I love knitting seamless top-down sweaters. But I don’t always love the way they wear over time. With no seams to support the neck and shoulders, they have a tendency to stretch and look droopy. Some people crochet an edging around the neck to add stability. There is also a way to crochet a chain along the inside of the shoulder, which can help.
I’ve had a different sort of experiment rattling around in my brain for a while now, and am finally getting the chance to put it into practice. I want to add a firm neckline and shoulder seams to my next top-down seamless sweater. The little bit of fiddling I’ll need to do will be worth it in the end, when the neck and shoulders of my sweater look good, wear after wear. No more sagging, I hope!
I hope that by following my blog posts about the process, you’ll get an idea of how to customize your favorite top-down seamless sweaters too. You’ll just need to adapt my technique for your particular pattern. So, let’s get started…
I’ve wanted to knit the beautiful Tea Leaves Cardigan for the longest time. This is not to imply that this particular pattern would sag or stretch – it’s just the right one for me to try my stability experiment on. The ruched stitch pattern on the yoke is fairly straight-forward, with no interruptions (like horizontal cables) to worry about, so adding shoulder seams should be no problem. Here’s a photo from the pattern:
Based on the pattern, I originally tried a swatch where I made little versions of a back and two fronts, then seamed them together. It dawned on me that while this worked great in a solid color, it would be a mess in the hand-dyed Madelinetosh I’ll be using; the colors would work up differently in each section. That means I had to figure out how to build in shoulder seams that allow the yarn’s colors to flow along with as little interruption as possible.
Ultimately, I settled on a three-step process to add the stability I want. First, I cast on the neck several rows down in the pattern’s neck edging; second, I added two stitches at each shoulder which allowed me to create seams; third, I picked up stitches along my cast on and added the pattern’s neck edging back in. I’ll address each of these steps in separate blog posts, since the instructions are detailed.
The first quandary – Step One - is how to add stability to the neckline. Even though it isn’t a very firm cast-on, I’ll use the long tail method in anticipation of picking up stitches later. (Later in Step 3, I’ll be using picked-up stitches around the neck to add firmness to the neckline.) I need to work the cast-on into the neck edging in a way that stays true to the pattern, so it needs to start several rows down, then be finished as if it were a bottom-up sweater. Another way to look at it is this: Imagine a bottom-up construction; the neck is bound off and then the neck edging is added. In place of the bound off row is my cast on. It starts within the neck edging, like a bind-off would, and is then worked upward to finish the neck edging. I whipped up a little swatch that I hope will give an idea of how I planned the neck:
Fortunately the Tea Leaves Cardigan starts with several rows of garter stitch, so it’s easy to figure out where to place the cast-on. By placing the cast-on a few rows down into the garter edging on a knit row, it blends in beautifully. I can later come back and add the rest of the garter, just as I would on a bottom-up cardigan where the edging is added after the bind off. In this case, rows 1-5 are garter in the pattern, so I’m counting the cast on as row 4 (a right-side knit row). I’ll be able to add the three missing rows of garter back in later, by picking up neck edge stitches, so it will look exactly the same as the pattern.
The garter neck edging is an easy one to work the cast-on into. I’m sure I’ll have to work new swatches for other stitch patterns in order to work out the best placement for the cast-on/picked up stitches/neck edging.
For an excellent discussion on the value of seams, check out Sandi Rosner’s article in Twist Collective: “In Praise of Seams”
Tea Leaves Cardigan pattern by Melissa LaBarre
Madelinetosh Tosh Vintage yarn