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As a knitting teacher and technical editor. I get to see a lot of patterns. I help knitters work them, and I help designers write them.

Right now, I am seeing many more patterns for worked-all-in-one-piece seamless garments than for designs worked in separate pieces and sewn.

Seamless sweaters are very appealing to knit. And designers enjoy them too—there are very straightforward formulas to create this type of garment pattern.

Unfortunately, I see a lot of knitters and designers avoiding classic, seamed garment construction, and working everything seamlessly—even to the point of following very elaborate steps to eliminate seams.

I strongly believe there’s a place in the world for both types of garment construction. So what are the specific advantages of seamed garments to tempt the seamless devotee?

Shape And Style

Most seamless garments are either raglans or circular yoke constructions. These styles tend to result in garments that are for casual wear. If that’s what you’re aiming for, great! But, there’s no reason you can’t knit yourself something suitable for office wear, or for going out to dinner. Seamed garment structures open the door to more tailored looks, and to different styles and a greater range of fit.

The most classic of seamed garment structures, the set-in sleeve, is the best-fitting because it conforms to the shape of the body around the bust, shoulders, neck, and upper arms. This means that you can get a tailored and tidy sleeve, armhole, and shoulder to suit your figure. And the set-in-sleeve is best worked in pieces and seamed.

Amy Herzog’s Horseshoe Pullover and Morbillo Cardigan designs are great examples of tailored wardrobe classics.

horseshoe pullover—Tailored fit, simple to work
In the MDK Shop
Hektos is a worsted-weight blend of merino, cashmere, and a touch of silk. It's plied, with a nice twist. And it's next-to-the-skin soft.
morbillo cardigan—Reverse stockinette and twisted stitches FTW
In the MDK Shop
Soft, drapey Shakti wants to be your next favorite cardigan. Check out our palette of Vrinda Yarn's sumptuous colors.
Patty LyonS’s Costa Maya Cardigan is a fabulous night-out piece.

Although it’s maybe not office wear, my The Wild One motorcycle jacket can only be constructed as a seamed garment, for the fit, the shaping, the weight of the fabric (more on that below) and the defining details.

Structure defining seams and some serious hardware
The mismatched stripes in Fiona Ellis’s brilliant Adelaide & Spadina are made possible (and fun!) because of the seams.

There are ways to construct a set-in sleeve without seams. They’re more complicated to make than the usual seamless shapes. They require a lot of picking up of stitches, and short-row shaping. If avoiding seaming is the only or primary reason you’re working a set-in sleeve this way, please revisit your thoughts on seaming! It’s not more difficult than working those two techniques.

Here are a few more factors to consider . . .

Convenience and Comfort

If you’re inclined to carry your knitting about with you, a seamed garment structure makes for a smaller and lighter project bag. And a full seamless sweater project gets heavy on the needles, which can exacerbate hand and wrist strain and conditions like arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Jeanette Sloan’s Hove Actually features a wave motif in texture stitches and mosaic colorwork on an easy-to-wear drop shoulder silhouette with a breezy split hem.

Ease of Execution

A seamed garment can be more approachable for a less experienced knitter, or someone seeking a relaxing project. If you’re working smaller pieces, there’s less to undo and less work lost if a mistake is made.


Knit fabrics stretch, of course. Over time, a large piece of knit fabric that spends a lot of its time hanging—you know, like a sweater!—will stretch and sag. The larger the sweater and the looser it’s worn, the faster this will happen. Your yarn and needle choice can make it even worse—superwash wools are notorious for stretching out over time, and a fabric knit to a looser tension has less structural integrity.

Seams provide structure for a garment, like scaffolding. If there’s no seam where the sleeve joins the body, the sleeve will grow longer over time; a garment without shoulder seams will sag and slide down, and lose its shape. A seamed garment will hold its shape for many years.

There is one important exception here—stranded colorwork in a circular yoke performs the same function as seams. But otherwise, a seamless garment just isn’t as stable.

