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Dear Ann,

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.




  • Yes! Good vibes of “resonance” in that hour of peace with the pattern.

  • Wonderfully organised! And a beautiful colour for your swoncho. Can’t wait to see the finished garment.

  • A good use of 30 min. Thank you for the guidance. Did you swatch in the round? What size are you knitting and what size needles?

  • That’s a great idea! I’m knitting a cardigan and I just realised that I had different numbers of stitches in each sleeve. It took me ages to figure out how many I should have and where I had gone wrong. I just need a little chart!

  • A knitter after my own heart! I find peace of mind … and peaceful knitting… when I make similar charts

  • Always a chart of some kind works wonderful. I love knitting top down or even down up as I really dislike putting pieces together

  • Brilliant! I am the same so your words of wisdom will sing in my head when I cast on soon. Thank you.

  • Oh my goodness. I love this. I’m going to do that chart next time I make any top down sweater. Great ideas

  • A few years ago the teacher of a sweater class I was taking started out by giving each of us a small notebook. We charted each section of our sweaters. It was magical for me and now I do it at the start of each new project.

  • I am using this method on the Sunshine Coast sweater on my needles. It has really helped to keep me “within the lines” and has added a little more zen to the knitting.

    • I’m doing the same on my Sunshine Coast. The color-coding is a must—the perfect traffic signals for this project.

  • Excellent! I love a good map, and a check list.

  • Love Cristina’s mod and your article. Kay, You’re the best.

  • I have a chart too! Because of the cable rounds and the raglan increases, I charted out everything on Excel and I used my magnet board to follow the rounds step by step. I’m on the sleeves now!

    • If you are comfortable in Excel, may I suggest you try Knit Companion? It’s incredible, and you can easily annotate charts and create customized repeats of increases and such. It will change your life!

      I do use different stitch markers as suggested here. In KC, I can also color-code charts and instructions to match the colored markers!

  • Just curious, exchanging garter stitch panels for the cable, doesn’t it make it a few stitches wider as the cable would be narrower than the garter stitch. I would love something in blue in my wardrobe.

    • I was thinking about the same question. Plus, with where it is, is that band of garter stitch going to keep a trim look and a crisp edge, or get kind of wonky? I’m thinking the cable will be more functional, and stay looking nicer, as the garment is worn and moved around in. Plus, the neckline ribbing flows into the cable pattern really nicely, which is an attractive detail….

  • I like to work out repeats in an Excel spreadsheet, print it, and paste it into my notebook. Excel does the math for you, creates neat columns, and you can add boxes and underlines, as well as color to the font or shading to the boxes. Additionally, Excel can work out the expected stitches as your piece grows, so you can double-check the stitch count between markers. This is so handy if you put down a project and have to come back to it. You know immediately where you are.

  • Well, isn’t this just the best cutest way ever! I’ve always loved making a chart to keep things straight, whether it’s grocery shopping or knitting. Looking forward to seeing the FO 🙂

  • I did almost the same thing except I’m using hash marks to track the rounds so I know to do the cable in the second round of 16. I discovered my gauge was off at the exact moment that the stitch count matched the size I should have been following for that gauge (a not insignificant miracle) and I’m now blissfully working even. This thing is so much fun to knit I wish it made sense to make multiples but as I live in Florida, one is probably sufficient. Great pattern :).

  • Great information, thanks for sharing!

  • I am a “newish” knitter. I have done many shawls, scarves, hats, etc. This is my first sweater though. It has taken me several hours to get this pattern down and moving. Nell’s earlier column on marker placement helped a lot along with the idea for open and uniform eyelets. Your charting is brilliant, Kay, and great for us in your Type A knitting camp! I am off to do that now.
    As a side note, I also made my first cables. They are things of beauty. I MADE A CABLE and it was so simple! Yeah!

    • Cables are the best, and your first one is an amazing feeling!

  • Will definitely follow your advice in future. I’ve just pulled out a top down vest because I completely lost track of what was going on. I guess it’s also because I only have small windows of time to knit and when I go back to my knitting it looks alien!
    I’ll make a map next time…

  • I learned to knit only in the round so I panic when I am forced to sew a garment. Making a chart is brilliant and I was thinking of starting this project today so many thanks for the advice and you are as always brilliant ❤️

  • I have used charts to make sure what I’m knitting becomes tv knitting – blankets, shawls, etc. It makes so much sense for a sweater, especially if you want to make another one with some modifications you already have the basic chart done!

