Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Top-Down Design Tutorial 4: Choosing the Basic Garment Plan

I can knit any sweater from the top-down by using one of three basic garment plans: raglan, circular yoke, or shoulder-down.

The Peach Vine Pullover, a shoulder-down design

With a raglan or round-yoke sweater, you cast on the neck and knit the body and sleeves in a continuous circle (or back and forth if you're knitting a cardigan), increasing as you go. In a raglan, the increases are placed at the points where the body divides from the sleeves. In a round-yoked sweater, the increases are evenly spaced around the yoke.

For a shoulder-down sweater, you cast on the back, knit a couple of inches, pick up the front shoulders, knit the front down a couple of inches, pick up along the edges for the sleeves, and then knit the body and sleeves in much the same way that you would for a raglan.

Dragon Princess Shell, a shoulder-down design

In general, a raglan or round-yoked sweater will have a less fitted, more casual appearance than a shoulder-down sweater. A shoulder-down sweater hangs from the shoulders in a straight vertical line while a raglan or round-yoked sweater radiates out from the neck.

Hunter Rib Sweatshirt, a raglan

Raglan and round-necked sweaters are easier to design and knit than shoulder-down sweaters. A raglan has strong diagonal increase lines from shoulder to underarm. These lines can be a design point in a stitch pattern with a strong vertical element. You can put cables inside the raglan lines to emphasize this diagonal line. In other stitch patterns, the raglan lines create an unwelcome discontinuity.

Spanish Tile Cable Sweater, a raglan

Raglans are an especially good choice with ribbing and other stitch patterns that tend to stretch horizontally more than vertically. With stitch patterns that tend to stretch vertically, the shoulders and neckline will tend to stretch out of shape with a raglan.
Raglans are a good choice with wool and firmly knit cotton yarns, but might not be such a good choice with linen or silk blends or other yarns that tend to stretch out of shape.
The pony sweater, knit as a raglan

And with a round-yoke

Round yokes are used mostly when the pattern has a strong horizontal element that you want to continue uniformly around the yoke and you have the occasional plain round where you can stick a bunch of increases. Between the 3-5 increase rounds, you work the pattern uninterrupted. Round yokes are often used with color work, but can also be used to good effect in brocade, lace, or other pattern stitches.

The round yoke of Malcolm's Cat Sweater

A shoulder-down design works well with vertical patterns that you want to continue straight up to the shoulder and with designs where the sleeves have a different pattern than the body. If you want to knit a sleeveless garment such as a vest, shell, or tank top, you'll need to use the shoulder-down approach.

A shoulder-down tank top

A shoulder-down design has better stability in the shoulders, neckline, and sleeve caps. This makes it a good choice for nonresilient yarns, particularly those knit at a loose gauge. Shoulder-down designs are by far the trickiest top-down design to plan and knit, but they also yield the best fit.

When I first started knitting top-down, I knit everything as a raglan. Most sweaters work fine as raglans, and I knit them exclusively for almost 20 years. The first shoulder-down sweater I knit was a tank top, followed by a few saddle-shouldered sweaters with shoulder straps. Over time, I came to prefer the fit of shoulder-down sweaters and now knit more of them than anything else.

A plaid pattern, knit shoulder-down

I didn't learn about round-yoked sweaters until fairly late in the game. Traditionally, they're used in Icelandic sweaters, and I didn't do much color work. Now I use the round-yoked design any time I have a strong horizontal element in the yoke that I want to work continuously. They're somewhat more work to plan than a raglan, great fun to knit, and the resulting color work is usually quite popular.

The plaid design used in the previous sweater, modified to work with a round yoke

Monday, August 3, 2009

Top-Down Design Tutorial 3: Designing from the Yarn

Sometimes the yarn dictates the design for the sweater.

I have remnants of four colors of Amazon DK cotton: a variegated green/purple/blue, purple, a vibrant blue, and a light green. I don't have enough of any one of them to make a sweater, but I have enough of all four colors to make something smashing.

Slip-stitch color patterns (often called tweed patterns) are often an attractive way to combine different colors of yarn. Tweed patterns are also a good choice for cotton; the slip stitches make a firmer, less stretchy fabric than other kinds of stitch patterns, and so the tweed patterns help the finished garment hold its shape.

I first weighed my yarn to discover that I have 137 grams of the variegated yarn, 132 of the purple, 51 grams of the green, and 53 of the blue. I then weighed my needles so I could weigh my swatch as I went to determine the amount of yarn I'd need for a particular yardage in a particular stitch pattern.

I started swatching:

Left to right: Progressive Tweed, Syncopated Tweed, Three-Color Basket Tweed, Surprise Pattern.

The Progressive Tweed is a 4-color slip-stitch pattern. It uses even amounts of each of the four yarns. I thought I might be able to use it for part of the garment and make the rest in a two-color or one-color stitch pattern.

Progressive Tweed (14 grams)
32 stitches (5.675 inches) x 50 rows (5.5 inches)

My yardage calculations indicated that I have enough of the four colors to knit either the back or the front of a sweater, or perhaps to put some short sleeves on a sweater knit in another stitch pattern.

I decided that what I needed to do was to focus on 3-color tweed patterns, alternating the blue and green yarns for color C. First up was Syncopated Tweed:

Syncopated Tweed (6 grams)
32 stitches (6.25 inches) x 24 rows (3 inches)

Syncopated Tweed has a nice diagonal motion that I like. It also yields 20-25% more yardage than Progressive Tweed for the same amount of yarn. The variegated yarn also played well in this pattern.

Next up was Three-Color Basket Tweed, a pattern that intrigued me because of the long slip-stitches:

Three-Color Basket Tweed (6 grams)
33 stitches (6.5 inches) x 18 rows (1.675 inches)

I like this pattern, but it uses twice as much of color A as it does of colors B and C. The calculations and juggling required to make this work with these yarns seems like more trouble than it is worth. This stitch pattern also eats yarn, something I can't afford on this particular project.

On to Surprise Pattern:

Surprise Pattern (8 grams)
33 stitches (6.5 inches) x 24 rows (3.375 inches)

Just no.

At this point, even though I had several other candidates ripe for swatching (and a few that had been discarded after reading them carefully and realizing that they wouldn't work with the yarn), I decided that Syncopated Tweed had won the swatching contest and was The Stitch Pattern for this project.