I've been crazy-stressed at work lately with little time to get immersed in a sewing project, but knitting has become something I can devote at least a few minutes to each day for relaxation and comfort... it's really rekindling my love of the craft. As I'm nearer to completion on my latest cardigan project, I've already been wondering what to knit next and spending a lot of time on Ravelry admiring beautiful patterns and projects.
Andi's sweaters are high on my prioity list of lovely patterns to try and her method of top-down sweater construction is really different than this very basic raglan formula one can apply to any yarn, once you know your guage. I only made two top-down raglan cardigans for myself when I knit human-sized garments once-apon-a-time; but, in the last several years, I've knit a whole bunch of tiny top-down raglan doll sweaters, so I've become comfortable with a particular process and it's implementing well for my current human-sized project.
Something challenging about any top-down sweater is the blocking. When you knit each piece separately, you can block them all out flat and then seam them together - I think flat blocking is very easy. I usually pin the pieces out with T-pins to the correct measurements, spritz them with lots of water and then hold a steam iron over them (not touching!) until they relax and the fibers sort of bloom. If there are cables or lace, I may do a wet-blocking, which means getting them completely wet first (without agitating wool, so it doesn't felt!) and then pinning them out to dry to exact measurement.
Blocking in knitting, much like ironing is sewing, is really crucial to a good finished garment. So how to block a whole sweater being created in-the-round? I suppose you can wet block the whole thing and lay flat to dry, as you would hand-wash a sweater. So, I learned a little cheating trick when I was knitting dolly sweaters. I knit the sleeves flat and block them flat before proceeding down the rest of the body of the sweater.
Here's my pause to block the human sleeves. I used quilting pins because I no longer have any T-pins. I need to remedy that.
After the sleeves were blocked, I stitched them up, tried the sweater on to be sure I was on the right track and carried on with the body. It's a really easy process that give a nicely finished sleeve - that is, if you don't mind seaming. If you don't want to try it on and you want to be able to block more of the sweater flat, you can leave the seaming to the very end. This works quite well with doll sweaters, but I wanted to chance to try mine on part way through, so I seamed before proceeding to the rest of the body.
I've noticed in looking a lot of Andi's patterns that she does a whole top-down body and then comes back and knits the sleeves in the round with a set-in sleeve and short row shaping. This is intriguing and her designs are so beautiful - the perfect combination of simplicity and intrigue, retro-chic and contemporary style. They are all perfect cardigans to wear with dresses too, which is just my cup of tea - but her sleeve method is totally different than what I know. Studying her patterns makes me curious about all the different ways that you can make a top-down cardigan. There are lots of variations on the process - not all "top-down" patterns are the same!
I've noticed that some people would do almost anything to avoid seaming, but I really don't mind seams or seaming. I suppose if you aren't also a seamstress, you might rather finish things with more knitting than sewing. Personally, I enjoy flat knitting more, so it's more fun for me to knit the sleeves flat, but I love the look of the set-in short row sleeves in Andi's sweaters, so I am game to try a new technique. I'm currently thinking Agatha will be the first one I try... I love the lacy cables and ribbing.
So - tell me, how do you "top-down"?! Set-in or raglan sleeves? Flat or in-the-round? Before or after you finish the body of the sweater? Do you prefer top-down to bottom-up? Flat to round or round to flat? Pray tell!