Starting small: the parts of a top-down sweater

Lately, my sweater-knitting reservations have been less about whether I am capable of knitting myself a sweater, but are more about scale – how to manage and complete all the parts of a big, human-sized project. It occurred to me that if I scaled down and knit a small human sized project, the task of knitting a big one, and learning about its make-up, could become more approachable. And, it did. Small is beautiful.

I decided to knit a baby sweater, My gift to you, by Taiga Hilliard Designs. I liked the pattern’s raglan construction, and I thought that the off-set buttoned front-closure was fun and unique. Also, the sweater is worked top-down – a method of sweater-knitting I’d eventually like to try on a sweater for myself.

I started this project knowing very little about top-down sweater construction. To consolidate what I learn, it helps me to document the process in pictures so as not to forget the next time ’round.

The top-down cardigan knit-cycle

gfy sweater collage

1. This cardigan starts with the collar (on smaller needles) and the yoke, worked back and forth. A series of increases create raglan ‘seams’ across the shoulders, and an 8-stitch section creates a button-band at the front of the cardigan. I like to think of the garment as in its ‘caterpillar’ stage.

2. I think of the next step as similar to biological cell differentiation: stitches are differentiated into types. Some stitches will grow into functional sleeves, others will constitute the body of the sweater. Sleeve-stitches are held on waste yarn and asked to sit tight.

3. Working and casting off the body is the next stage. The project is now looking very much like a garment. I kept my double-pointed needles close at hand for the next step…

4. After completing the body, the sleeves are taken off the waste yarn and are worked individually on double-pointed needles. The sweater grows its wings, er, I mean, sleeves!

Without knowing what to expect, I watched the project transform in my hands into a full garment with shape, texture, depth and dimension. This was amazing. Getting to watch these kinds of slow transformations on the needles is why I come back to knitting again and again (I feel similarly about knitting cables).

A-blockin’ we will go…

I am reforming my habit of neglecting blocking. After weaving in the sweater’s ends and sewing up the gaps which had formed under the arm-holes, I knew it was time to buckle down, soak the knit, grab those pins and….let time work its magic. It was worth it. Blocking is like hitting the reset button; the wonky neckline and bottom-edge curling on the unblocked sweater (top) were smoothed out by being pinned into shape (below).

gfy sweater 9.jpg
The gloomy blue lighting of the ‘before’ shot was entirely unintentional; consider it part of the before/after effect.

Finishing touches

I decided to wait until after blocking to add the buttons. I spent quite a while in the button aisle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. A set of pink, pearlescent square buttons popped into view and spoke to me. A little embroidery floss helped secure them…


…and this wee garment was ready to go. A sweater is born!

gfy sweater 95.JPG

To Learn: Next steps

On the next project, I’d like to learn a little more about how to get more polished button-holes, and also how to avoid the underarm-gaps which occur when switching from the body to the sleeves. Sewing up these gaps is a fine tactic, but I’m aware that there are ways to pick up stitches to avoid those holes. Even farther on the horizon would be to get my colour work skills in shape and try a top-down Icelandic lopapeysa pullover with a stranded yoke (swoon). I tell myself I’ll hazard a colour work project when I improve my skills, but of course, stranded knitting is as stranded knitting does. One doesn’t improve without the hands-on practice. All in due time, dear lopapeysa.

Until then, to tiny sweaters.


Do you remember your first sweater?  What moved you to choose that pattern or design? 

33 thoughts on “Starting small: the parts of a top-down sweater

    1. Thank you, Melissa. 🙂 Your input means a lot! A teddy bear raglan sounds wonderful. I do love mini-things. Looking forward to catching up on the podcast. Happy Tuesday! 🙂


  1. What a precious pattern! And yours turned out beautifully!! The organizer in me is crazy about your careful documentation. I love the idea of cell differentiation being applied to stitches. Hahaha! Terrific post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Melinda. 🙂 I do enjoy documenting the process. I find it helps me to remember the steps (my memory these days!). Though it does make for a longer time to the FO, lol. Thanks for reading. 🙂


    1. Thanks, Tierney! I think that a baby sweater is very possible with hat-knowledge, and the pattern was very forgiving. 🙂 (it just needed some increases at the beginning, the rest was knit straight through). All best. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great photos – really getting to understand the method of a top down when I see it in pictures. Thanks for this. And cute sheet in a sweater to finish! First sweater memory …. not sure it’s the first, too long ago to remember that, but I do remember a pink and cream sweater which was dreadful at the colour changes – I had no idea how to strand the 2nd colour behind the first! Never wore it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading. 🙂 How interesting that your first sweater was in pink and cream. It’s funny how the little techniques – like colour changes – make a world of difference. I’m still working on colour changes myself! And, I admit – I have a previous ‘never worn’ sweater as well. 😉


