Set-In Sleeves, Top-Down

Top-down sweaters are all the rage, and for good reason: many of them are knit in the round, so no purling, and there's relatively no finishing except weaving in ends.

Ann Budd has jumped on the bandwagon with her new book The Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters, which is written in the same style as her phenomenally popular books The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns and The Knitter's Handy Book of Sweaters. Yay!

There are several types of top-down sweater patterns, such as seamless yoke, raglan, set-in sleeve, and saddle-shoulder.

Top-down sweater styles. Clockwise from top left: Seamless yoke, raglan, saddle-shoulder, set-in sleeves
Alpine Tweed Sweater
Brioche Basic

I'm most intrigued with top-down set-in sleeve patterns because that's a construction that I don't see too much, and I like knitting top-down and I think I look better in set-in sleeves than raglan sleeves. So, here's some information from Ann about this interesting construction.

Top-Down, Set-In

Sweaters with set-in sleeves have tailored silhouettes and a timeless, classic quality. Because there is no excess fabric at the armholes, it gives a more refined look to even casual styles. The set-in style is particularly well suited for close-fitting variations, that can be enhanced through hourglass waist shaping.

The sleeve cap is shaped with short-rows that form a somewhat visible line along the armhole join, and differs more from its bottom-up counterpart than other top-down styles. However, this method eliminates the need for armhole seams and combines the refined set-in silhouette with the convenience of top-down construction.

The set-in sleeve sweaters in this book begin with stitches cast on for the upper back, which is worked back and forth in rows. The armholes are shaped with a series of increases worked at each edge. The back stitches are then placed on a holder while the front is worked.

For either a pullover or cardigan, the front begins in two sections with stitches picked up for the width of each shoulder along the cast-on edge of the back. The two halves of the front are then worked separately in rows to the base of the neck shaping. The two halves are joined for a pullover or left separate for a cardigan, and the armholes are shaped with increases to match the back.

At the base of the armholes, extra stitches are cast on between the front(s) and back for the underarms, and the body is worked in one piece to the lower edge. Stitches for the sleeves are picked up and knitted around the armhole openings and worked in a series of short-rows centered over the shoulders to shape the caps.

Then the stitches are joined and worked in rounds to the cuffs and tapered with decreases along the way. Finally, stitches are picked up around the neck opening for the neckband or collar.

—Ann Budd, from the book The Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters

I think my favorite is the Alpine Tweed Sweater by Jared Flood, pictured above left. I love the colorwork band at the top and the little scallop detail at the hem. I think this type of sweater would be more flattering on me than a seamless sweater with a colorwork yoke. I feel like that construction would make my shoulders look too round.

The set-in construction, though, adds the slimming lines of the sleeves meeting the colorwork band. I really like it.

Basic Brioche (above) is a basic workaday cardigan that also appeals. It's perfect for cool weather because the brioche stitch is lofty and warm. I think this one would be a sweater that I'd wear all the time.

Get the fabulous The Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters, choose your favorite top-down style, and cast on!


P.S. What's your favorite feature about knitting sweaters from the top down? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

11 thoughts on “Set-In Sleeves, Top-Down

  1. Top-down knitting can’t be beat for the ability to fit the garment as you work, rather than hope it fits once you get the pieces assembled. Besides the ease of finishing, nothing can compare with a great fit and the good feeling of knowing your sweater will be a success as you sit and work those stitches to the end.

  2. I’m a big fan of top-down, bottom-up or ANY knitting patterns that don’t have side seams. I also prefer sleeves that are knit in the round without any seams along their length. I just can’t understand why the vast majority of knitting patterns still call for the fronts and back of the sweater to be knit in separate pieces when it’s SO much easier (and nicer looking!!!) to knit all together at the same time on long, circular knitting needles. Sure, you’ll probably have to place some stitches on holders temporarily and do the necessary increases/decreases. But this certainly isn’t hard, and most likely you’ll have to do the decreases or increases anyway if you knit the fronts and the back pieces separately. Another reason to knit everything as one (in the round) is that this avoids purling much of the time, and the result of knitting in the round is much more even stitches for 99% of all knitters. So why are most patterns still calling for side seams?! Seams are not attractive, in my opinion. Some of them can’t be avoided, but I’d much rather have a couple of little shoulder seams or armhole seams that long seams running down the sides of sweaters, sleeves, dresses, etc.

  3. i just finished a baby sweater using a top down in the round pattern. i loved it so much i started another one. what i like most is that i only had to pick up & knit 4 stitches. the pattern i used before for baby sweater had pick up & knit of 20 or 30 stitches. it was awful. i know i didn’t pick up the right number of stitches. sweater turned out ok but bulky under the poor baby’s arm.

  4. Top-down is my preferred way of knitting, however, I don’t like the way the armscyle rolls inwards where the stitches are picked up. Any ideas how to overcome this?

  5. I agree 100% with the way MARJORIE POST expressed in her post. Another preference of mine is side to side sweaters for next choice in not having seams. So much better than having all those joins and seaming.

  6. When I knitted sweaters for my niece and nephew, I always did them from the top down. As they grew, I simply added length to the bottom of sleeves and body. Usually the sweaters were multi-colored to start with, so this didn’t look obvious.

  7. I love top down sweaters! No seams, and when I get finished I will actually be able to wear it I use circular needles all the time and love them. Thanks for all the good tips.

  8. The thing I like most about top down sweaters is you don’t have to seam in your sleeve. I hate thT more than anything. I actually like raglan look also. Iam knitting a pure and simple pattern for a cardigan sweater with raglan front and it is so easy and fun to make. Thnks. Caroline fond du lac Wisconsin.

  9. I think I’ll do a raglan sweater in a nice sand colour and it will be in cachemire.
    Really nice knittingdaily, we don’t have nothing like this here in Italy. Thanks.

  10. Thanks for the great tips. But please continue with the technique that cuts top-down sweaters open to make cardigans!! I have been wanting to learn that technique for years and am just not daring enough. A video would be great!
    Cardigans without purling, wouldn’t that be wonderful?