The Top-Down Yoke: A Classic Wardrobe-Builder

A couple weeks ago I finished a top-down raglan tee-shirt and I've already worn it twice. Because I could try it on as I knit, I was able to make it the perfect tunic length for my short stature. That's the beauty of the top-down knitting technique—you can really see how your piece is progressing and make changes just where you need to.

Quince-Essential Fair Isle by Pam Allen

In Ann Budd's book The Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweater Patterns, she talks about four types of top-down sweater construction, including the standard top-down raglan. Here's what she has to say about this classic style:


Seamless yoke sweaters are unique in their lack of visible armhole shaping. The yoke is shaped with increases that are evenly distributed around the entire circumference of the upper body. Decreases can be fancy or subtle. Keep in mind that because the shoulders and armholes are not well defined, the yokes of these sweaters have a less tailored fit than raglan or set-in sleeve silhouettes. But you can get a trim fit if you add waist shaping. The lack of shaping definition at the yoke results in an uninterrupted canvas for color or texture patterns.

The seamless yoke sweaters in this book are shaped in a modification of the formula Elizabeth Zimmermann developed along with her EPS system (Elizabeth's Percentage System) published in issue #26 of Wool Gathering in 1982, and which her daughter, Meg Swansen, later updated in issue #65 of Wool Gathering in 2001.

Worked from the top down, stitches are provisionally cast on for the neck circumference. The yoke is shaped with four increase rounds, worked at roughly equal intervals during the yoke depth. About 35 percent of the stitches are increased in each of the first two increase rounds, 25 percent are increased in the third increase round, and 20 percent are increased in the last increase round.

     Faux Seams

The advantage to knitting sweaters in the round is that there are no seams to sew. However, side seams can help to stabilize a garment and encourage it to hang vertically without twisting or torquing to one side or the other. To ensure against this tendency, work the center underarm stitch in a different stitch pattern, such as garter stitch (alternate between knitting and purling these stitches every round), reverse stockinette stitch (purl these stitches every round), or slip stitch (slip these stitches every other round). This creates a "faux" seam (see photo  below).

The placement of the increases can be adjusted somewhat to accommodate a continuous texture or color pattern on the yoke. At the base of the yoke, stitches for the sleeves are placed on holders and the front(s) and back are joined with a few stitches cast on at the base of each armhole, then worked in a single piece to the hem. The sleeves are then worked in the round to the cuffs and tapered with decreases along the way. Finally, the neckband is worked from the provisional cast-on, with short-rows used to raise the back neck, if desired.

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

The Quince-Essential Fair Isle

Fair Isle Yoke sweaters are so stunning. I am almost done with one of my own, and I thought you might be interested in taking on the Quince-Essential Fair Isle. The chunky-weight yarn makes quick work of this beauty. Here's what Ann has to say about it:

"For this chunky take on a Fair Isle yoke pullover, Pam Allen chose Puffin, the loftiest yarn in the Quince and Company line of North American wool yarns.

She chose small colorwork motifs that repeat over no more than 7 stitches so that the motifs can be repeated many times across the relatively small number of stitches around the yoke. She cleverly positioned the nearly invisible make-one increases in solid-colored rounds so that they wouldn't interfere with the colorwork pattern.

For the most part, Pam followed the basic instructions, but she shortened the body and sleeve lengths for a somewhat cropped look. Multicolored garter ridges at the lower body, sleeve, and neck add a bit of unexpected color and texture to the edges."

I love it! What a great casual look for fall and winter.

The Knitter's Handy Book of Top-Down Sweater Patterns is just wonderful; it's full of knitting techniques you'll want to try right away. Get yours today and start knitting from the top down!


P.S. Do you have any tips for knitting top-down sweaters? Share them with us in the comments!

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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!

12 thoughts on “The Top-Down Yoke: A Classic Wardrobe-Builder

  1. I always enjoy your Knitting Daily newsletters. One topic i have not seen addressed is women’s jackets. I need to be professionally attired and most cardigans don’t quite make it. The other thing I am constantly looking for is a fitted zippered sweater.
    Most cardigans that are knit to fit the bust are way too large in the mid-body and waist area. I find that sweaters that zip up the front and that are ribbed in the body area give a nice fitted look. Can you recommend any books that focus on those issues. It would also be great if they were knit with a minimum of seams and/or top down! TIA.

  2. Maybe I’m reading the post today incorrectly but the numbers for the increases don’t seem to add up.

    About 35 percent of the stitches are increased in each of the first two increase rounds, 25 percent are increased in the third increase round, and 20 percent are increased in the last increase round.

    2 rounds at 35% each, plus one at 25% and one at 20% is 115% of the increases. Or does it mean increase by 35% of the stitches in the round so if you have 100 you would add 35 and so on?

  3. I have a problem with top down sweaters and wonder if someone else has solved this problem: I am basically a short heavy person. By the time I have done enough increases to have the proper width, the underarm is too deep.
    Has anyone figured out a correction to the rate of increases for this?