  • I am stuck on 388st. I think it is 348, but that usually means I’m answering the wrong question… Then again, almost all my worst mistakes are on the first inch, most especially including miscounting the cast-on (repeatedly), and choosing one size, but casting on for another. Your way is the antidote.

    I recently ran out of roadmap on a project, and there it sits accusingly… Thanks for the nudge.

    • I didn’t include the 4 10-stitch bands of garter stitch, sorry! You are correct!

  • I have always had to write down on paper what I was going to knit. I wouldn’t be able to do it any other way. Glad to know that I am in good company.

  • I also make charts to facilitate knitting while watching tv. Usually it’s on a piece of paper, and my poodle snatches it FOR FUN, causing a horrible chase to ensue. I’ve started putting the chart in a sleeve just so it will survive the dog.

    • I can picture this! And commiserate – my Westie likes to sit on mine! Or just jump up in my lap in the big middle of everything and then sporting a satisfied smirk as I untangle her from my working yarn. She has me well-trained!

  • Aah! Light bulb! I definitely need to incorporate your flyover, that helps tremendously! I did an Excel chart for my Pressed Flowers Shawl that broke down the stitch count both sides of the center and total for every row (I have a tendency to forget the last set of increases or decreases if there’s anything in between) and so easy to keep going and let it do math. Others have been my own graph paper counts and colored ones for colorwork. It’s worth it to know where you are on the map at all times!!

  • So glad to know that I am not the only knitter to make charts. I started years ago as a way to handle the dreaded ‘ at the same time’ instructions. I have never had the courage to try a top down sweater but your clear photo and instructions make me think I can do it. I am becoming more of a process knitter since retirement and enjoy the planning as much as the doing. I have even unravelled a project to try something else with the yarn. Thanks so much for this. Beautiful colour, by the way.

  • I too make a chart like that!

  • I TOTALLY get it. My brain works in a similar way. I use my bullet journal for charts too. I feel like I’ve gotten more intimate with a pattern if I write it and map it out. Hopefully no big surprises. I wasn’t planning on making the swancho but now I think it might be fun and hopefully it won’t make me look like pudge-o.

  • I am struggling with a similar project — Casapinka’s Noncho. Top-down, increases, stripes. After ripping out about 5 inches yesterday, I was a little frustrated. Lo and behold, this wisdom appeared this morning! So I’ve made myself a map that notes the yarn color, increases/stitch count, when to jogless join, plus the increase definitions. Yea! Ready to dive back in.

  • I too learned to knit pieces and sew them together. I too loved Rowan’s amazing sweaters. I made my first top-down pullover for my sister, who chose a very simple Isabell Kraemer design. Part way down the shoulder, I found myself drawing a diagram very much like your first photo, to make sense of what I was knitting. The sweater was a success! You have shown me how to take this to the next step, a complete visual map, organized and with a permanent record! Your article has come at the perfect moment as I’m about to make my sister a top-down cardigan. Thank you.

  • Perhaps a letter/article some day on using Excel as so many people have mentioned here? I’ve heard about that and wondered if I could work something out on my own.

  • Great tips thank you

  • Great suggestion, which I had used to some degree in the past. My current project required some additional identification of its “anatomy,” so in addition to the stitch markers I have added a tag to remind me what it is identifying. I bought small card tags (maybe they’re price tags for garage sales?), removed the string they came with and slipped one onto each stitch marker. Then I could write things like CB/centerback, Shoulder (marking separation of neckline and shoulder seam) or the bottom of the armhole. They are working well so far, and I am hopeful that when it comes to the seaming I will not sew up the neckline like I did once before when I wasn’t paying attention!

  • Cocoknit’s and Asa Tricot patterns and books include charts mapping out increases. Asa does math for you. You fill in info while reading pattern before beginning increases for Cocoknits. I have used her chart on several sweaters by other designers. The time familiarizing yourself with pattern before knitting is invaluable and the roadmap allows you to find your place if project is put down as well as making personal modifications…. also simplifying knitting a perfectly fitting sweater again.

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