The Perfect Beginner’s Top Down Sweater

I have gone back to cooking food and putting it in the refrigerator for my family to eat, but beyond that, the Knit-cation continues.

It is a vision quest of sorts. I am searching for the perfect beginner top down sweater and the perfect yarn to knit it with.

In all honesty, I have been a bit paralyzed by this experience. I know long-time knitters who have never made the leap to making their own sweaters for this exact reason. The desire for perfection means you never actually take action. Knitting a sweater is about stitching into the unknown–facing your fear of imperfection. It is about knowing you could well be wasting hours and hours of handwork on an ill fitting, ugly, doesn’t even really look like a sweater, sweater.

It’s about taking that knowledge and putting it in a dark corner of your closet, shutting the door,  and knitting anyway.

Embracing this fear is a good thing. Being a beginner is a wide open experience. It makes you think about yourself in new ways. It exercises your brain and hands. It makes you humble.

There are a few key variables in this search for the perfect top down sweater and the perfect yarn to knit it with.

The pattern must be simple, simple, simple.

I must love the yarn.

The yarn must knit the proper gauge to go with the simple sweater.

This is more complicated than it looks.

I have knit so many swatches this week searching for the perfect match. IMG_0689These are the inspirations, the almosts, and the contenders. Each of them has a place in my queue.

The sweater that started all of this business is called Blank Canvas.

Blank-Canvas-KAL-Ysolda-TeagueFancy Tiger Crafts is doing a KAL (knit along) using this pattern. While I really do want to knit this sweater in my future, I am afraid of all the shaping it involves. I want a simple–make it big enough for my bust and just kept knitting straight on down–sweater. I am not ready for waist shaping. It scares me.

I then thought I might make the Fancy Tiger Crafts My Favorite Sweater  but I could not get a good gauge on the yarn.

IMG_0540Next, I thought about The Fringe Association top down sweater tutorial . I like this idea very much, but it is weirdly beyond my comfort zone. As a true beginner, I really wanted a pattern to show me how to make the exact sweater in the picture. (Can anyone see the distance between me the quilter and me the knitter? It is VAST.)

improv_top_down_tutorial_sweaterFrom there, I did an comprehensive search on Raverly.  I think we all know this, but I am going to say it anyway. Internet research is exhausting. It is a never ending rabbit hole of information. If you like to do research, and I do, the search becomes the subject, and you can easily lose sight of your end destination. At one point, I was making charts, so that I could clearly see all the variables in each design.

Finally, knowing that Knit-cations are not permanent, I reigned myself in. I am very grateful for the Raverly systems that have allowed me to catalogue my knitting dreams in such an organized fashion. Viva La Raverly!

This is the rather long short list.

I really like Brick by Clare Lee. There is a no waist shaping option, but the neckline feels a bit low for Alaskan winters. I know I could probably figure that out, but the goal here is the perfect sweater and the perfect yarn, not the almost perfect sweater and the almost perfect yarn.

6444117953_043e3640f1_nNext up is the Basic Round-Yoke Unisex Pullover by Hannah Fettig. I love the detail of the neck here. I could knit this one, I really think I could, but I see the sweater in green, and I, for some weird reason, want my first sweater to be in black. As a word person, I also think this sweater could have a WAY better name. Basic Round-Yoke Unisex Pullover is a real sleeper. And if you google YOLK instead of YOKE it will take you a while to find this sweater again.

DSC_5990_small2The next possibility also has a rather wimpy name. It is called the Ladies Classic Raglan Pullover by Jane Richmond. This sweater has come up in my searches again and again. But, here are two problems with this sweater, and one of them is mine. First, it has a very intimidating schematic which makes me feel a bit like I am paying my taxes instead of doing something fun. And second, the model is so pretty, but she just looks so unhappy. It is as if she is mildly pissed off about wearing that sweater.

148_small2Last night, when yet another swatch was not the right gauge, I found these two sweaters. The Moxie Pullover  by Amy Christoffers is a great look with a great name. Unfortunately, I can’t quite get past these words.

“The yoke is worked in a hybrid of ‘round’ yoke and raglan shaping with subtle neck shaping integrated into the yoke construction.”

I’m not ready for subtle shaping.

IMG_8552_smallThe Basic Chic Pulli by Bonne Marie Burns is pretty dang good. I just discovered this one late last night. Further research is necessary.

BCP-4457_mediumAnd finally, the top contender is FLAX  by Tin Can Knits. The pattern is FREE and has been successfully knit by many, many beginners like me. I like the retro ski sweater look. The only problem here is that my gauge on my swatch is just a wee, wee, tiny bit off.

SC-flax-05_small2This brings me back to that paralyzed feeling.

Okay, this post is supposed to be about finishing things. And I would say I am almost finished doing my research and making a decision on my first top down knit sweater.

