Take It From The Top: Top Down Knitting

By Glenna Harris

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The knitting world is full of different techniques for making garments - rarely is there just one way of creating something! Chances are, if you've dipped your toe into the world of knitting garments, socks, and hats, you've been exposed to a variety of construction methods. When it comes to these kinds of items, they tend to be made either from the "bottom-up" or from the "top-down," and like many other elements of knitting world, a lot of knitters have their own preferences about which one they like best.

Knitting from the bottom-up has tended to be a more traditional approach for sweaters and hats, which very often start with the bottom hem (sweaters) or brim (hats) and proceed up from there. Interestingly, knitting from the cuff down is quite common for sock patterns. However, the opposite is now very often true in both cases. Sock patterns worked from the toe up are a great way to make the most of your yardage, particularly if knitting for larger feet or for tall knee-high socks. However, sweaters and other garments worked from the top down have been enjoying more attention in the last decade or two of knitting.

Barbara Walker's Knitting From the Top is one of the longest running resources for knitting sweaters and a variety of other garments (skirts and hats for example), and it is still a favorite resource for many knitters today. More recent additions to this top-down library include Modern Top-Down Knitting from Kristina McGowan and the brand-new Handy Book of Top-Down Sweaters by Ann Budd. In all cases, one common thread is that knitting from the top-down will tend to have you work seamlessly or in the round, rather than in pieces or flat. So, if knitting in the round is new for you, I cannot give enough recommendation to Maggie Righetti's book on circular knitting - she demystifies all the aspects of knitting in the round and even experienced knitters may learn something new!

seamless top-down knitting

There are many reasons why knitting from the top-down may appeal to you. Here are some of the most popular!

1. Conservation of yarn - When working from the top-down you can knit until you run out of yarn, and relieve some of those worries about not having enough yarn to finish. (Similar to knitters who like knitting socks from the toe up!)

2. Try on as you go - As you knit a sweater from the top-down, you can easily try on the sweater at various stages by slipping all of the stitches onto waste yarn or two to three circular needles. This will help you to visualize the fit at various stages of construction, and allow you to place waist shaping or stop knitting at exactly the right place, in a very intuitive fashion. (This is also possible with bottom up knitting, but usually requires a bit of planning ahead).

3. A quicker start - A sweater worked from the top-down starts at the neckline, which is often a fairly small number of stitches. When compared to casting on the entire hem of a sweater in the round, it is not hard to see the instant gratification that can come with the top-down approach! With fewer stitches to begin with, you will immediately start to see your progress.

Are you a top-down knitter? What are your favorite aspects of this technique?

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