the conve¬nience of top-down construction.
The saddle-shoulder style in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters is closely related to the set-in sleeve style. The difference between the two lies in the “saddle,” a rectangle of fabric worked at the top of the shoulder that extends into the sleeve cap. For this style, the saddle is worked first, then stitches for the front(s) and back are picked up from the edges of the saddles and worked downward to the base of the armholes, which are shaped the same as set-in sleeves. The sleeves are also worked the same, but the held saddle stitch¬es are incorporated into the stitches picked up along the front and back armhole edges.
Saddle-shoulder sweaters, named for the extensions of the sleeves (also called saddles or sleeve straps) that extend from the neck to the tops of the sleeve caps, have a classic fit. Like sweaters with set-in sleeves, saddle-shoulder sweaters have no excess fabric at the armholes and therefore have a clean, tailored silhouette that is well suited for close-fitting variations. Most importantly, the shoulder straps provide a prominent area in which to showcase a design element.
Now that you know all about these 5 unique top-down sweater styles, test your knowledge. Can you identify the styles of these designs from Interweave books?
If you guessed that Buttonside (left) from Knitting Short Rows features saddle-shoulder construction, you’re right!
Keene (center) from our latest Fall 2017 release Plum Dandi Knits is a simple top-down raglan with a fold-over, turtleneck yoke.
Lastly, the Cotton Candy Mosaic Yoke Cardigan from Garter Stitch Revival is a seamless yoke that WOWs with beautiful colorwork.
What style of sweater is currently on your needles? Share in the comments below!
Editorial Director, Books