Garments like Amy Herzog’s Meadowbrook Cowl and Sunburst Cardigan are both larger, heavier garments that are designed to be worn loose, and they rely on the seams to help them keep their shape. If they were worked seamlessly, they’d both get very saggy, very quickly.

designer Amy Herzog in her meadowbrook cowl
No Sagging on the horizon for sunburst cardigan

They Are Easier Than You Think

I get why knitters love seamless garments—they are fun to knit, and it is great to have a garment that you can wear fresh off the blocking board. And there are lots of designs to choose from!

And I hear from many knitters who don’t feel confident about their finishing skills. The finishing instructions in many garment patterns are minimal, and finishing is often not adequately covered in knitting classes. Knitting and finishing are distinct skills. To make a project look good, you need to be sure you’re doing things properly. The good news is that seaming really isn’t hard, once you’ve got a good resource. Here are some great how-to videos by  Patty Lyons:

Mattress Stitch

Shoulder Seams

Set-in Sleeves

Go on . . . give seamed construction a try!

And search our yarns by weight with a handy drop down menu at the top of the page here to find a perfect match for your favorite design.

About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • Hey so excited that I can leave a comment now that I’m leaving a comment just because I can.

    Thanks for your patience, everybody!

    • Yay for comments!

      • Great article, thank you. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time looking for the Sunburst Cardigan you mention. Can you give me s clue on how to find it? Thanks

        • Ugh. Went back and saw link. Yes I am a goofball

        • Thank You so much for this article. I agree with you 100% about the better fit and finish of seamed knitting, and have never once been satisfied with the fit of a top down garment I now avoid those patterns entirely, unfortunately.

          As for superwash wool, I’ve had the same problem you address, When I do use it I generally have to thrown it in a low temp dryer for a bit after washing to get the fit back. One thought about this I have is to go down a bit in needle size and then block to correct measurements if necessary- I will be experimenting with this soon

  • I’m a big fan of seamed–I’m knitting my first cardigan now and it’s seamed and I chose that on purpose, so that if I have to rip (which I’ve had to do twice!) it doesn’t destroy everything. Also, the seaming instructions are easy, at least for this pattern!

    • Thank you!
      As a sewist and knitter I know that seams provide structure and support, and gave long bemoaned all the patterns with ‘sleeves in the round.’ Why is the knitting world afraid of a simple seam? I detest flipping a complete sweater around in my lap to knit sleeves.
      Plus, my mother taught me that you knit both sleeves at the same time so that your increases/decreases all occur on the same rows.

  • And as an FYI for others – if you get to MDK through a bookmark be sure to change the link to the new name, and then you have to sign in again, and then everything is AOK (took me a minute to figure out what I was doing wrong…).
    I like seams for all Kate’s reasons. When I’m doing a seamless construction I use the basting method from Karen Templar’s (dear departed) blog. It gives even a seamless sweater some support. Basically a purl seam stitch that you then close with a seam line.

  • I just changed a (mostly) seamless pattern to one with side seams.

    • I knit seamed garments. My girlie figure is long gone. I can make adjustments without the grief of seamless sweaters. I like to knit without frustrations. One way to learn sewing seams, is practice on swatches. Of course this is my opinion.

  • Ann Budd suggests that some of the disadvantages of seamless can be reduced by making a false seam by e.g. a purl stitch on a stocking stitch garment. Comments?

    • Disclaimer: Ann is *very* smart about knitting. That having been said, I don’t see that a single purl stitch can address my main concerns. The only thing I think it would help with would be the stretching and sagging – the others just don’t apply in this situation! And a purl stitch isn’t any less stretchy than a knit. Do you happen to recall what aspects she said it helped with? I might be missing something… ?

      • I do this on all seamless sweaters. I learned the technique from Clare Mountain, she calls it a basting stitch seam. Once blocked, you mattress stitch up either side of the column of purl stitches, gaining all the structure of a side seam on the garment. I’ve even done this on the sleeves of heavier weight sweaters too, by continuing that column of purls right up the centre underside of the sleeve. It works really well!

        • Ok, yes, that’s a crucial detail! *Just* a purl wouldn’t help, but seaming around it absolutely would – you’re seaming!

  • Another fan of seamed garments here, for reasons mentioned (working both sleeves and both cardigan fronts at the same time, structure, smaller pieces to tote around), and also because the set-in style looks better on me. I’ve made a couple yoke sweaters, and I’m currently working on a set-in sleeve worked from the top with short rows. As with most knitting things, it’s good to try new techniques, but I’m going back to knitting sweaters in pieces.