This entire project is taking on some weird first time connotations in my mind–is this pattern truly the one and only perfect fit for me? Or am I going to botch my first time by picking a loser? Does the swatch size REALLY matter?

And this is where I request the assistance of you, dear friendly readers.

I welcome any and all advice, suggestions, and solutions.

This entry was published on February 7, 2015 at 11:49 AM. It’s filed under The Knit Report and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

29 thoughts on “The Perfect Beginner’s Top Down Sweater

  1. Do you up-size or down-size needles to achieve the correct gauge? I don’t have a lot of knitting experience, but that might solve some of your issues.

    • Sandra, I tend to down size. I really like a tight dense knit. This is part of my problem–I can get right gauge, but it doesn’t look nice and tight and dense and I am afraid to try and compensate for the difference.

  2. Have a suggestion, but it’s not a top-down pattern. The good thing about it is that it has directions for every gage, in every size, for a basic dropped shoulder pullover sweater. It’s called The Long and the Short of It, and is by Designs by Judith.
    It’s my go to pattern when I have knit swatches that don’t match the paticular pattern gage, even when I go down a size or two in needles. (If you knit loose like me, you need to go to a smaller needle, even when you’re using the yarn that the designer used.) There is no armhole shaping because of the dropped shoulders, and no waist shaping or fancy neck shaping. I’ve recommended this pattern to several people and they like and wear what they knit using it. My 2 cents.

    • Connie- I will put this in my queue. Thank you. I had know idea you were a knitter. You are like some sort of super hero artist who also happens to be a super hero scientist. Incredible!

  3. With what you tell me, I think the first pattern you name– with the fitted bodice is unique and if you have ample bust and smaller waist might enjoy wearing it with or without a turtle neck, scarf or dickey to fill in the neck–just a thought. I think you should consider if you will need layers or wear you sweaters alone. Wool can be itchy. In SC I always wear something on my neck as I have gotten older especially. Also what jewelry if any? length, scarves etc. etc.. Only you know what you like to wear in your wardrobe. It is not just about the sweater but how it will fit under the jackets you have, skirt or slacks too. Black is a good choice for a beginner–hides uneven gauge/tension but hard to see in low light. Take care with the sleeve length, especially with raglan sleeves, my favorite as no sleeve construction. You are on the right track and I sense you will probably write a book about how to go about finding the right pattern. I wish you success.

    • Thank you Carole! I know what you mean about black. My ability to see black has been slowly becoming a problem. I will definitely be knitting this sweater during daylight hours. Wool is a four season fabric up here. And two layers even in the summer is pretty standard. I will, for sure, knit the pattern you like, I just don’t think it should be my first. But, of course, I’m being a bit obsessive here…I need to just do it. It is good to know that you are a knitter!

  4. Knitting Pure and Simple has some of the greatest top down sweaters! My first top down was #996 Bulky V Neck Pullover by Diane Soucy at Knitting Pure and Simple. I used Malabrigo Rios and it was perfect! I got perfect gauge, the sweater was fun and easy, and turned out exactly like I wanted. And Diane is more than willing to answer any questions if you have them.

  5. I think the Ladies Classic Raglan is your best bet. Don’t be spooked by the model. She is pissed off because 1.) she didn’t knit it in black (DUH…blondes should not wear “oatmeal”), 2.) she didn’t have the perfect yarn, and 3.) she spent way too much time obsessing about the perfect sweater and now it is July and she’s damned hot for this photo shoot. Plus she’s starving, models are always starving. Somebody give that girl a hamburger.

    Go for it. Make the sweater. You can do so much with blocking and shaping later and this one looks like it will be very forgiving on many levels. Why the top down requirement? I’ve had good success knitting from the hem up then picking up stitches for the neckline. Maybe this would open up the choices for you. However, I don’t know if 6 or 7 sweet little baby sweaters and about a million winter hats counts as one adult sweater. Call me chicken. I’m living vicariously through you. Do it! Go! Go! Go!

    • Thank you Amy for the good and funny advice. I need to get over that model. I sometimes get in obsessive modes and this top down thing is one of them. It just seems to be the THING in the knitting world, and I want to get in on it, understand it, make it mine. I’m going to try hem up too, but first I want to get this out of my system. Thank you Amy for stopping by, it is always good to hear your voice.

  6. Have you ever seen the top-down sweater book by Ann Budd? Her designs are simple, but she provides instructions for incorporating additional details as you wish. Her approach to instructions is different than the typical knitting pattern, but I find it easier to follow in many ways. She addresses the problem of getting gauge and provides a number of solutions, as well.

    • Thank you for the advice! I have the book, but was a bit intimidated by the pages and pages of numbers.I was hoping to have a very simple perhaps magical three page list of instructions to get my head around. You are not the first person to recommend this book which tells me that you are probably right. I will give it another go.Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It is very helpful!

