Your First Sweater: Seamless Edition
Last week’s blog discussed potential sweaters to knit up as your first sweater. As previously mentioned, I decided to break up this topic into two sections, to cover seamed and seamless construction. Each method has its benefits, and each will require that you learn some new skills. Last week I talked about seamed sweater construction and I gave you a few options of great simple patterns, including some “hybrid” sweaters.
This week I want to talk about seamless sweaters. To me, seamless sweaters are a little magical. My first sweaters (child sized ones) were top-down, seamless sweaters (my first adult sweaters were also seamless). Being an ignorant knitter several years ago, I remember trusting in the process, following directions and taking accurate notes, and at the end of a lot of stitching (minimal finishing and some necessary blocking), a sweater popped off my needles.
One nice thing about seamless sweaters is that you can try them on as you go along (particularly with top down sweaters). So, if you’re working along and you’re concerned that your sweater is too big or too small, you can put your stitches on waste yarn and try it on! Also, the absence of seams makes them very comfortable to wear – in that you have no rigid seams pulling around armholes and such.
To be truly seamless, you’ll need to do some small circumference knitting in the round. To knit those sleeves, you’ll either need to use double pointed needles, magic loop or some other method of small circumference knitting. Also, it’s likely that you’ll need to learn short rows at some part of the process, most likely to shape the neck. Lastly, seamless sweaters notoriously come off the needles looking bunchy and awkward. They need to be blocked before you can realize their full beauty.
Once again, I’m going to recommend you try a sweater without any stitch patterns. Go for full stockinette stitch. By doing so, you’re going to guarantee that you have some relaxing knitting time (particularly when you knit the body).
Top Down Construction
When you do top-down construction, you start by casting on stitches for the neckline. Either by working short rows, or working the neckline back and forth for a short stretch, you will make your neckline in the back higher than in the front. Then, you’ll be working increases throughout the yoke (from the neckline to the armholes) to make more stitches to accommodate the chest and sleeve stitches. These can either be done at four different spots around your circular knitting needle (making for raglan sleeves) or add increases regularly and more often for a circular yoke. This part of knitting the sweater is the most complicated part, as you’ll need to keep track of your increases throughout the yoke. (I recommend knitters have a little notebook or space on their pattern to keep track of their yoke increases.) These may be done every other row, every fourth row, or at irregular intervals.
Once you’ve added enough stitches for the back, front and sleeves, you’ll put sleeve stitches on stitch holders (I love the Coco Knits Leather Stitch Holder) and continue working the body in the round. After the body is complete, you’ll pick up stitches for one sleeve, working it in the round from the top down (this is the part where you will, at some point, need to do small circumference knitting in the round. You may need to do a little seam in the underarm, and you’ll most definitely weave in a few ends, but finishing is very minimal!
I often mention Carrie Bostick Home patterns to aspiring sweater knitters. I particularly like two patterns of hers, both top-down construction, as they allow you to make a sweater without necessarily doing short rows. The Lillian Cardigan is an open cardigan with a wide ribbed band lining the fronts. As it’s a cardigan, you actually never join this piece in the round, and you can work the entire sweater flat, working back and forth. However, this means that you seam the sleeves (and to me, takes away the effortlessness of the seamless sweater). There are benefits to seams, so I don’t want to eschew them completely, but I’ll be honest and admit that when I made this sweater, I put the sleeves on DPNs and worked them in the round. Worked in a worsted weight yarn, this would be gorgeous in something like Falkland Aran, Shelter, Kenzie, Shepherd’s Wool, to name a very select few.
The Sea Pullover is also worked without short rows at the neckline, instead you work the neck back and forth while you build up the back of the neck before joining it in the round. The pattern is written with a high low hem, and I will once again inform you that in making this sweater, I left out that detail and made for a straight hem. The Sea Pullover is also written for a worsted weight yarn, so all of the yarns listed above are great options for this one, as well!
Similar construction in a lighter weight, Painting by Katrin Schneider is written for a fingering weight yarn. I’ve got this pattern in my queue and I’m ready to make it in Baah’s La Jolla, which will give it a similar look as her samples. Besides La Jolla, consider making this in Shibui’s Birch, Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal, or something light and springy like Shibui’s Pebble or Ito’s Kinu.
One of our knitters recently told me she wanted to make a sweater out of Malabrigo’s super-bulky Rasta, and I think Diane Soucy’s Weekend Pullover is a perfect choice for top-down construction using this super soft, hand dyed yarn. I’m pretty sure Soucy named this pattern as it’s totally possible to make it in a weekend! The Weekend Pullover also relies on top-down construction. Rasta is one possibility. Also consider making this sweater in Loopy Mango’s Merino No. 5 or Mirasol’s Ushya.