  • I love seamed garments for exactly these reasons: no huge pile in my lap, less strain on my wrists, the possibility to change a mistake without ripping the whole piece. And set-in-sleeves !!!!!!! Even for casual wear I prefer set-in-sleeves. So, thanks for this 🙂

    • Hear, hear!

  • Raising my hand to join in with the other seam-lovers! I have learned the hard way to avoid seamless sweaters that are knit in heavier than a fingering weight yarn — they stretch and hang like a sack!

  • I don’t mind side seams or sleeve seams. I sometimes have trouble with the seaming for set in sleeves though. I would comment though – who hangs sweaters? All mine are in drawers or shelves even the Erin Duffle coat I made.

    • I assume Kate means that they’re hanging on our bodies when we are wearing them. I’m sure she’ll correct me if I’m wrong about that though.

      • Correct, hanging on our bodies!

  • I’ve only ever done seamed jumpers and happy to do the finishing – the flip being, I’m super apprehensive about seamless, esp top down. There’s more than enough patterns out there for both, but really keen to knit one of Isabell Kraemer’s gorgeous jumpers, so expect to make the leap at some stage.

  • I also prefer the fit of set-in sleeves, but problems with getting sleeves to my preferred sleeve lengths have led me to prefer top-down sleeves so I can try them on as I go. (My current WIP is being done that way; I’ve partially seamed as the sleeves have lengthened.) I have not yet found good tutorials for adjusting sleeve length and sleeve ease (elbows bend!); sometimes a diagram for a pattern is relatively detailed and will allow comparisons based on the depth of the armscye but I’ve managed a too-short sleeve even with that info plus adjustments when knitting from the bottom up. As sleeve length has been a problem for me my entire life, I’ll be darned if I’m going to put that much effort into a garment that doesn’t cover my wrists, elbows bent, when that’s what I intend. Vent over. 🙂

    • I’ve done set-in sleeves on straights from the top to about two inches below the armhole and then paused. Sew the sleeves into the armholes. Then, pick them up for magic loop top down. That way I could try them on.

    • Well, hello! I can help you with that. (As a not-tall person I struggle with this all the time, too.) Perhaps Kay and Ann will agree to me writing a tutorial for adjusting sleeve length. I do teach a class on it, but clearly an article would help!

  • Always love Kate’s explanations. She’s very persuasive.

  • Thank you! This convinced me to order the wool for that beautiful seamed sweater I’ve been eyeing for ages!

  • Well hurrah! I simply do not understand this obsession with knitting everything on circulars and top-down. It has become the only way to do it as far as some people are concerned. Of course, we can all appreciate a clever round yoke design, like those of Jenn Steingass, but nothing beats the tailored effect you can get with set-in sleeves and seaming. Geiger, by Norah Gaughan is a case in point. But I think people are scared of seaming because they think it will mess up their knitting, and perhaps they have had experience of this.

  • What happened to the little save article button at the top of the article?

    • Make sure you’re signed in! When I noticed it being gone I also noticed….I was not signed in! Duh, Emily! 😀

  • I don’t mind seaming, but inevitably, the number of rows on the back and front don’t match exactly, in spite of knitting to rows, not inches. Depending on gauge, even a few rows off can mean a noticeable difference in length. In my last project, I was off by 4 rows, which was half an inch. In stockinette, it’s okay to fudge a few rows in the seam, but if you need to match a pattern back and front, it’s not great.

  • I don’t think the problem is totally “scared of sewing seams”. The key problem with getting your set-in sleeve to look good is to have the armscye and the sleeve cap be *the right length*. And that means ……. [drumroll] ……. gauge is important. And that’s a whole other story in its own right.

  • Kate, your ‘Wild One’ is the absolute BEST seamed garment ever!! Seeing it in person, when you wore it at Laura Nelkin’s first retreat, I was in awe. Someday, maybe (those zippers scare me….). Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Great article, Kate, I agree completely. Sweaters last if seamed. I’ll be passing this in to my knitting group.

