One of my biggest goals for this year is to dispel the myth that crocheting elegant, wearable, modern garments is akin to rocket science. Through the work I’ve been doing with the My Crochet Wardrobe group, I’ve been talking to a lot of people about what puts them off and I hope to address some of those fears over the coming months.
Today I want to talk a little about the glory of top down sweaters, and I’ll start with this statement.
If you can crochet a granny square or a circle, you can crochet a top down sweater!
Over the past couple of months, with this post in mind, I’ve been brushing up on my understanding of the top down method and have just released my first top down design – the Rainbow Smiles Sweater (pictured below). AND I have another pattern on the horizon. I think I might be addicted!
Whilst top down sweaters may be a little more testing of the designer’s maths skills, they are beautifully simple to make. You just need to be able to work in the round and count.
In addition… are you ready for this…
Using the top down yoke* method means YOU CAN MAKE A SWEATER WITHOUT A SINGLE SEAM!
Yes. You read that right too!
One of the comments I have heard time and again which puts you off crochet garment making is this:
The prospect of making lots of parts and seaming them together in the right way is so intimidating that I never even start.
This exact thing put me off too when I started making garments because I am not the strongest sewer. It’s also one of the reasons I keep seams to a minimum in all my designs! With traditional top down designs, you do away with all of that seaming and joining.
Sounds good right?
But wait… There is more…
Working top-down means you can try it on as you go!
So you’ve done away with all the seams and jigsaw-ing pieces together but the top down method keeps giving. When working top down, you can try your garment on and adjust it as you work.
Imagine that, instead of putting all those hours in, joining everything up then holding your breath as you try it on hoping it fits (and wanting to cry if it doesn’t!), you can just check it and adjust it as you work!
Bcause you’re working outwards, you can change the length of the sleeves and body as you go. In fact you don’t really need to think that much about sleeve length until you get there!
Similarly, with the body you can decide as you go if you want to alter the shape by adding some decreases at the waist or increases over the hips.
The level of flexibility when working top down is immense!!!
You’re changing my life… tell me more!
There are many methods of top down working but today I’m going to talk about the traditional method of making a ‘yoke’ which you then fold in half and split into the body and sleeves.
*WTF is a Yoke?
I remember the first time I heard this word. It felt like magic terminology that only people with years of knitting and dressmaking experience understood. I don’t have a background in sewing or fashion design, I just fell in love with crochet, so I have definitively had to learn on the go (and continue to do so!).
Technical sounding words like yoke and ease can be very excluding if you don’t understand what they mean. Like you’re trying to join the club but don’t know the special handshake! It doesn’t feel very nice!
I’m working on a jargon buster to help melt this barrier. Raglan is another one in the top down world that scared me too. I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now I’ll try and stick on topic and explain yokes!
Basically a yoke, in the context of a top down sweater, is simply the shaped piece of fabric which fits from the neck and increases outwards over the shoulders and bust.
Generally yokes are either worked in square/rectangle or in a circle / oval – only you have a hole in the middle for your head! So again I say – if you can make a granny square or work in increasing rounds for a circle then you can make a sweater!
Think about the shape of a typical poncho – when you lay it flat it’s usually a big square or circle – essentially this is a just a yoke which you keep increasing!
Okay, but how do I turn a yoke into a sweater?
In a sweater, once the yoke is large enough, you fold it in half, section off a bunch of stitches on each edge for the sleeves (I advise using place markers for this!) and work the middle section as the body.
Your last yoke round is also effectively the first round of the body. You will work your stitch pattern across the back body section, make a chain to create the underarm, skip the arm hole stitches (that you have marked with your place markers if you’re sensible – I am usually not and miscount and have to frog it all!), carry on working across the front of the body, make another underarm chain of the same length for the other arm hole, skip the arm hole stitches, and finish that round.
This round is the hardest part of working top down. But, remember you can try it on and check you got it right before you go further!
Once you’ve made the yoke, the sleeves and body basically just hang off it!
For cardigns the principle is the same – you just work the yoke in rows instead of joining at the end of each round.
There are obviously a lot of variations which can be worked into a yoke (think roll neck, v neck etc), but today I’m just going to elaborate on the raglan (square) and circular yoke styles.
Prepare to be impressed by my epic doodling skills!!
Crocheting a Raglan Yoke
Okay, first things first. What does Raglan mean?
