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Knitting from the Top Down

Aug 9, 2010

Opulent Raglan     
Opulent Raglan by Wendy Bernard
I'm in the mood for a top-down raglan project, like the Opulent Raglan by Wendy Bernard. Seamless and worked top-down, this tunic is a quick knit in worsted-weight yarn.

I love Wendy's designs. I've made two of them (at right), and I have the Opulent Raglan and The Frontier Blues Jacket in my queue now, too. I'll soon have a Wendy Wardrobe! (Although it looks like I'll need to knit at least one of these in a brighter color so I don't end up with a closet full of olive and brown sweaters!)

     Flair by Wendy Bernard: Kathleen's version

Marilyn's Not-So-Shrunken Cardigan by Wendy Bernard: Kathleen's version
One of my favorite things about knitting a sweater from the top down is being able to try it on as you go, making adjustments on the fly.

For example, I have a tendency to make my sweaters too short. I carry weight in the front and because of that I need to make most of my garments two or three inches longer than a pattern calls for.

When working from the top down I can try the sweater on and see how the length is. Usually it's too short and I'm ready to stop knitting, so I put the sweater down for a couple of days so I can rev up again!

This is also handy for sleeves, which ironically, I tend to make too long! Turns out I consistently have shorter arms than I think. So when I'm working top down I can try on the sweater and check the sleeve length. I usually have to rip out an inch or so on the first sleeve, but then I can use that sleeve as a guide for the second sleeve.

What many folks love most about working top-down raglans, though, is that you have very few—if any—seams to sew! Since you knit top-down sweaters either in the round (or back and forth if you're working on a cardigan) starting at the neck and ending with the hem, you knit the entire sweater body all at one time, adding the sleeves when you're finished with the body.

As many of you know, I actually enjoy seaming and almost all kinds of finishing (I'm not a total masochist, though—I prefer not to pick up a ton of stitches to make a border on an afghan or hooded cardi, but what can you do?).

One of the things I happen to like about seamed sweaters is the stability that the seams give the piece. My seamed sweaters hang a little better than my seamless sweaters; it's not a huge problem, but it's one that I've been thinking on.

The Phony Seam
My friend Gerda designed a darling little washcloth that's knit in the round  (so you can put a bar of soap in the middle of it). In order to make it lay flat, Gerda used an Elizabeth Zimmermann technique called a phony seam.

I think I'm going to use it on the next top-down sweater I make. I swatched it to see how hard it was. The answer? Not hard at all!

Here's how you do it:

Decide where you want the seam to be and mark that stitch with a coil-less stitch marker. Work to that stitch and drop it from your left needle and let it unravel down to row 1. (In her directions for the phony seam in Knitting Without Tears, EZ says "This of course, makes a monstrous runner." As always, she couldn't be more right on!)

Using a crochet hook, pick the "ladders" of the dropped stitch up again, but instead of picking up each ladder individually, as you would do to repair a dropped stitch, pick up two ladders together, and then one ladder, repeating this sequence until you have picked up all the ladders. When you get to the top of the piece, place the stitch back on the needle and bind off, or continue working as your pattern instructs you to.

Here are photos of my swatch before and after I practiced the phony seam. Isn't that the coolest?

Here's my swatch before I made the phony seam. Here's the finished seam ; it's barely discernible. Here you can see how the seam makes
a crisp line when I fold the fabric.

So I think I'll use this technique to give my seamless sweaters a bit of stability—and this is really so easy that even those of you who can't stomach seaming should try it.



Featured Products

Opulent Raglan Knitting Pattern

Availability: In Stock
Price: $5.50


Feminine details, like the square neck and cable down the front, add beauty to this piece.


Frontier Blues Jacket Knitting Pattern

Availability: In Stock
Price: $5.50


A simple and sweet spring jacket.


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Sunnyone1 wrote
on Aug 13, 2010 11:24 AM

Question... I'm starting the Opulent Raglan, and on Row 1 it says you should have added 6 stitches.  I only see 5 k1f&b.  Please tell me what I've missed  Thanks!.

barbara gaul wrote
on Aug 10, 2010 4:03 PM


Dear Kathleen- Your problem with bustline and sleevelength fitting is common; sweater models & patterns are based on "standard" sizing measurements. That most of us do not match these, means we must measure ourselves, and save the measurements, to compare with a pattern we want to make. For generous busts, one can make the front slightly longer before the sleeve scythe shaping and during it, and if the pattern allows, also possible to add short rows in the front both above and below the bustline. As long as you don't add too much, this extra can be eased-in during seaming. As for sleeve length, seems that the models have orangutan arms ! Also, when one puts the sweater on, the sleeve gets stretched in length. Hope these tips are helpful. Barb

GerdaP wrote
on Aug 10, 2010 11:36 AM

Oops my address for the pattern is!

