top-down learning

After years of proseletizing about knitting sweaters from the top down, I'm finally practicing set-in sleeve shapes. I'm a huge fan of the flowing, organic way that a raglan-sleeve sweater grows from the top down, and have knit dozens, but I'm recognizing the functionality of a good set-in sleeve garment, and stepping up to write an Unpattern (rather, several Unpatterns) for same.

First up in the series? A top-down sleeveless shell. (Not out of any sense of priority; rather, because I had the yarn for it a few weeks ago, while waiting to get down to the Mouse to procure the other batches).

Yarn: Brown Sheep Cotton Fleece
Needles: US 6 / 4.0 mm Inox metal, 24" circular and 16" circular US 4 / 3.5 mm for edgings

The stitch pattern here is a kind of rib, with a column of K3 flanked by one stitch in garter stitch. When you're knitting this pattern flat, it goes: K3, P1 on the RS; then all P on the WS. When working in the round, you need to remember to alternate one plain round of all K with one round of K3, P1. Make sense?

The V neckline was created by increasing at the neckline edge of each front every fourth row. The neckline and armhole edgings were worked by picking up 3 sts for every 4 opportunities around the opening, then working one round K1, P1, then binding off wih a decrease bind-off (my new favorite).

I incorporated some Girlie Shaping in the waist by working double-decreases in the K3 panels to convert those K3 into K1s – made for a nice ribbed effect at the sides.

Bottom hem worked with the same detail as the neckline and armholes – and yes, I bound off first, then picked up and worked the edging after. Sounds redundant, but makes for a nice, firm edge that doesn't really want to curl or flop up.

The first stages of work in a set-in sleeve, top-down garment are a bit fiddly, with little pieces of kniting hanging out all over the place, but it's worth the fuss and bother in the end. I start with the back neck area, casting on a panel of sts for one shoulder, then working a curve by casting on gradually more and more sts at the neckline edge. Set that aside, then work another panel with the curve at the opposite edge to create a piece that is mirror-image opposite to the first. When these two pieces match and are 1-1/2" deep, you can finish off the bottom of the back neckline by casting on all the sts that you need to make the rough neckline opening the width you want:

The back can then be worked straight down until you are a few rows short of the desired depth to the armhole. You can finish up the armholes now (creating a curve just like you did at the sides of the back neck, essentially), or wait until you have the fronts done.

To start the fronts, you return to the cast-on edge of your shoulder panels, pick up stitches and immediately begin working the neckline increases (for a V-neck like this one). [If you're working a crew neck, simply work even to a point just above your desired rough neckline opening depth and then fill in the curve and bottom of the round neckline exactly as you did the back. Presto!]

(The wee orange markers in the photo sat between my new, increased, neckline sts and the original shoulder-panel sts – this made it easy to keep track of how many increases I had done, which in turn made it easy to tell when my neckline was finished. Since i was doing armhole shaping and finishing up the armholes before I finished the neckline, this saved me a lot of headaches.

Given the deep 'V' here, the normal order of operations got a bit topsy-turvy here: my armholes were completed before my neckline was done, so I only joined to work in the round after I had added in all my neckline sts.

After the pieces are joined to work in the round, it's smooth sailing … unless you're creating some contouring to follow the shape of your body.

This photo was taken at the point where I transferred some sts to long cables (from my beloved Denise set, the pink cables from their breast cancer-fundraiser set) in order to try it on and check the placement of my girlie shaping.

[Note: when you're checking your garment depth, it's handy to have already finished off the neckline edging and the armhole edgings, since the act of finishing off those edges does tend to hike the whole garment up by a bit.]

Bind off at the bottom, finish any edgings you hadn't done already, weave in your ends and wear it out to dinner! (Or, in this case, pop it on one of the Rockettes, the fleet of mannequins I ordered to adorn the TNNA booth.) (Boy was so lucky: on his wedding anniversary, 8 new women showed up in his life! Of course, they don't say much, but I know plenty of guys who like those quiet types.)

Next up: Who could resist a yarn called "Cocoon"?