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Dear Ann,

I’m happy to report that my Sail-Away Shawl got me to Nashville and back. I’m almost to the part where you put a bunch of stitches on a holder and start knitting on another bit over here, which will be joined up with another bit over there. (Mere details! I’ll figure it out when I get there!)

Confession: the yarn is kinked because on the plane to Nashville, I ripped the whole shawl back for a mistake that didn’t matter. Why am I like this? But I enjoyed it just as much the second time through.

Meanwhile, a breeze through Cotton Canyon at MDK World Headquarters yielded up my next project: a Shakerag Top!

My first Shakerag Top.
Your first Shakerag Top.

This will be my second Shakerag Top. My first one, in Sylph, is one of my most-worn handknits. It is not, however, a handknit for June in Sewanee, Tennessee. 50 percent cashmere—as lovely as that is—is just a little too warm for the weather.

Sewanee is where I’m headed in 2 weeks time, for one of the most joyful things I can think of: a weekend with a bunch of knitters who signed up back in 2019 to attend the MDK Knitting Getaway at Shakerag Workshops in 2020. We’ve been delayed, by a whole year, but thanks to the determination of Claire Reishman, and a big boost from Covid-19 vaccines, we have not been denied.

I am at the blinking-in-disbelief stage of processing the fact that we are really going to get to do this. I can’t wait to sit and knit with actual physical knitters. Sitting and knitting is back!

Obviously, the occasion calls for a new Shakerag Top. It’s almost summer, and I want something light, so this Shakerag Top will be in the 100 percent cotton goodness of Rowan’s Summerlite 4ply.

(Want to ogle a bevy of beautiful Shakerag Tops on Ravelry?  Here you go.)

This Time With a Modification

At least one Ravelry knitter, Nashville’s ever-resourceful Kelley Dew, has improvised a split hem on the Shakerag Top.

That’s what I’m doing this time around. I feel like side vents, and a slightly longer length in the back, will make my Shakerag great on its own, and also make it work better with a longer shirt layered underneath, which is a thing us big-linen-shirt fans like to do. We like to do it a little more than may be strictly stylish, but we like it a lot, and be who you are, I say.

Here’s How to Engineer a Split Hem

The body of the Shakerag Top is worked seamlessly in the round. To split the hem, I’m starting the front and back as separate pieces, each knit flat. The back piece will have one extra repeat of the 2-stripe sequence.  If you like a more dramatic high-low hem situation, the back should be longer than that by another 2-stripe repeat or more.

I cast on half the number of stitches for my size, plus 2 more stitches so that I can slip the first stitch of every row to make the edges of the split nice and neat and all intentional-looking.

Here’s the back piece, knit up to the point of the split. Next, I’ll knit the front piece, just one repeat of the 2-stripe pattern.

Navy blue is the hot pink of Kay Gardiner. without backlight, the stripes are subtle, but they are there, by golly.

Then I’ll join the front and back (decreasing the slipped stitches away), and start working in the round. Voilà: split hem. Bonus: I will not have to worry about taking care not to twist the join! Working flat before joining is one of my favorite ways of avoiding that melodrama when an in-the-round project has a lot of potential for twisting the join.

I think I’ll work a little 8- or 10-stitch patch of garter, centered on the split, in the first stripe after the join, but I’ll see when I get there. It is tickling my fancy to think of working those patches in a contrast color, but I’m more likely to keep it sedate—don’t want to scare the horses. (There are actual horses in Sewanee. Not sure how they feel about a pop of color.)

Hot tip: to keep track of those 6-row stripes that are all the same color, use a running yarn marker. Flip it back and forth between the needles at each stripe change. You’re welcome!

It’s going to go fast, as I’ve got many hours of TV lined up for my evenings. (I’m looking at you, DG Strong. You have a lot of TV time to answer for.)

It feels great to have cotton on my needles again. (It’s slippery on metal needles! Switching to bamboo after the join!)  I hope to finish it before I leave for Shakerag, so that I can pick up my Sail-Away Shawl again for travel knitting.




  • Okay, can someone help a girl out here? This is probably a dumb question, but it’s one of those things that has puzzled me. How do you pronounce Shakerag? Is it “Shake-rag” or “Shaker-ag” or “Shaker-rag”? or something I’m not even thinking of? All I know is that I need to knit one!

    • It is ‘Shake-rag.’ It is an amazing retreat and an amazing sweater!

      • Too late! It’s “Shaker rag” in my mind forevermore.

        • Regarding the name, which comes from nearby Shakerag Hollow, here’s the (apocryphal) story of its name:

          “The namesake of Shakerag Hollow, as stated by born and raised resident and graduate of the University of the South, Harry Clark, is “apocryphal, it is received wisdom.” The story goes that interested drinkers would wave (or shake) a rag at a location in the hollow, leave money, come back later on, and there, in a hidden spot, would be waiting a bottle of Tennessee moonshine.”