Raglan is just a type of sleeve shape – where you see a diagonal line running from the underarm up to the neckline. The outcome of using a raglan shaped sleeve is that there are no shoulder seams on the garment. There are many variations on the raglan method (such as where the ‘seam’ starts and ends, what shaped neckline you want etc.), but the diagonal seam replacing the shoulder seam is basically it!
When you are working a raglan sleeve top down, you will see the increase ‘seam’ running diagonal from where you start your increases at the neckline to where you join at the underarm. There are no actual seams but the increases are placed on top of each other in each round which can create the illusion of a seam.
You can make the raglan line a feature, for example by working a different stitch pattern on the increase. But lets keep it simple for now!
To make a traditional raglan sleeve, the yoke is worked in a rectangle, with increases being made in the 4 corners.
The shoulder widths / sides of the rectangle are normally start at about 1/3rd of the length across the back.
My forthcoming pattern, the Raibow Smiles Sweater uses the raglan method, though because I have to make things interesting it also incorporates a v-neck so is more of a hexagon than a square!
Here’s a peek… I’ chose this image because you can just about see how the increases move towards the underarm and then join at the green stripe.
Crocheting with a Circular Yoke
So a circular yoke works the same way as a square one in terms of construction, only the increases are evenly distributed rather than being worked at the corners.
If you’ve ever made a hat starting at the crown, you will have used the same method!
Think about all those beautiful Scando/ Icelandic / alpine sweaters – whether knit or crochet, these are made using a round yoke.
Prepare bear witness to more of my epic drawing skills!
That’s really it for circular yokes. The rest of the construction is worked in the same way as the raglan yoke.
My Falling Pines Poncho circular shows the circular yoke in action. The increases here are mainly hidden in the cable pattern.
This was one of my earlier patterns and ironically, one I made without really knowing that it was a yoke I was creating – I just knew it had to keep getting bigger!
This is also on my remake list as I was stupidly wearing it whilst cleaning and now have bleach marks on it. THERE is a lesson learned! :(Hmmm… perhaps I will turn the next version into a sweater… watch this space!!
Join us on Facebook to keep learning!
If you’re interested in learning to crochet garments (which I assume you are if you’ve got this far!), I’d love it if you joined my facebook group ‘My Crochet Wardrobe’. The group is specifically aimed at helping people do just that – it’s pretty new so we’re all just getting to know each other but the more the merrier! Click here to find out more
Non-Yoke top down methods
There are many other ways to work top down with non-yoke methods. These may include seams and use separate pieces but often still have the benifit of being able to try as you go.
Most of my cardigan designs are top down – I learned early on in my design career that it’s helpful to be able to test things as you work!!
The Everyday Hugs Cardigan and the Underdog Cardigan are both worked by making 3 panels (front left, right and back) which are joined at the underarm so the body can be worked back and forwards in rows. The sleeves are worked directly into the arm holes (created by the patterns) and worked from shoulder to cuff. The only seaming is in the shoulders an in adding the pockets!
So there we have it – my intro to the joy of working top down.
I hope you found this helpful and that you are less intimidated at the prospect of trying a top down garment! If you’re not quiet there yet then make sure you pin this post for later so you can come back to it when you’re ready to go!
Let me know how you get on!
Part of the reason I write these posts is to solidify my own knowledge and learn a little about what I still have to learn – I regularly discover in life that there is so much I don’t even know that I don’t know!
I have started to reach outside the world of crochet for garment making tips as there is so much info out there for knitters and sewers which can be applied to crochet too!
Below are some of the resources I have used in creating this post. There are no affiliate links here, just things I have found useful! And yes, they are actual print books rather than random googled sites!!
Knitting from the top by Barbara G Walker – this was written in the mid 70s (and a very kind friend lent me her copy!) and it’s a great example of how knitting principles apply equally to crochet. I adore Barbara’s writing style – it’s a great read!
Top Down Crochet Sweaters – Dora Ohrenstein – this is a great book (which actually pays homage to the one mentioned above!) which has everlasting sweater patterns but also spends the first half of the book explaining design and construction
If you’re looking for top down cardigan patterns then I can recommend 3 from the top from the Crochet Project. This is another print book. Their books all have lots of hits and tips which go along side of the patterns. Full disclosure, I may be a little biased because I know the awesome ladies behind the Crochet Project, and more recently have done some tech editing work for them. BUT all of their patterns are so well written and teach me something every time I work with one!!