Knitting from the Top Down

Opulent Raglan     
Opulent Raglan by Wendy Bernard

I'm in the mood for a top-down raglan project, like the Opulent Raglan by Wendy Bernard. Seamless and worked top-down, this tunic is a quick knit in worsted-weight yarn.

I love Wendy's designs. I've made two of them (at right), and I have the Opulent Raglan and The Frontier Blues Jacket in my queue now, too. I'll soon have a Wendy Wardrobe! (Although it looks like I'll need to knit at least one of these in a brighter color so I don't end up with a closet full of olive and brown sweaters!)

     Flair by Wendy Bernard: Kathleen's version

Marilyn's Not-So-Shrunken Cardigan by Wendy Bernard: Kathleen's version

One of my favorite things about knitting a sweater from the top down is being able to try it on as you go, making adjustments on the fly.

For example, I have a tendency to make my sweaters too short. I carry weight in the front and because of that I need to make most of my garments two or three inches longer than a pattern calls for.

When working from the top down I can try the sweater on and see how the length is. Usually it's too short and I'm ready to stop knitting, so I put the sweater down for a couple of days so I can rev up again!

This is also handy for sleeves, which ironically, I tend to make too long! Turns out I consistently have shorter arms than I think. So when I'm working top down I can try on the sweater and check the sleeve length. I usually have to rip out an inch or so on the first sleeve, but then I can use that sleeve as a guide for the second sleeve.

What many folks love most about working top-down raglans, though, is that you have very few—if any—seams to sew! Since you knit top-down sweaters either in the round (or back and forth if you're working on a cardigan) starting at the neck and ending with the hem, you knit the entire sweater body all at one time, adding the sleeves when you're finished with the body.

As many of you know, I actually enjoy seaming and almost all kinds of finishing (I'm not a total masochist, though—I prefer not to pick up a ton of stitches to make a border on an afghan or hooded cardi, but what can you do?).

One of the things I happen to like about seamed sweaters is the stability that the seams give the piece. My seamed sweaters hang a little better than my seamless sweaters; it's not a huge problem, but it's one that I've been thinking on.

The Phony Seam
My friend Gerda designed a darling little washcloth that's knit in the round  (so you can put a bar of soap in the middle of it). In order to make it lay flat, Gerda used an Elizabeth Zimmermann technique called a phony seam.

I think I'm going to use it on the next top-down sweater I make. I swatched it to see how hard it was. The answer? Not hard at all!

Here's how you do it:

Decide where you want the seam to be and mark that stitch with a coil-less stitch marker. Work to that stitch and drop it from your left needle and let it unravel down to row 1. (In her directions for the phony seam in Knitting Without Tears, EZ says "This of course, makes a monstrous runner." As always, she couldn't be more right on!)

Using a crochet hook, pick the "ladders" of the dropped stitch up again, but instead of picking up each ladder individually, as you would do to repair a dropped stitch, pick up two ladders together, and then one ladder, repeating this sequence until you have picked up all the ladders. When you get to the top of the piece, place the stitch back on the needle and bind off, or continue working as your pattern instructs you to.

Here are photos of my swatch before and after I practiced the phony seam. Isn't that the coolest?

Here's my swatch before I made the phony seam. Here's the finished seam ; it's barely discernible. Here you can see how the seam makes
a crisp line when I fold the fabric.

So I think I'll use this technique to give my seamless sweaters a bit of stability—and this is really so easy that even those of you who can't stomach seaming should try it.



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