Barbara Walker’s Top down, simultaneous set-in sleeve method
One method I love for top down sweaters was devised by Barbara Walker. A number of designers use the method, often giving it a new name, but I do prefer to give credit where it’s due. For the purposes of this tutorial I am using an Aran weight yarn and following directions for a pattern knitted with laceweight or 4ply/fingering weight yarn, so the pieces look chunkier, taller and wider than they should. That said, it’s also a lot easier for you to see the detail.
You start by working the Right Back Shoulder wedge, cut yarn and place on a spare needle. The piece is shaped with w&t short rows (wrap and turn for those not familiar).
We then knit the Left Back Shoulder wedge piece to match this one, it’ll perhaps have one row more or less, as shoulders and shaping often do, but it’s close enough.
We knit a final row on across the left shoulder, cast on (purlwise and from the back of the work) our back neck stitches and knit across the right shoulder piece to join the back into one section.
After this point, we would pick up the Right Front Shoulder wedge from the ‘seam’ of the Right Back Shoulder (cast on edge of that piece).
The completed Right Front Shoulder wedge looks like this, you can see the shoulder seam (cast on edge) in the centre of the piece.
We then pick up the Left Front Shoulder wedge from the cast on edge of the shoulder edge for that side.
In this photo, I have completed the Left Front Shoulder wedge, again you can see the shoulder seam (cast on edge of the left back shoulder wedge) in the centre of that section.
Next, we knit the left front, place a marker, pick up stitches along the shoulder edge for the left sleeve, place marker, knit the back stitches, place marker, pick up stitches along the shoulder edge for the right sleeve, place marker and knit the right front.
As this particular top is a V neck, we’ll be increasing for the neck in the next section, as we knit down towards the underarms. We will add sleeve and body increases to ensure a smooth transition to the underarms and make sure our sleeves are wide enough to fit our arms!
This photo shows the left shoulder seam after the first neck increase and the first sleeve increases (to create an almost gathered top to each sleeve).
As with all top down construction methods, there are opportunities to customise the fit to your body. For example we could easily add more sleeve increases in the next section for those of us with ‘muscular’ or ‘meaty’ upper arms.
We could add bust shaping short rows, after the v neck is joined and we are working in the round. Or we could consider vertical bust darts for those who need them.
If you don’t like the simple lace eyelet pattern of the Andria Tee, you could easily choose another lace pattern and ensure your stitch count works with that lace.
After the underarms and some basic shaping for the upper body, we change to larger needles. We do that because the lower body or skirt element of the Tee needs more drape, the lace is meant to fit loosely and give you some ease. Not cling to the body.
This is how the finished Tee would look using laceweight yarn double stranded and knitted as per the pattern. Photo courtesy of Knit Now Magazine and Practical Publishing.
I’m knitting Emerald by Isabell Kraemer. It is such a pretty summery top and I’ve been meaning to knit this one for absolute ages. I chose some Sirdar Cotton DK in Terracotta, a rich, burnt red which suits my Autumn colouring.
Sizing and Fit
I chose the large size, with no ease at the bust, but as the sleeves are knitted top down I made the armhole to the depth I wanted and will knit wider sleeves to cover my meaty upper arms.
The lower part of the body (it’s worked top down) will be in the XL size to allow ease at my hips.
Mistakes and fixing
I made a mistake on the left front (as worn) and the back. Oops, I missed a garter ridge before the pretty pattern on the bodice. I’ll duplicate stitch it later, shouldn’t be too difficult and you’re not going to tell anyone, right?
I haven’t found buttons for the front placket as yet, but if I can’t find one, I may make some dorset buttons to match with the same yarn.
Wheatsheaf Sweater – what did I learn and what do I love?
I finished the actual knitting of the Wheatsheaf Sweater on Saturday night while on a Zoom call with some friends from the After Party group on Ravelry. We always have a lot of laughs and enjoy chatting, but knitting or crochet happens at the same time. I was picking up the neckband of the Wheatsheaf Sweater and cast off/bound off my stitches not long before I left the chat to go to bed.
I prefer a fitted knit to a saggy, baggy knit that swamps me. The 20 year old me would be appalled, she liked to cover up her shape and hide her body.
I like that I have a waist, boobage and curvy hips. The belly, less so, but it’s the same belly that covered my son and kept him safe during my pregnancy, so I can forgive it anything.
I love the two cables that run up the front of the sweater and split at the V neckline to follow the V shape and create a beautiful design line. If you’d like to see more of the project, you can see my Ravelry project page here.
I learned a long time ago that I prefer to seam and knit flat. But I also know that many of you prefer seamless knits so there will be two versions of the pattern to suit both types of knitters. For this cable, I prefer bottom up as it’s easier to work the cable, so I will probably stick with that.