          Here’s a link to my source:

          I have tried shaking a rag on our knitters’ hikes through the hollow, but have yet to be served a G & T in return.

      • Oh! All this time in my head it’s been “Shaker-rag” as though it were designed by Shakers! I feel compelled to mention the designer, Amy Christoffers, a neighbor and lovely person.

      • Thanks, Robin!

  • That’s a beautiful project, and I do love a split hem! You can also overlap those extra 2 stitches (I like the front stitches over the back stitches) when you join to work in the round.
    I’m also hoping to sport a new summer knit in just a little over 2 weeks : )

  • I’m finishing a test so won’t have a second Shakerag top this year. Maybe next year? Can’t wait to see you all. Sarah’s countdown door hanger thingie is getting smaller!

  • I love a split hem. I have one question. I always have elongated stitches at the separation of my hem after the join. Is there a way to stop this from happening?

  • I have 2 Shakerag tops. One solid in Sylph and one striped in Summerlite (I love the feel of Summerlite). Looks like I’ll have to try a third. Any thoughts on lengthening/making sleeves?

    • I’m hoping to make one in Summerlite and I’m a little stuck. The needles called for in the pattern in Sylph and what’s on the Summerlite yarn label are vastly different. What needles did you use for the cotton and what gauge? Thanks!

  • Having spent last evening unknitting my second twisted Shakerag start, this is a genius idea which I will happily adopt for the third, hopefully charmed, attempt.

  • I’ve yet to win the Shakerag lottery but I hope I’ll get there one day. I’m sure you will all have a blast!

    PS – are there plans to reschedule the one day mini Shakerag in Nashville?

    • We’re going to be gearing up events in Nashville later this year, if all goes well.

      • That’s GREAT!!! Thanks.

  • So excited to see you in Sewanee. 22 days and counting. Already planning my projects – I think something cotton is in order! Thanks kdew for the split hem, it’s a favorite design element!

    • I’m so excited to see you again!

  • When you slip those extra stitches, is it purl wise?

    • Purlwise! And that stitch is always knit when you come to it, even on the purl side.

  • What is your favorite way to join cotton yarn?

    • I join it in the middle of a row or round, leaving the tails to the wrong side so I can weave them in there later.

  • Hi There, I absolutely love you guys to pieces. I’m saying that because I felt a little put off by the tag line “get in losers, it’s skakerag season” at the bottom of this post. Words really matter. Please consider not adopting unkind slangy language. It took me a long time to stop telling myself I was a loser. I love you guys❤️

    • Hi Meredith,

      It’s a reference to a favorite line in an old movie, “Clueless,” that has been memed a lot. (“Get in losers, we’re going to the mall.”) I’m truly sorry if it caused offense but there is no unkind intent, quite the opposite, the reference is 100% affectionate.


  • I am dying to do a Shakerag sweater. I even bought the yarn from MDK and I have the pattern in the Field Guide (I have the whole collection…huge fan). BUT, I recently moved across country and most of my belongings are in storage. I was able to unearth several boxes of yarn, including the yarn for the Shakerage sweater, BUT, I haven’t found the box with all my field guides. And I never used to code to get the patterns in Ravelry. Lesson learned there :). Anyway, I have tons of knitting on the needles to keep me happy. I will live vicariously through this project and it sounds like I may benefit by seeing any and all modifications along the way.

    • If you log into your MDK account and click on the ‘digital patterns and books’ tab on the left side, you may find that Field Guide # 6 is in your list & there is a download button next to it. Although I have almost all the Field Guides, only a few show up on my page, it may be those were the only ones I bought individually rather than as parts of sets(?). But #6 happens to be in my list, maybe it will be in yours, too! Good luck!

      • Hey Carol and Tess,

        You need to have your backups, we get that!

        If you bought it from Ravelry, it will be in your Ravelry library. If you bought it from us, and have an MDK account, it will be in your account with us. If it’s not there, it’s likely because you checked out as a guest, but we’re happy to connect any of your purchases to your MDK account, just send us an email at hello at and we’ll take care of it.

        (We can do this even if you only create your MDK account now, it’s an easy thing.)


  • What size needles did you use on the cotton version?

    • My main needle is a US3. I’m a loose knitter.

  • I love this shakerargtop and would love to make it. I noticed that monochromatic top has cap sleeves but I don’t think the pattern includes instructions for these? As I am sure how to add these can you help; I will be making an xl size.

    • I wanted my top to be roomy so I sized up. Since the “sleeves” are integrated into the body of the sweater, the more ease in the size you knit, the more the shoulder will hang over onto your arm, giving that illusion of sleeves. Ann’s two-color version has less ease and therefore less sleeve.

