For Your First Sweater – Seamed Sweaters
A question I hear almost daily at Wool & Grace is “What do you suggest as my first sweater project?” Unfortunately, this question isn’t that easy. The biggest question I consider when I hear this question is whether I think this knitter would do better with seamless or seamed construction. Let’s be honest. Some people hate seaming. Also, others have trouble grappling the pattern of increases or decreases that go along with seamless construction. In writing this, I’ve decided to split this blog into two posts so that I don’t bore you to tears, and this week I’m going to focus on knitting your sweater in pieces and seaming it together.
A huge factor that can impact the success of your first sweater project is yarn choice. This season, the Double Seed Stitch Pullover by Margeau Soboti (from an old issue of Vogue Knitting) has been incredibly popular at Wool & Grace, and we’ve had so many of our knitters bang out this pattern with much satisfaction and success. I think part of this is because it’s knit in a thick yarn. Our knitters have been able to see progress and keep up their momentum. It too has been the first sweater for a number of our knitters! That said, I believe in keeping it simple for your first sweater project. Choose a yarn that is easy to work with. Unless you’re ambitious, avoid holding yarns double or using cottons or silks (which can be more tricky to work with than wool). Wool is always easiest to use, and there are very soft options (and blends) for people with sensitivity.
Making a sweater in pieces is the most straightforward means making a sweater. You (usually) knit four pieces, shaped like a front, back and sleeves. You do have to sew them all together (and block them first, if you want good results in your seaming), and there will usually be a bit of neckline finishing. There’s a certain satisfaction as you knit your way through a sweater in pieces in being able to say “I’ve finished the back! Oh, look, I finished the front!” Also, as you’re knitting these pieces, it’s easy to see your work in progress, on the needles. For some, it’s easier to visualize the sweater throughout its construction.
Some great options for sweaters knit in pieces include
- Her Sweater/Her Turtleneck from Loopy Mango: knit in a super bulky yarn which happens to come in happy colors and is oh-so-soft, this is as close as you come to instant gratification in sweater knitting. With less than 500 yards of yarn, you can knit up a super cozy sweater. In these sweaters, fronts and backs are knit separately and seamed together. Sleeves are picked up and worked in the round. Sides are seamed together and neckline is added last. (Patterns are free with yarn purchase, so stop by Wool & Grace to see these patterns for yourself.)
- Slouchy Pullover from Churchmouse Yarns and Tea: This quick to knit v-neck sweater is cozy and quick. I recommend knitting it up in Rowan’s Brushed Fleece (as opposed to the version knit with yarn held double. This sweater is knit on fat needles (compared to the weight of the yarn) and the finished fabric is open and airy. Once again, pieces are worked separately and seamed together. There is some fancy short row business in the sleeve hems which can be ignored, by the way.
- Beaubourg and Cline by Julie Hoover: Hoover has a number of patterns with large swaths of stockinette stitch and reverse stockinette stitch (nice and easy). Beaubourg was one of my first sweaters, and it’s a little different in that the front and back are the two main pieces of the sweater. The two pieces of this popover are seamed together (with an exposed seams) and the neckline is then added. Cline is a boxy pullover with deep dolman sleeves. The knitting on this piece is easy. Of all the seamed sweaters mentioned, this one is the trickiest only because you really have to ease the sleeves into the sweater body. Other than that, it’s a wonderful sweater.
There is a type of construction that is a bit of a hybrid. A bottom-up, seamed sweater might be my favorite type. These sweaters are worked in the round from the bottom hem to the armholes. You split the sweater into the front and back (often binding off some stitches under each armhole), working the front and back (and the neck and shoulders of each side) separately. You will then seam your shoulders. Your sleeves may be drop shoulder or set in, and could be picked up and worked in the round, or seamed in. I love that this construction has minimal seams, but that they’re still their to anchor your garment. Some fibers seem to need the structure provided by a seam (for me, I like my silk and alpaca to have some seams involved, for that purpose) and to keep it from stretching too much. If you pick a sweater without a tricky stitch pattern, you’ll have a lot of straight knitting through the body, and some things to think about (and learn!) while working the front and back.
Some popular and new patterns with this construction include:
- The Boxy Pullover (in worsted!) by Joji Locatelli: This perennial favorite is easy to knit and effortless to wear – something you’ll throw on over anything. Our knitters often knit this up in Malabrigo’s Rios (I think a super wash wool like this needs some seams!) or HiKoo’s Sueno.
- Davis by Pamela Allen: I knit up this sample for the shop two years ago and I still have a hankering to steal the sample! Knit up in Juniper Moon’s Cumulus, it’s soft like a cloud. With it’s drop shoulder construction, it couldn’t be more simple! Admittedly, it’s a little cropped, so several of my knitters have added a couple inches to this piece, but it’s easy and satisfying to wear regardless of how cropped your Davis is!
- Rainier by Whiney Hayward: This new pattern uses a bulky weight yarn and knits up into a boxy pullover with a mock turtleneck. At 14 stitches/4”, that makes for a quick project. I dream of knitting this up in something like Stratus, Brushed Fleece or Techno, or even Roma Weave. The fact that we have those shoulder seams will anchor a fabric with some alpaca in it.
Remember that sweater knitting will bring a few new skills along with it. Go into this project knowing that you will have questions. Often times, shoulder shaping involves short rows, a new technique to many knitters (but not difficult). Often times, you’ll be working neck shaping and short rows at the same time, which requires a short period of time that you will be very focused on which row you’re on. Picking a project that is largely stockinette stitch will make it so you have less to focus on while you focus on these new techniques.
This is just some suggestions for seamed sweaters, and we’ll be following up in a week or two with some tips and suggestions for your first sweater – seamless style!