  7. Whatever pattern you choose, success will be determined by how you read your swatch. Once the swatch is knit in the selected yarn and pattern, wash it, lay it face down on a blocking board (or folded towel), pin it, easing the fabric until it has the look you want. Leave to dry. Slide top and bottom of the swatch onto needles. Clip top needle into a skirt/pants hanger. Hang from back of a chair. Use a curtain hook to hang the remainder of the yarn ball to the bottom of the swatch. Now measure for gauge. The resulting measurements will reflect the reality of how the fabric behaves while wearing the garment. This is the way to eliminate guess work, ensure there are no surprises and give you confidence in the end result. May your fingers fly.

    • Lesley- I don’t think anyone has ever so clearly written how to read a knitted swatch. Thank you! I will do my best to follow your advice. P.S. I am LOVING your travel blogs.

  8. Based on your comment above, I think you should definitely make a fabric you like, and use that gauge to pick your pattern. Some sweaters rely on a particular fabric or composition because they’re supposed to be drapey or stiffer (see Hannah Fettig’s Featherweight cardigan for an example – it’s laceweight knit at a lower gauge, because it’s supposed to be drapey.) But for a top-down sweater like you’re looking for, go for the fabric you like.

    Your swatch should probably be pretty close to suggested gauge if you want to keep things simple (both row & stitch, since it counts for a raglan – ask me how I know). Since you don’t want to make it form-fitting, you are probably OK being a little bit off, as long as it’s not too small. You can also just knit a smaller or larger size and hope it will size up/down correctly, but that’s kind of like throwing dice. But it works for a lot of projects for people.

    You can always just ditch waist shaping, just leave it out and knit the body straight down.

    I’m with Amy, I think you should pick one you like with a matching/near-matching gauge and go for it. Like the others said, top-down sweaters are very forgiving, because you can try on as you go and make things longer/shorter as you want, especially the body & sleeves. And you can always rip the thing out if you don’t like how it’s going. You can get away with much more fudging in knitting than you can with quilting.

    I’m one of those knitters you described above. Perfection gets in the way and paralyzes me. Don’t be me. There is no perfect sweater.

  9. Carrie- Thank you so much for taking the time to write all of that out. It is incredible helpful. You are right that I am interested in getting a certain level of density in my swatch. What passes for a sweater in the lower 48 is what we wear in July. I’ve read your comments several times. Thank you!

    • I came back to apologize for writing a book and for sounding all pedantic. You’ve been sewing garments for years, and I’m sure you know all about what kind of drape you want.

      I’m glad it was somewhat useful, and thanks for all the links; I’ve added some to my favorites.

      • Carrie-Your comments were thoughtful and helpful. I know nothing about knitting garments, and what you said helped me see that there are some similarities in the mediums. This is great not pedantic. Thank you!

  10. Sue R. on said:

    I’m reading this post months after it was written–did you decide on a sweater pattern? I need to make that same decision!!

    • Sue- I finally decided on the Fancy Tiger Crafts top down sweater I am ready to knit the bottom ribbing and then add the sleeves. I have a problem in that I am continually starting to knit things, but very slow to finish them. I think all of the ones listed here would be good places to start. Good luck!

  11. You’re worrying too much. If you want your first sweater to be absolutely perfect but you also aren’t willing to make any changes at all to anything, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. The awesome thing about knitting for yourself is that you can customize to yourself exactly. Don’t be afraid to go for it!

    I just finished my first sweater. Incidentally, I did the Flax pattern you’ve linked above. I added in shaping, and it was very simple. Basic addition and division sort of math. It turned out very well, and my only regret is that I didn’t take out enough ease.

    My advice is to pick one and do it. It doesn’t take that long for the simple patterns you’re looking at, and once you’ve done it once, the whole process makes so much more sense. Then you can really go for perfection!

    Best of Luck!

    • You are right! But as a compete beginner, I was looking for perfect, and as you stated that doesn’t exist. I just finished My Favorite Sweater by Fancy Tiger Crafts. I made some mistakes, but I love the sweater. I have moved on to the Ramona Cardigan which is a great pattern, and I am almost done with a seamed sweater too. Finally, after two years, knitting is really starting to make sense to me. Thank you for stopping by and commenting Aeva!

  12. Lois Todd on said:

    Try YouTube for top down sweater tutorials.

  13. The gauge is easy to accommodate. Size up or down (a half) on the needle size and knit another swatch. The gauge should be perfect. I wouldn’t suggest black. Even though it’s a plain pattern, except for the ribbing you will lose “the look” you want from hand knitting.

  14. Janaki on said:

    Hello Maria. I just want to tell you how much I identified with you quest for the Holy Grail of sweater knitting. And that you had me in stitches! (No gauge required for laughing) – which I did all through the blog. It was so lovely and funny! I dont know if you have tried The Knitting Fool website. She has a pattern generator and instructions on how to enter your measurements along with whatever needle size and gauge you have, with the yarn you want to use. I hope this helps.

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