    • I think that is a bit of an optical illusion. It is a bit oversized so that is just the way it hangs.

  • After the knitting weekend getaway, there are two separate weeks of craft workshops at Shakerag (pronounced “shake rag”–named after the nearby hike, which was named after the fact that moonshine makers and their clients shook a white rag to either 1. be warned that the revenuers were coming for their still or 2. to let others know they were leaving money/moonshine so that client/seller could remain anonymous–I grew up in Sewanee, but all this rag shaking was before my time, or at least before my adult time!) Anyway, I highly recommend the workshops at Shakerag, if you want to spend an idyllic week in an spectacularly beautiful place learning many things while eating incredible food with wonderful and creative people!

  • I would love to be able to “enjoy” knitting with cotton, however I have made a shawl plus attempted some easter eggs and cotton was NOT my friend. Since it doesn`t give, I found it very hard and tiring on my hands to knit – any suggestions?

    • Cotton doesn’t bother me in the least but I think it has to do with how much cotton and linen I’ve knit over the years.

      I used to knit exclusively in plant fibers because I thought I had a wool sensitivity. Then that faded away so I knit and wear wool a lot now. I do notice that cotton feels different after the springiness of wool, but there’s no hand fatigue for me. I really think it’s a matter of habituation/conditioning.

  • I made the “little” Sail Away Shawl and it’s so fun!
    OK, I’m gonna have to make a Shakerag top, I’ve decided.It’ll be the first top I’ve made, but I’m excited to do it because I’d love to have a top that meets my own specifications! 🙂 I am also on team navy blue! I miiiight do a cotton/wool blend b/c I have a really hard time knitting with solid cotton–is that just me?

  • In person knitting together!! I just had my first two private lessons and had a blast. I do like teaching those beginners!

  • A running yarn market! Simple and Pure genius.

    • Marker.

      Out out damn autocorrect – wrote she who needs a real keyboard…

  • Hi Kay,
    Hope everyone has a wonderful time at Shakerag Fest.
    I’m wondering if there is a pattern modification that would allow me to knit longer sleeves on this top?
    Thank you!

    • Hi Deedee,

      I’d suggest looking at the Shakerag Top projects on Ravelry as I believe some knitters have added sleeves.

      I’m not sure it’s a good candidate for adding sleeves, given the sleeveless intent; the opening might be too small to accommodate sleeves at the full bicep measurement, so you’d want to make it oversized so that the sleeve opening lands further down on the arm (the way my Shakerag Top does in the photo above).

      You might want to take a look at a pattern called Relax by Ririko. It’s a similar shape of pullover, with sleeves. I’ve made 3 of them and I just love it in the knitting (because it’s easy) and in the wearing (because it’s ease-y).

  • I’ve never understood a really warm sweater with shirt sleeves and a wide neck. If it’s warm enough for short sleeves, it’s too warm for cashmere and if it’s cold enough for cashmere it’s too cold for short sleeves

    • I am just a single data point, but I wear my sleeveless Shakerag in Sylph all the time, across seasons and air conditioning situations. A laceweight strand of cashmere is too warm only in true heat and humidity (such as Tennessee in June), and in colder temps it’s like any other sleeveless or short sleeved garment that you wear with a jacket or as a layering piece.

  • Thank you Kaye for reminding me that I want to knit this top! I made an attempt last year in wool that I had on hand. I’ll look up my “notes” to see if I wrote down why it was abandoned. Methinks this time it will be linen, cotton, or some sort of combo. I love your daily letters, they are always inspiring!

  • Oh Kay, you made me laugh out loud when you said navy was the hot pink of Kay Gardiner.

  • I’ve made several cotton tops over the years and the bottom of the garment always seems to stretch out. Looking forward to making the Shakerag top in Summerlite 4 ply but worried about the bottom section eventually stretching out. Suggestions?

  • yarn is still held double for the stripes when using Rowan — correct? I also am enjoying the commentary on the pronunciation of Shakerag… for the designer of the shakerag top, f or some reason — my head says Amy – Crist-OFFERS in my head — rather than Criss-tophers…. 🙂

  • My COVID Knitting Finished Project 49 is a Shakerag Top in Sylph (cashmere and linen) hand dyed by Keith Leonard of Yarn Snob/ Knits all Done in his happiness color and it is making me really happy!

    I modified the projects by knitting it in garter rather than stockinette, (which I chose after ripping it out numerous times when my gauge was off in stockinette when I was knitting in the round, compared to the split hem knit flat in garter), adding three inches in length and adding a split hem.

    During COVID It has made me very happy to knit projects while watching television with my son (who I have shared 17 months of unexpected time together when he came home from to graduate from university and start working remotely) and then wear the projects I create with him.

    Thanks for creating this amazing sweater- it is so soft after putting it in the dryer to block it, it has quickly become my favourite summer top!

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