Knitting in Pieces
As a sweater knitter, I got hooked with the top-down construction, making tiny/adorable sweaters for my kids. Top-down, seamless construction is a little like magic: you follow the directions and knit non-stop, and when it’s all said and done, you have a sweater! And since seaming and finishing often feels like a tedious last step, it’s nice to forgo that altogether. However, the more sweaters I knit, the more I appreciate knitting sweaters in pieces, and there are a few reasons for this.
To begin, I think it’s easy to see what you’re doing when you knit your pieces flat. When you have 200 stitches on a circular needle, it’s sometimes difficult to see where you did your last increases on your raglan or yoke shaping. When you’re knitting the back or sleeve of your sweater, it’s relatively easy to lay it flat, look at the piece as a whole, and keep track of where your knitting is going. Although I learned to knit sweaters top-down and in one piece, I am realizing that a lot of knitters do better learning sweater construction “in pieces.”
The other reason I’m appreciating knitting in pieces right now is that seams add structure. You’ll discover this after wearing a seamless sweater a few times: it gets out of shape, and when you wash it, you have to re-block it completely (not a big deal, but yes, you have to do it). With your sweaters with seamed construction, those seams tell your stitches exactly where they are supposed to be. Front and back line up perfectly, and sleeves lay flat (not on the bias). Through several wears and over time, these pieces will stay look crisp and sharp much better than their seamless friends.
A few recent projects of mine are perfect examples of this. I just knit up the Double Seed Stitch Pullover by Margeau Soboti, using Debbie Bliss’s Roma Weave. This super-bulky blend of wool and alpaca has a good deal of drape to it. Especially with this super-bulky yarn, side seams and raglan seams keep this sweater from pooling around the hem, and stretching along the raglan sleeves and neckline. I’m currently working on Milan, a super-light pullover using Shibui’s lace-weight Lunar yarn. This yarn is a blend silk and wool, and the fabric has a simple garter ridge. Side and shoulder seams will keep this piece from stretching around the neck and shoulders, and will keep those garter ridges relatively uniform.
If you’re looking to knit a sweater, choosing a seamed/seamless construction may play into your choice depending on the fibers you choose to work with. Fibers like alpaca and silk tend to have a lot of drape. Adding seams along the side seams and especially at the shoulders and neckline will anchor your sweater to keep it from drooping at the hem and sleeves. Cotton, which has a tendency to stretch over time, also benefits from seamed constructions.
There are no wrong answers in knitting, and I’ll never say that one method of sweater construction is better than another, but there are benefits to either path, and it’s helpful to consider what suits not just your preferences, but also your choice of yarn!