Read below to learn how to knit your first or download this free guide as a PDF here.
This Knit along was designed to help a knitter get started on top down knitting, and to help visualize how they are constructed.
If you are an intermediate or advanced knitter, but have never knitted a top down sweater before, these patterns might be confusing at first. This method of construction is very different from other sweater patterns.
I do not recommend knitting a top down sweater as your very first knitted garment, unless you have a patient knitter to help you get started.
To knit these patterns, as any other pattern, you will need to know how to knit, purl, increase, decrease, cast on and bind off with confidence. I suggest having a good learn to knit book on hand for a reference. You will need one of the Knitting Pure & Simple patterns to follow. Other top down patterns might be written differently.
The following photos were taken as I knitted a top down pullover for a baby.
The basic construction is the same for all of the Knitting Pure & Simple raglans. As always, you are encouraged to change edgings, body and sleeve length to customize your garment. The patterns are a perfect blank canvas for your color and stitch ideas.
For info on how to choose the size to make, and how to choose the yarn, see my frequently asked questions page.
Checking the Gauge
A very important first step! A small difference in gauge will make a large difference in finished size. Please don’t make the mistake of ignoring this step.
If your sweater is to be knitted in the round, your gauge swatch will need to be knitted in the round. This is because most people purl looser than they knit, and a stockinet stitch swatch in the round has no purling, so may be tighter than one knitted back and forth.
These swatches are knitted in the round on doublepoint needles, on 34 stitches. A gauge ruler is used, to make it easier to see halves or quarters of stitches.
First photo shows a gauge of 4 1/2 to the inch, too tight! I need a larger size needle to make the knitting looser.
Every knitter is different, and lots of people need a larger or smaller needle to get the correct gauge.
Second photo shows a gauge of 4 to the inch, which will make my sweater be the correct size. I will use the larger needle to knit the sweater.
My pattern calls for a 16 inch circular needle.
The markers I use are made from scrap yarn. They are easier for me to use than plastic or rubber. You should use the ones that you like. The markers are placed on the needle between stitches.
In the first picture, I have started casting on using the long tail method. Use your favorite cast on, but I don’t recommend the single loop cast on here. The cast on needs to be firm or slightly tight, since it will be supporting the weight of the body and sleeves. The photo below right shows how I make the markers.
The third picture shows the stitches all cast on, ready to knit row 1. You will turn the work and work back on the stitches that you just cast on.
When you follow the pattern, you will be increasing in the stitch before and after each marker, and in the first and last stitch in this row.
The knit in the front and back of the stitch gives you a little purl bump, which will help you keep track of increases when you begin working in the round.
When you get to a marker, just slip it from the left needle to the right needle.
Beginning Row 2
This row is all purl, and you will slip the markers from the left needle to the right needle as you come to them.
The pattern now tells you to work one knit row with increases, and one purl row, until you have a certain number of stitches between the back markers. These are the second and third markers that you placed. In the photo above, there is a little star on the stitches you will count for the back.
At the end of the last increase row, the pattern says to cast on a certain number of sts. This will be the front of the neck opening. At the left is a photo of how you cast on these stitches.
Yes, we have changed yarns! A variegated yarn will help you see the next steps. This yarn is a vintage wool by Red Heart.
Now we will join our work into a round. To do this, just knit into the first stitch at the other end of the needle, being careful not to twist your work.
Below, your work is now in a round, with a different color marker placed to mark the beginning of the round. You are knitting one round plain, with no increases.
Your pattern now says to knit every round, working one increase round, then one plain round. Make sure that you do not increase at the pink marker, which marks the beginning of the round.
When keeping track of the increase and plain rounds, it is very easy to forget which round you are working. Making a mark on a piece of paper, or using a counter are not reliable methods of keeping track. Here is a method of keeping track that is easy and foolproof.
When knitting around, stop when there is one stitch before the next marker. Look carefully at that stitch.
Do you see that there is a little purl bump just under the needle? That purl bump is made when you do the knit in the front and back of the stitch increase. When it is just under the needle as shown, that means that you increased on the previous round. So when it looks like this, you should be doing a plain knit round. You will knit that stitch. If you look carefully, you can also see the other increases you have made in previous rows.
Now look at that same stitch. The purl bump is not right next to the needle, but a bit below. This means that your last round was a plain knit round, and that you should now be doing an increase round. So you will increase (inc) in that stitch.
Seeing your increase is easier the more you look for it. Reading your knitting this way will make what ever you knit easier and more accurate.
Dividing for the Sleeves
Your pattern now tells to work until you have a certain number of stitches between the back markers. You will then divide the sweater into sleeves and body. This is one of the most fun parts! The photo below left shows how to use darning needle and scrap yarn to hold the sleeve sts. Below right is the first sleeve on yarn holder.
Hard metal holders are not recommended.
Old beginning of the round marker (pink) has been removed, red marker is new beginning marker. Yarn holders are tied and trimmed to stay out of the way.
It looks more like a sweater now! You are now working on body sts only. You will knit every round until work measures the length indicated on the pattern.
The body is almost done. Measure from top of shoulder. Our sweater will have a rolled lower edge, which is created by working several rows of plain knit on a smaller needle.
Change to smaller needles by just beginning to knit with smaller needle. Make sure you bind off with a larger needle to make your bottom edge loose. If it curls up too much, don’t worry. This will be corrected in blocking. Blocking is described at the end of this tutorial.
Body finished, we are now beginning the neckband. The neckband is done before the sleeves so that if you need to try on the sweater to decide how long the sleeves should be, the neckband will be there to make the sleeve length accurate.
Below left is a close up of how to pick up stitches. This is an important part of your knitting. It needs to be done neatly and carefully. Sloppy picking up can spoil the look of your sweater!
Insert the tip of the needle under the edge of the knitting, wrap your working yarn around the tip, and pull a new stitch through. Your pattern will tell you exactly how many stitches to pick up in each section. The sections are divided by the ‘seam’ lines created by the increasing you did.
Neckband stitches all picked up, and stockinet stitch begun.
The collar is finished, and bound off very loosely. Use a size 11 needle if necessary to get this loose enough to fit over the head.
Here is a close up showing how to count rows to make sure your decreases are spaced correctly. The above decrease ratio is every 5th round. It might be hard to see at first, but with practice you will have an easy time knowing when to decrease.
One sleeve done! The other is in progress. When both sleeves are done, only weaving in ends and blocking are left to do. Sleeve length is measured from the underarm pickup.
In the photo below on the left, I show how I weave in ends. I use a sharp darner to run the end in at an angle, just catching lightly the backs of the stitches, for about 2 inches.
After binding off, you will notice a little “step” where you end the round. These photos show how to even this out. This end will be woven in also.
As Lily would say, Ta Daa! The photo on the left is the sweater before blocking, and below after blocking.
To block, I wash the garment gently by hand in mild soap, rinse well, spin in the washer to get most of the water out, then lay flat to dry. The rolled edges will stay rolled this way.
If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me!