Monthly Archives: January 2015

Top Down, Set-In Sleeves Knit Along


This is not an actual pattern but more of a format, a method, for making your own top down, set-in sleeve sweater. It assumes some knowledge not only of knitting but also a minimum of design experience. The basic shape is based on Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Percentage System. More details about the method can be found in most of her books as well as many designs written by her daughter, Meg Swansen.

I recommend that for your first top-down you select a simple shape and simple stockinette. If you are more adventurous you can add some cables on the front, back and/or sleeves but be aware that cables have a smaller gauge than stockinette so you’ll have to accommodate for that in figuring out your numbers.

First you’ll knit a LARGE gauge swatch to find Your Gauge in Your yarn. I will explain how I arrive at the numbers, but the numbers will apply to My Sweater.

If you want to skip the designing part, pick a simple stockinette sweater pattern with set-in sleeves. It’s fine to pick one that is knit bottom up. You can work to the armhome, then being sure to slip the first st on every row, work the decreases up to the shoulder, connect the shoulders using a 3-needle bindoff. You can pick up stitches to knit sleeves top down in almost any set-in sleeve arm hole. A few simple examples; Katharine Hepburn Cardigan by Kathy Zimmerman, Drift by Norah Vaughn, Bignette by Amy Herzog or East Village by Josh Bennett.

Top Down Sleeve – My sweater will be knit in Cascade 220 at a gauge of 5 sts/7 rows per in and using needles US 5 and 7

MAKE A GAUGE SWATCH at least 40 stitches wide and 5 inches long. Wash and pin out the swatch to dry as you will the sweater. Let it rest a couple of hours before measuring.

I work all my swatches at 40 stitches. To measure my gauge I measure the entire swatch, and then dive 40 by the width in inches. In a total fluke which never happens to me, My Swchat worked out, for this particular color of Cascade 220, just 8 inches, giving me a nice even 5 sts per in.

Measurements you’ll need:
-Shoulder width, measured on the back of your shoulders from the rounded bone at the outside edge of each shoulder.
-Full bust circumference
-Waist circumference if you want waist shaping
¬-Full hip measurement, if you want a-line shaping.
-Depth of wanted armhole
-Bicep measurement
-Length of sleeve from underarm to wrist
-length of sweater from shoulder to bottom.

There are numerous sources for advice on how to measure yourself. The best way to get a sweater to fit is to measure a sweater in approximately the same gauge as your sweater that fits you the way you want this sweater to fit.

The shoulder measurement IS THE MOST IMPORTANT measurement. If a sweater fits well in the shoulders the sweater usually will look fine and the rest of the shaping is easier. NO EASE is added to the shoulder measurement.

The middle section of the back shoulder will be for the back neck and should be approximately 50% of the cross shoulder measurement, and approximately 25% for each shoulder. Each shoulder section will be divided into 3 roughly equal parts, for the short rows to slope the shoulder.

FOR MY SWEATER: I need 14.5 inches for my back shoulder. This is a total of 72 st. Each shoulder will have 17 st divided for short rows into sections of 6 sts, 6 sts, and 5 sts and the remainder of 38 sts will be for the back of the neck.

The difference between your shoulder measurement and the finished bust measurement will determine how many sts need to be added in the armhole shaping. About 2-3 inches should be the bottom of the armhole and the remainder is added in diagonal shaping.

My finished bust measurement will be 47 in for a total of 235 sts, rounded to 236, 118 for the front and 118 for the back. I will need to increase in the armhole from 72 sts to 118 sts, a total of 46 sts.

The bottom of the armhole will be 2-3 inches, depending on how much difference there is between your shoulder measurement and your bust measurement. The rest of the increases will be done on a diagonal, 1 increase each side of the armhole every other row (EOR).

I will use 2.5 inches worth of sts at the bottom of the armhole or 12 sts to be added at the bottom. The remainder of needed increases, 22, will be added in the diagonal of the armhole shaping. Note that 11 of these increases will be on the back and 11 on the front.

Next you will calculate how many rows you will need in your armhole to figure out how many rows you will work straight. This is counted from the armhole edge of your shoulder so the short rows will not be part of the calculation. You will be counting from the shoulder edge.

I want a finished armhole depth of 9 inches, a total of 63 rows. I will need 2 rows at the end for the straight part of the armhole so I have 61 rows available. Of these, 22 rows will be used for the increases on the diagonal part of the armhole, leaving 39 rows to be worked straight. Since I will be starting the counting on the wrong side after my short row pick up (a K row) I will be able to start my diagonal increases on a K row. If it worked out to be a P row I would fudge one row so my increases would be on a K row.

Work the designated number of rows straight, being sure to slip the first st of each row for a chain selvedge. When you have completed the straight section you will increase 2 sts in from the edge using a M1 of your choice.
The K rows will be: Sl 1 WYIB (with yarn in back) K1, M1, K to last 2 sts, M1, K2
The P rows will be: Sl 1 WYIF (with yarn in front) P to end

After all of the diagonal increases are done, work another P row and then put these sts aside to pick up and work the front. You can leave these sts on a cable from an interchangeable set, on a thred, or on a straight needle.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow: we pick up the shoulder stitches for the front, figure out neckline shaping.


Feel Free to use my numbers and knit your sweater just the same as I knit mine. Just so you knot – I have narrow shoulders, not much of a waist, and hips significantly wider than my bust. My sweater will be roughly based on a sweatshirt I have that I like, with about 3 inches ease at the bust and no east at the hip. It will be A-line, with increases on both the front and the back, a shallow crew neck and gently tapered sleeves. There will be no ribbing but I will have garter stitch edges on the neckline, the sleeve cuff, and the bottom of the sweater. I will have no bust short rows or vertical darts, waist line shaping or pattern other than a small v shape of reverse stockinette stitch just under the front neck.

I use an old program called Sweater Wizard to generate schematics. Unfortunately this program is no longer available but I have put in the schematics generated by this program for my sweater. It shows measurements in inches, and stitch and row counts. NOTE that this schematic assumes you are knitting bottom up; in my instructions and in my knitting I work the sweater top down. A rough sketch would suffice; it doesn’t have to be drawn to scale but it should show all the measurements on one side and the number of sts/rows on the other. If you plan to have a stitch pattern, cables, lace, or colorwork I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you use graph paper or a charting program or Excell to create a chart so you can figure out where you want the pattern to start at the shoulders so it will work out with the neckline shaping you choose.


Back shoulder: 14.5 inches
USING SMALLER NEEDLE: Cast on 72 sts using a tight cast on.
Row 1: knit to last 5 sts on needle. Wrap that 5th st and turn
Row 2: purl to last 5 sts on needle. Wrap that 5th st and turn
Row 3: knit to 6 sts before wrapped st, wrap that 6th st and turn
Row 4: purl to 6 sts before the wrapped st, wrap that 6th st and turn
Row 5: knit to 6 sts before the wrapped st, wrap that 6th st and turn.
Row 6: purl to 6 sts before the wrapped st, wrap that 6th st and turn.
Row 7: knit across picking up each wrap and knitting it with its st.

Straight Section of armhole
Work 39 rows straight

Diagonal Increases:
Row 1: put a removeable stitch marker into the first slipped st and keeping edge st in chain selvedge, K 1 st, M1 ( I use the working yarn over the thumb increase – it doesn’t use yarn from the prior row as the knit into the bar increase does) K to last 2 sts, M1, K2.
Row 2: put a removeable stitch marker into the first slipped st and keeping the edge st in chain selvedge, p to end.