GerdaP wrote
on Aug 10, 2010 11:34 AM

Thanks for mentioning my pocket wash cloth the pattern is available in my Etsy shop at !

This technique also makes it so that in the round garments will fold nicely.

I love the featured sweater.

on Aug 10, 2010 11:04 AM

The  Opulent is beautiful! is it a Knitscene pattern? I adore knitting sweaters from the top down. Ever since I made the Cabled Raglan baby cardigan from KD's free patterns, I've never wanted to make a seamed one ever again :) I love the look of raglan sleeves- they're very flattering on my broad shoulders.

SharonA wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 10:37 PM

I too love to work top-down raglans - so nice to be able to try it on and adjust as needed, and if you work the sleeves before the torso you know you'll have enough yarn.  My problem is that I know what I want to make (have some lovely Manos silk/wool screaming MAKE ME UP), but can't find a pattern.  In the Interweave library there are 2 cardigans that are 'close' ( Blue Skies without the pattern, - but they are bottom-up set-in sleeves; and the Breezy Cables is gorgeous) and I am neither confident or adventurous enough to try designing/adapting on my own.  I want a raglan with shawl collar, pockets, wrap-around or loosely buttoned.  The sort of sweater that you snuggle into in the fall and wear until the following Memorial Day!

on Aug 9, 2010 9:58 PM

I'm so glad  I stumbled across this website.  Looks like fun!  Please advise any Dolman sleeve tunic patterns free or to purchase.  I would be most grateful.


whybother wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 6:07 PM

One of the things I like about neck-down work is that I can get the sleevecaps done and then knit out the sleeves before I continue w/ the body.  That way I'm assured of having enough yarn for my sleeves.  And as JeanneH said, short-row busts are a terrific way to go.

AnnR wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 3:01 PM

I love the Opulent Raglan sweater. I think I have to knit this.

One question though, I have a lot of yarn in my stash, can I use any #4 worsted yarn for this or does it have to be the yarn you mentioned in the post?

on Aug 9, 2010 1:56 PM

I just love the Opulent raglan pattern!  I am a beginner to intermediate knitter but haven't learned how to sew pieces together yet so I really like doing top down patterns.  I haven't found a top down pattern with a design in it so when I saw this I fell in love immediately.  Thanks for posting it and thanks for the Phony Seam instructions!  I'm going to be brave and try it with the raglan pattern :-)

AudreyD@2 wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 10:29 AM

Would slipping the "seam" stitch every other row as you knit the piece accomplish the same thing without purposely creating a ladder?

I absolutely hate getting accidental runs, snags and dread dropped stitches. Putting one in on purpose just seems plain wrong, somehow.

I like the sweater pattern shown here, though.

JeanneH wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 9:31 AM

Kathleen, you had mentioned that you have a problem with getting your sweaters long enough.  I'd like to suggest that when measuring for sweater length, you measure in front from the top of your shoulder at the side of your neck down over the fullest part of your bust to the desired length.  Use that measurement for the garment length rather than the back length. That is the quick fix to the length issue.

Another method would be to put short-row bust darts in the front. I believe that at some point in the past that topic has been covered in Knitting Daily so I won't go into it here.

Regarding the phoney seam a la EZ, rather than doing it as an afterthought - dropping the stitch down and crocheting it back up - I would recommend instead using a purl st in the side seam from the start, like in a Gansey.  The problem with EZ's phoney seam is that it tightens that stitch as you can see in the photo, pulling at the top and bottom of the swatch.  But a purl st doesn't do that, and as an added benefit causes the sides of the garment to skim the figure LOOSELY (we full-figure gals don't need tight!) rather than bell out at the sides. I've used both methods and much prefer the purl st at the side.

Hope this helps!  ;)  Jeanne

KnitNoir wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 9:21 AM

How interesting! For your Opulent Raglan, how about a pretty deep sea-green with some blue in it? That would look really nice on you.

NancyN@4 wrote
on Aug 9, 2010 9:07 AM

Thank you, Kathleen

Very interesting and informative post.