Wheatsheaf Sweater – let’s talk ease
I wanted 1-2 inches of negative ease at the bust, pre-blocking. After blocking, it’s a perfect fit. At the lower body, which is Aline in shape I wanted it to fit me without too much extra fabric, a neat but good fit. My preference is based on my own shape and knowing what suits me. I’m not tall, only 5ft 2in and I’m a curvy girl. Boxy knits or oversized items absolutely swamp me and all that extra fabric makes me look a lot bigger than I am. Not a good look for me.
For a modified drop shoulder sweater you might want 2-4 inches on the body, but the most important measurement is the shoulder width on the back. That measurement needs to fit you. With a modified drop, it’s easy to adapt, as you can work the lower body wider (Aline, straight or with waist shaping) and bind off more or less stitches to get the shoulder width you need.
Understanding your sleeve length also helps. The sleeve for a modified drop shoulder sweater is lengthened to fit the armhole gap. If you make your upper body narrower, add length at that part of the sleeve, if you make it wider, reduce the length of the sleeve top. There’s a little bit of easy maths involved, but you’ll love your sweater so much more if it actually fits YOU.
What would I do differently?
I’d have knitted the sleeves with a couple of inches of ease. They’re a good fit, no extra fabric and the cables look good down the centre of the sleeve. That said, an extra inch or two for comfort would be nice. Though with washing and wearing, I know this yarn will relax a bit. Next week it’ll be a looser fit on those sleeves. I’m also carrying a bit of lockdown fluff, which I’m planning to shift over the coming months which will make all the difference, no alterations required.
What is the Wheatsheaf Sweater a Modified Drop Shoulder?
It’s one of the best ways to go with the current trend for Drop Shoulders but have a garment that fits someone with narrow shoulders. Just because something is popular, fashionable or on trend, doesn’t mean it’s for me or you. Wear what suits you, the shapes that flatter your figure and leave the high fashion to others.
The shoulder seam ends at the main shoulder bone, at the top of your arm, not near your elbow. The line of the shoulder and armhole draws the eye up to your face, now down the body to the extra fabric or droop of standard drop shoulder sweaters.
If you have lovely broad shoulders, then a standard drop shoulder will look great on you, so please go for it. But, for those with a narrower upper body, they’re not usually the most flattering shape.
Drape, Fabric and Swatches
Other considerations include drape and how the fabric of the sweater behaves. Does it drape nicely or is it so firm that it could stand up without you wearing it? I’ll state the unpopular view that a swatch will tell you a great deal, I’ll also add that one of the best, absolute best swatches for a sweater is a sleeve. It’s large enough and heavy enough to show you have the yarnwill really behave on the rest of the garment, rather than a six inch square which only tells us how it behaves in a small piece of knitting or crochet.
You can work your sleeve swatch in the round or flat, whatever suits the pattern you’re making, but that one item will tell you so much and save you a lot of time.
For those working top down and in the round, a large swatch of any kind is your friend. I will admit that for top down sweaters, where I have used the yarn before, I have a rough idea of the needle size I will need to get gauge/tension. I’ll just cast on and crack on with the knitting or crochet. However, I measure A LOT, during that first part of the knitting. I need to know whether it’s going to be wide enough, do I need to add length, adjust my increases etc. So pay attention at this stage of your garment.
I’ve been dithering about my Daelyn sweater for months, probably most of last year. It’s been on my needles since 31st December 2018. I know, I should be horrified, but it’s not my oldest WIP by a long, long way. It is, however, a luxury yarn and an investment so I need to either finish it, frog it and knit something else or put it away and pretend it doesn’t exist.
I opted to finish the Daelyn sweater, picked up the underarm stitches and am now working the first sleeve, in the round. That wouldn’t be my first choice, as I prefer sleeves worked flat, I purl faster than I knit and it speeds things up. I don’t enjoy knitting small circumference items and sleeves are my nemesis.
I’m using Malabrigo Rios in the Archangel colourway. It’s richly purple with oranges, peach, khaki green, greys, yellows and warm reds. I love it. The yarn needs to be worked in stripes of two rows or rounds per skein to minimise colour pooling. Notice, I don’t say to prevent it, as you can never quite be sure it’ll be perfect. Look at the purple pooling (purpling) on the front shoulders.
I’m using two balls of yarn and striping them every two rows to minimise the pooling, it’ll never eliminate it entirely but hopefully I won’t look like I’ve got bruised arms.
I’m about four inches into the first sleeve and tempted to pick up stitches for the other sleeve so I can work on them both at the same time. To be clear, I don’t mean two at a time on circular needles, the last time I tried that my sweater sleeves look more like kids trousers.
Once the sleeves of my sweater are finished, I will weave in ends and pick up stitches for the neckband, that’ll be worked in the round on a 16 inch circular needle.
I’m wishing I had added a few more short rows to the neckline to drop the front in relation to the back, but I am very happy with the fit of the sweater itself. I do love her designs and the patterns are always very well written.
The pattern includes sizing and instructions for both men and women and it’s easy to adapt sleeve or body length to suit the recipient.
What are you finishing off this year?
How old is your oldest WIP? No shame here, let’s celebrate them and make a choice to finish it, fix it, frog it or forget it. What’s it to be?
