Top-Down Tips: Make a Map
I’m digging into my Simple Swoncho, and having a grand time.
Before I could get myself going, though, I needed to sit down in a quiet place for a half hour of clarity. I’m sharing my process here in case it resonates for other knitters.
Preface: All of my early sweaters were Rowan sweaters, so they were knit in pieces and seamed together. Knitting a sweater in the round was Not a Thing, and knitting a sweater in the round from the top down was Even Less of a Thing. Yes, Barbara Walker had written her brilliant book Knitting from the Top—I know that now, but I didn’t know it then, and I was so truly, madly, deeply in love with Rowan’s photography and styling that I would have knit sweaters standing on my head if Rowan told me to do it that way.
This is why, even today, in the Golden Age of Top-Down In-the-Round construction, and with a beginner-friendly pattern like the Simple Swoncho from MDK Field Guide No. 18: Beginnings, the start of a top-down sweater is cause for some furrowing of the brows.
At the beginning of even an easy top-down garment like the Simple Swoncho, I need to visualize the shape I am knitting, and make myself a mental map of how it is going to grow. Where are the increases placed? What is the rhythm of the increases? And—most importantly for peace of mind—how will I know if I’m doing it right?
How I Do It
If any of this helps you, I’m glad. And if it all feels a bit belt-and-suspenders-and-2-kinds-of-stitch-markers for you, I’m truly happy for you, and you can just ignore me.
Step 1: Orientation
I like to visualize a top-down sweater as if I am a bird flying over the top of it, looking down at the increase lines. Where are the sleeves? Where are the front and back? Where are the decorative stitch panels?
After casting on, I follow the pattern by rote, placing stitch markers as instructed. Here’s the bird’s eye view of the start of my Simple Swoncho.
The yarn: Neighborhood Fiber Company Organic Studio Worsted in the shade Palisades, my dream combo of cobalt blue with flashes of black. Deep and dreamy.
Things to notice:
The pattern has four 10-stitch cable panels separating sleeves and front and back. Since I invariably have to copy Cristina Shiffman’s mods on any pattern, I’ve substituted 10-stitch garter stitch panels. There are never any increases inside these panels; they will always be 10 stitches.
For reference: Here is Cristina’s Simple Swoncho, which substitutes 10-stitch garter panels for the cable panels of the original. I love the sweatshirt vibe of this mod.
Back to my bird’s eye view: On the east and west sides of the circle, between the blue markers, are the sleeve sections. On the first increase row only, I will increase one stitch inside of each of these blue stitch markers. (That little green elastic marker is the beginning-of-round marker, and also the start of one of the sleeves.)
On the north and south sides of the circle, between the orange markers, are the front and back body sections of the sweater. I’ve also placed a locking orange marker in the fabric of each of these sections as a visual reminder, like little traffic cones that indicate: HELLO KAY YOU ARE ON A BODY SECTION. On both the first and second increase row, I will increase one stitch on the body side of each of these orange stitch markers.
Step 2: Keeping Track
Here’s where I may be accused of over-precision (something of which I rarely am accused): I make a chart.
I’m knitting the second size, so my task is to work 22 repeats of the 4-round increase repeat.
I make a down-and-dirty chart that tells me how many stitches I will have in each body and sleeve section after I work each repeat. I check them off in my Bullet Journal as I go.
This allows me to knit in perfect serenity, knowing that when I get to the end of that 22nd increase round, I will have the prescribed 388 stitches on my needle: two body sections of 118 stitches each, and two sleeve sections of 56 stitches each (plus the four 10-stitch garter panels). All will be right in my happy swoncho world.
It took me a few minutes of focus to write out my chart, and now I’m going to blast through my Simple Swoncho like you wouldn’t believe.