8 Benefits of Top-Down Knitting

Peppered by Katya Frankel

Peppered Top by Katya Frankel

In days gone by, all garments were pretty much knitted in pieces and sewn together. Fans of this method will still maintain that this is the best way to make a truly fitted garment, but modern fashion often demands more positive ease than was popular in the past, and preferably, very few seams. With the introduction of circular needles, we now have freedom to knit in one piece, from either the bottom up, or from the top down - or in a few cases, from side to side. The boundaries of construction are changing all the time as designers explore creative new ways to bring drape and fit, and we must keep our skill sets up to date and learn new techniques!



In Stillness by Alicia Plummer

In Stillness - a fabulous sweater designed by Alicia Plummer, knitted from the top down


The area of any garment that will need the most alteration and fitting is the top part, and with top-down construction you are more able to try your sweater or cardigan on as you knit to keep checking that it fits the way you want it to.

What are the main benefits of top down knitting?

1. No seaming

This is very high on the list for a lot of people! When you knit a sweater or cardigan from the top down there is very little sewing up to do. There might be a little bit of seaming, or at the least, ends to sew in - but if you don't like sewing up, this is the method for you!

2. Alteration as you go

You can begin with a neckline and know straight away whether it is going to be too small, too wide, too deep - and, if you are presented with options at this point, you can alter your sweater to fit.

3. Raglan placing

None of us is the same shape, and sometimes raglan placings are in the wrong place for our particular body formation. With top-down knitting, you can alter this right at the beginning, and decide where you want your raglan seams to be.

4. Armholes

You can customize the measurement from the top of your shoulder to the bottom of your armpit to make sure the sleeves are going to fit perfectly. There's nothing more soul destroying than finishing a garment to find that the arm holes are too tight!

5. Sleeve width

Again, tied into modification of arm holes, you can make sure that your sleeves actually fit your upper arm because you are starting to knit them from the top and widest part down. In altering the width of the top of the sleeve, you are able to then modify the arm hole to be precisely right too.

6. The yoke

The exciting part of top down knitting is that you can try your jumper or cardi on as you work - so by the time you have knitted the yoke of the garment, you can put it on to see if it really fits.

7. Length of body

Nobody measures the same from bust to hip - some of us have shorter measurements there, and others are tall and willowy. Sometimes body sections are shaped or waisted, and in a top down scenario, you will have scope to precisely alter the length and shape of the body section.

8. Hems

Although I am not advocating changing the design of a pattern you have spent good money on (simply altering shaping if you particularly need it), you have a wonderful opportunity with this method of knitting to modify the hem of a garment. Imagine you loved the top of a pattern but you wanted more of a fluted hem and sleeves - top-down knitting will allow you to modify the hems and ends of sleeves to reflect that. You may want to space increases along the lower body to bring the hemline into more of an A-line or fluted shape, or conversely bring it closer in. You might prefer a deeper hem, or even a different finish, and at this point of course, if you don't like it, you can frog it back and do it again!

Baby top down in Liberty Wool

A great tip with a new technique is to test it out in miniature before you make an adult size! This Baby Top Down Cardigan in Classic Elite Liberty Wool Prints is a gorgeous place to start!

Things to think about:

There are two points I'd like to add that are good to take into consideration. Not all fibres are suited to seamless construction, and need the security of seams to help to keep in shape. Very heavy yarn often needs seams to support shaping, and yarns that have a lot of drape, such as alpaca yarns, are wonderful for drape but may not hold a fitted shape as well as wool, or a blend, without seaming. A seamless, top down knitting project is not particularly portable! It's worth just bearing that in mind if you are planning to take it with you on the go! Working in pieces, although you will need to sew up, means being able to take just a sleeve with you, or a front.  You might not fancy working on the body section and hem of a seamless jumper knitted in chunky 100% merino wool on a hot summer's day with it sitting on your lap!