Short Row Bust Shaping for Knit or Crochet Garments to get a better fit
Short Row Bust Shaping for Knit or Crochet Garments can help immensely in giving a better fitting garment for those of us with curves. Emma and I discussed this in August and explained how the short rows work.
How to measure for Bust Shaping for Knit or Crochet garments
We covered how to measure your body for short rows, basic calculations based on those results and how to work that in a cardigan or a sweater. After our initial chat and hello, the info you want is a couple of minutes from the start.
Let’s start by asking ourselves, what is a swatch? A swatch is a smaller piece of knitted or crochet fabric we use to ensure we have met the stated gauge/tension required by a pattern. It can be a sleeve, a hat, a mitten or just a square in your chosen pattern.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 1 you want your sweater to fit a person, not a doll
Whether you knit or crochet, if you are making a garment for an adult, you need to swatch and find out what size needles/hooks you need for your yarn. If you don’t, your sweater could end up with so much positive ease that you could use it to cover the car on a cold day. Or, even worse, it might be so small and tight that you can’t fit into it. You’re investing time, lots of it, and cash in terms of your yarn purchase. So, please make a swatch of a decent size and block it the way you intend to block your garment so it behaves the same way.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 2 You are substituting the yarn
If the garment or item you’re making is a Summer top knitted with hemp/cotton, that yarn will behave very differently to wool, alpaca, acrylic or silk.
Silk has very little memory but combined with wool (which does) the cables will be springy and the item should hold it’s shape well.
Alpaca grows, sometimes a lot, it’s very warm but also very stretchy. If you knit or crochet a swatch and then wash and block it the way you intend to take care of the finished item, it’ll give you a better idea of how it’s going to behave.
The designer, should, and probably has, taken the qualities of the yarn they used into account when designing the pattern. If you use an acrylic yarn, it may not have the same stretch as wool, you may need to consider making a larger size, or going up a needle size for cuffs and other elements that could end up being too tight.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 3 You’re using a different colour to the designer and you aren’t sure if it will work with the stitch pattern.
Busy yarns don’t always work with lace or cables, sometimes they drown out the pattern you’ve spent many, many hours to lovingly create. Using a very dark or very light colour can also obscure the pattern. It’s worth doing a swatch to see how it looks with your yarn, you could save yourself a lot of heartache and time.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 4 You’re making modifications to the pattern
Adding an extra cable, adding length, making an item shorter are often easy modifications to make. You may need more or less yarn depending on those choices. A swatch can help you figure out any changes that should make to the finished item in terms of width, yarn usage etc to guarantee it will still fit.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 5 The designer used dk yarn and you want to use aran weight
Great, make a swatch, find your stitches and rows per inch in the designated pattern stitch. You could wing it and make one or two sizes smaller, or you could do that little bit of mathematics and be certain. If the gauge/tension is 22×28 and my swatch is 18×24 and I knit my usual size, I’ll end up with a much bigger garment. I could end up with a garment that has over 40 stitches and 8 inches wider than I need.
I worked on a 44″ bust and at 5.5 sts per inch that is 242 sts cast on, with 4.5 sts per inch I’d only need to cast on 198. Look for the size that has the closest stitch number and give that a go. You’ll need to make sure you check your length for underarms and any shaping, but it’ll be pretty close. A swatch can tell you so much.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 6 You’re adding bust shaping, darts or short rows
It’s worth you understanding how that will look on a patterned sweater, how will it affect cables, stripes etc? A swatch can help with that. You might choose to do short rows and not bust darts, but it’s best to know up front, pardon the pun, and save a lot of re-knitting and/or tears.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 7 You don’t have the right needle size
If you don’t have the right needle size to get gauge/tension (number of stitches per inch and rows per inch), you need to know whether to make a larger size, a smaller size or just order the right needles.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 8 It’s your first time making a large item like a garment
If this is your first garment and all your other projects are small items, this is a bit investment in time, yarn, emotionally and mentally. You want it to a) fit your body and b) look great. Make a swatch of a decent size in the given stitch pattern, get to know the stitches and understand the pattern first. If you are short of yarn, you can rip out your swatch and use that yarn. Ask me how I know, lol.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 9 You usually knit or crochet toys/amigurumi
Why does that matter? Because you need to knit/crochet at a tighter gauge/tension for items like toys which are then filled with a stuffing so that the stuffing isn’t seen through the stitches. When you come to knit a garment and you’re still in toy mode, your garment will be too small and you may have to go up one or two needle sizes to get gauge.
10 Mysterious Reasons Why You Should Swatch – 10 To Understand the Yarn and how it behaves
What do I mean by that? Does it work well with your cables or lace? Does it have the right drape, do you need to go up or down a needle size? If the fabric is too tight, even though it says it’s the right weight, will you like it? Learn about the yarn and that yarn will help you.
I hope that’s been a useful round of of all the reasons I love to swatch, let me know if you’d like to see more articles like this one. I’ve embedded a link to our YouTube video where we talk about swatches and what is a swatch.