  3. This melts me away!! I’m just rediscovering your blog Shirley and had no idea you were soooo crafty!! 😀
    I love it! I really want to learn how to knit and crochet but I can’t seem to get the hang of it. You did an amazing job. Really like the colour and little buttons!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Claudia! So wonderful to read from you. 🙂 I’m glad you like the sweater; I find knitting a good outlet when I want to work with colour and design outside of drawing. Getting a little blue sweater after a week is also good motivation. 🙂

      I have been following Les Petits Compagnons with so much awe at your amazing sewing skills and eye for colour, pattern, cuteness, and stories. Can’t wait to hear more about your recent + upcoming projects! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I knit only two sweaters. The first was a giant navy sweater with geese on the front (it was the 80’s) and my mom helped me with some of it. The second I did in my 20’s and it ended up with a deeply plunging neck line (more than what it should have been) that I didn’t feel comfortable wearing. Lol. So I haven’t had luck with sweaters. Must try again someday. In the meantime I will stick to scarves and hats. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the idea of the navy geese sweater. I would gladly wear one now tbh! 🙂 I think sweaters are really tricky, and am hoping to be a little prepared for the unexpected, maybe lots of laughs. Thanks for your sweater story – Happy Making, Moira. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wooooah, look at this! I’ve never knitted a top-down sweater before, but now I’m DEFINITELY going to have to try! I’m still in awe of the moment where the stitches “differentiate” and the piece goes from random shape to actual garment​! Plus, there’s yet another reminder of the amazing power of blocking. It looks super, well done… Now, which lucky kid gets to wear it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Helen. 🙂 The moment you describe is my fave, too – how keen a design mind could ‘see’ the beginnings of a sweater in a little curly disk-thing? I was going to gift the sweater to a good friend’s baby girl, but I think she may be on her way to outgrowing it by now! (so a bigger one is on the make). Oh yes, go for it! Your top-down will be a great sweater! (for Beasties big and small). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Once again, I’m so glad I found your blog! I tried a little top-down experiment over the weekend, and it freakin’ worked first time! That NEVER happens!! It’s a little curly round the edges, but what better opportunity to tackle my new resolution to actually block stuff after​ I’ve made it? I’m now seriously considering redesigning all my Beastie sweater patterns to make them top-down. THANK YOU!! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m so glad the top-down worked on the first try, Helen. Wow! High five! I hope to try bottom-up eventually, but for now, I’m enjoying the seamless magic of top-down, and keep the ironing board set up for blocking, lol. One plus is that the Beasties can try on their sweaters mid-knit to ensure the right fit, body + sleeve-wise (I need foolproof things like this in my life, lol). 🙂 Whichever way you choose, I’ve no doubt the sweaters will continue to amaze (Redhead Beastie’s cables!).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, it’s certainly handy having them on call as models whenever I need them​! I just hope I haven’t jumped the gun by saying “Yeah, it worked” before I block… Fingers crossed for new improved cabled sweaters soon!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Adorable sweater! Some lucky baby will be decked out in his or her finest soon. You spoke about taking on a stranded knitting project and your concerns about colors. It IS hard sometimes to imagine the finished project, and I remember one sweater in particular that I thought was a big mistake. The colors were so…I don’t know…not right! But a couple of years later, they looked great, kind of retro. Eventually that sweater went to a young friend of mine who loved it because the colors were so unique.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Belinda. 🙂 Yes, I would definitely like to master stranded knits, and coordinating colour is a big challenge. It’s so wonderful when people can see and appreciate the unique beauty of something we thought was a ‘mistake.’ I’m sure your sweater is beautiful, and it’s super to hear that it is now getting lots of love. Thanks for sharing this sweater story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love stranded knitting, so I encourage you to try it soon! There are a lot of patterns out their for smaller pieces, and you can always go to Ravelry and see what others have done!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Belinda. I think starting a small-scale stranded project is a good idea. Yes – Ravelry is great for being able to see what other knitters have done with a given pattern. Thank you, and happy knitting. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Great lessons learned post. I do remember my first sweater, a VK twisted at the front sweater knit from one side to the other that looked simple, and turned out a disaster. There was no shape, no structure, the few seams were atrocious, but I learned that knitting a sweater was not as easy as I thought. It has been frogged since, of course. I love frogging.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re a very brave soul, miss Agnes! I’m preparing for the bigger task, and will keep your approach to frogging in mind. I think that getting the right fit (and the lessons learned) is worth the frog. Thank you for sharing your story. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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