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.
horseshoe pullover—Tailored fit, simple to work
In the MDK Shop
morbillo cardigan—Reverse stockinette and twisted stitches FTW
In the MDK Shop
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:
Go on . . . give seamed construction a try!