In my first post about adding stability to a seamless top-down sweater, I described how I strengthened the neckline by casting on a couple of rows into the pattern, then picking up stitches and finishing the neckline as you would a typical seamed sweater. The picked up stitches prevent the neckline from stretching out.
Now that the neckline piece of the stability puzzle is solved, what about the shoulders? Without a seam to hold them in place, they tend to stretch out, making them look droopier the more times they’re worn. The challenge was to figure out how to incorporate a seam into a top-down seamless construction. I experimented with a swatch and came up with a technique that I think will work for the next sweater I’m going to make, the Tea Leaves Cardigan. I’ll add “seam” stitches right into the work, then seam them up using the mattress stitch.
The most difficult part of the whole experiment was figuring out where the seam should go. On the typical seamed sweater, half the stitches are allocated for the sweater’s front and half for the back. I couldn’t just divide the cast on stitches by two, since the Tea Leaves sweater has a button band which had to be taken into consideration. From the swatch I made on the smaller needles used for the button band, I know that the button band will be about 1″ wide. That translates to about 5 stitches. The size I’m going to make calls for casting on 96 stitches. Adding the 1″ (5 stitch equivalent) to the cast on, I get a 101 stitch equivalent, which I’ll round to 100 so it’s divisible by two. If this were a pieced pullover sweater, there would be 50 stitches in the back piece and 50 stitches in the front piece. But this being a cardi, I’ll leave out the button band stitch equivalent. Going back to the cast on instructions, I’ll take the 96 cast on stitches and subtract the 50 stitches which will be allocated for the sweater’s back. This leaves 96-50 = 46 stitches for the front. Since this is a cardigan I’ll need to divide that 46 stitches by 2, leaving 23 stitches for each front.
Now I can figure out where to place the shoulder seams. I’ll work 23 front stitches, insert two stitches that will act as a seam, work 50 back stitches, insert 2 more stitches for the other shoulder seam, then finish with 23 stitches for the other side of the front. As for the length of my seam, I know that from my own neck to the point of my shoulder is about 4.5″. I see from the pattern’s photo that the neck is rather wide. So I’m going to estimate that seam should be about 2.5″-3″ in length. I can also look at the photo and see that there’s a garter area between the pattern’s stitch motif, so it might be good to end the seam just before the final stitch motif (in this case, some ruching).
Whew – with the math part out of the way, I can start the knitting. At this point, I only have the cast on stitches on my needle (and in my first post I describe that the cast on is a few rows into the garter neck trim, so I can go back and pick up stitches later for added neck stability). I know I want to increase stitches by 2 for each seam, but I do not want to put the increases adjacent to each other or they’ll distort the fabric. I knit 22 stitches of the first front side, then increase 1 stitch using a M1. I place a marker for the seam. I knit 2 seam stitches and place a second seam marker. I increase again, then knit 48 of the back stitches. I work another increase (which brings the back stitch count back up to 50), then place a seam marker. I knit two seam stitches, then place another marker. I work another M1, and finish with the last 22 stitches of the second front. From here out, I’ll knit the seam stitches (between the markers) on the RS and purl them on the WS. When the seam is long enough, I use decreases to end the seam and get the stitch count back to normal.
Here’s how my swatch looks, with Step 1) add sts, Step 2) maintain seam sts for length of seam, Step 3) use decreases to get rid of seam sts prior to using mattress stitch to seam the seam sts:
Once the seam is long enough, I use the mattress stitch from the front of the work to seam the two seam stitches together. I weave under the bars between the seam stitches and the pattern’s regular knitting. (If I were seaming pieces instead, this would be the equivalent of weaving under the bars between the selvedge and the next stitch in.) Here’s what the seam looks like from the back when I’m done:
I used a different color yarn to illustrate the seaming on this swatch – for the sweater of course I’ll use the same color yarn as the rest of the sweater. Another detail is that I did not use the usual figure 8 at the bottom of the seam since I will be picking up neck stitches along that edge. I’m pleased with this seam, since I can’t see it from the front side at all, yet it will add all the stability I want to the shoulder.
In Part 3 of this series, I’ll show you the last step for adding stability to the seamless top-down sweater: finishing the neck edge.