One more option is Hannah Fettig’s Basic Round Yoke Unisex Pullover. This sweater is different than those listed above, as the yoke is increased more regularly throughout the entire yoke, making for a more “circular” yoke. If you take a moment to notice the raglan shaping in the aforementioned sweaters, and contrast it with Fettig’s pullover, you’ll notice subtle increases throughout the entire yoke. Circular yokes are commonly used Fair Isle and Icelandic sweater construction, adding stranded color work to the yoke of these sweaters, but Fettig’s simple version is a great way to familiarize yourself with this construction without working with multiple skeins of yarn at a time. This sweater uses a worsted weight yarn, so see above for lots of great yarn options for this sweater.
Bottom Up Construction
In contrast to top-down construction, making a bottom-up, seamless sweater begins with casting on stitches for the hem of the sweater. The sweater is worked as a tube (if it’s a pullover, or worked back & forth if it’s a cardigan) up to the armholes. At this point, you’ll put your stitches on a stitch holder or waste yarn and work the sleeves. Once your sleeves are to the desired length, you combine all of the stitches for the body and sleeves onto the needle. You then work decreases throughout the yoke (from the armholes to the neck), either circularly or at four different spots for a raglan construction. Depending on your neckline, you will either work some short rows, or begin working the neckline back & forth with some sort of neck shaping.
I like this sort of construction because you often have a lot of mindless knitting before the trickier parts (being sleeve knitting in the round or the yoke decreases). You can gather a lot of momentum before it’s time to buckle down and pay attention. For some reason, I also find that this construction seems a little easier for some knitters. Perhaps its because it’s easier to the shape of your sweater as it progresses, but I find it less overwhelming for many knitters wanting totally seamless construction.
Lila (also by Carrie Bostick Hoge) is a wonderful pattern worked from the bottom up. I might recommend you skip the whole high-low hem to save you from the short rows at the hemline. This pattern has been done a LOT on Ravelry, and I love seeing how knitters have modified it. Most of all, I love that it is so flattering on so many different body types. Lila is written for a worsted weight yarn, so once again, consider making it in Shepherd’s Wool, Falkland Aran, Shelter, Kenzie and Sueno to name a few!
On a lighter note, check out Hannah Fettig’s Gable pattern. I made this sweater years ago in Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal, and it is still a favorite sweater to wear, being effortless and flattering. Gable features a twisted rib and a high-low hem, so in that, it has a few skills to learn. I’ve loved wearing this piece so much, I’ve considered making it again without those little details. It has a wonderful A-line shape to it. Also, Gable has a circular yoke, so instead of working raglan decreases at specified markers, you are working decreases regularly throughout the yoke. Loving this pattern, I have a few extra anecdotes about making this sweater. Anyone interested in making it should feel free to reach out to me with questions!! Besides being worked in Fine Donegal, I think it would be heavenly in Shibui’s Birch. Using something like Baah La Jolla will give you a piece with a little more drape, but it would also be lovely!
For a slightly bulky sweater, check out Kate Davie’s new pattern called Carbeth. I have been obsessed with this sweater since it was released a few weeks ago. An interesting triangular line on the back and front is achieved by working decreases only on the front and back (not the sleeve stitches), so while it’s similar to a raglan construction – it’s different. I love the cropped sweater, but it’s easy to modify it to make it longer. Also, Davies makes it easy for us to do so, giving us yardage amounts should we want to lengthen the sweater. For this gorgeous sweater, consider using Juniper Moon’s Stratus or Rowan’s Brushed Fleece.
One thing I will note in making seamless sweaters is that I’d consider your fiber choice. Using fibers like alpaca, silk or super wash wools will make for sweaters with more drape. Without seams to anchor these pieces, your sweater may stretch out of shape more easily. This doesn’t these yarns a bad choice, just worth considering. For example, Carbeth could easily be made in Cascade 128, a super wash wool. If you choose to so, I recommend blocking your swatch in the same way you’d wash it. If you plan to put your sweater in the dryer, do the same with your swatch!! If you choose to make one of these sweaters out of something with alpaca or silk, you may need to wash and block it more frequently to get it back into shape. As said, these aren’t inappropriate choices, but they do impact how they drape. Absolutely make a swatch and block it, especially with these fibers!!!