  • Preach, Sister!
    While tech editing, I’ve often been amazed by the contortions people will go through to avoid sewing a seam. Seamed construction can make the knitting simpler and the resulting sweater better fitting and longer lasting – it’s worth learning to sew a seam!

    • Sandi! Yes, some of these seamless designs are eye-wateringly complicated to design and edit, aren’t they? It’s a trade-off I’m not sure I understand – much harder math to create and review, rather than asking the knitters to spend an hour or so sewing some seams. As a designer and editor, I’m always going to prefer a simpler pattern! Less risky to create, less risky to knit!

  • I love seamed garments b/c I love intarsia (yes, I’ve heard of techniques to work intarsia in the round). I love seamed garments because they’re easier on my wrists and easier to take on the daily commute (back when we did that). I love seamed garments because I love color blocking.
    I love seamed garments because I love seaming—that last bit of handling of a project that I loved working on.
    Can you tell that I’m a Process Knitter?

  • I like both seamed and circular knitting, but my reason for knitting a sweater in the round isn’t any of the ones you mentioned. It’s the fit! If you’re knitting top-down and/or in the round, you can try it on and adjust as you go. If you knit in pieces and seam, you can’t check the fit until there is a LOT of undoing required to fix it. (I’m not talking about sleeve length, either.) It’s fine to know your measurements and all that, but if you’re making a style for the first time, you just may not know exactly how it’s going to look at the stated measurements. I hate going through the whole process of blocking, assembling and finishing and THEN finding out there should have been more shaping, or more ease at the bust.

    • Amy – this is an interesting thing! You’re not wrong that top-down garments are fantastic for trying on, and adjusting sleeve and body shaping and length. But whether this works for a given body depends on whether the base construction works for you. The true foundation of a garment’s fit is in the shoulder/armhole and neckline constructions. If a raglan works for you, for example, then a seamless raglan provides an easy way tweak details of fit. But if a raglan doesn’t work, then no amount of body or sleeve changes is going to solve that. Assessing fit of a seamed garment does seem more challenging (pun intended!), but it’s just a small shift in thinking. It’s about learning to read the schematic in detail, and using that to assess the style and measurements before you start knitting. (And then, of course, matching gauge.) How a garment fits your body should never be a surprise! I”m always trying on a seamed garment as I go, too – pinning the pieces together. I often work front(s) and back first, assemble/pin them together and check from there. Heck, you can check the body fit before you’ve even shaped the armholes – work the back and front(s) up to the armhole point, pin those together, try them on!

  • Kate, I had a bad experience with a sleeve that didn’t fit the arm hole early in my knitting life and I never got over it. Before that, I had successfully seamed 2 sweaters. That badly fitting sleeve cap ruined set in sleeves for me- now I pick them up and knit down.

    • I’m sorry you had a bad experience! If you’ve done it twice before, I have complete confidence you’ll be able to do it again. It’s worth trying again, I promise!

  • Just seeing this and you don’t have to convince me about the virtues of seaming. I’m definitely pro-seam! I do have a question: Do you have tips for modifying a seamless sweater design to incorporate seams? I’m sure it’s simple but I can’t wrap my quarantine-brain around it. TIA

  • One advantage for knitting garments in pieces is that it can be easier to make alterations. Say you finish a jumper and you don’t like the front neckline. If it’s knitted in pieces, you can rip back the front piece to where you started the neckline shaping and reknit it fairly quickly. But with a jumper knitted in the round, you have to rip back the front, back, and top of the sleeves to change that neckline.

  • Great patterns! Thanks! So glad this was linked to since I missed it the first time. Ahhh… spring 2020… nothing stressful happening then…. Thanks for seeing me through it all, MDK!

  • I generally agree that a set-in sleeve is an amazing and flattering design feature, but only IF the shoulder width is precisely correct. And I’ve found this difficult to achieve with my measurements, where I’m faced with garments and patterns that have too-wide shoulders for my size of bust & width of torso. When this dimension is off (and this applies to sewing patterns & ready-made clothing too), the entire garment looks wrong. I’d rather opt for a raglan, yoke, or even drop shoulder with its excess underarm fabric than a set sleeve with too-wide shoulders.

    However, thank you for a wonderful and informative article on seaming. I’m inspired to upgrade my skills!

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