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Top-Down Sweater Tips!

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

You know I love to crochet things in pieces and join them together.

Decorative seam anyone? Don’t mind if I do….

The decorative shoulder seam is one of the favourite things people like about my Rabbit Alice Sweater.

But I also love top-down sweaters because they allow you to try it on as you go and make adjustments if necessary!

Want to make the sleeves or bodice longer? Just add a few rounds. Adjusting length is easy this way, but what about the width/body circumference? Check out my tips for making top-down creations further below!

This is the Ever-Change Sweater pattern I released last year and I have just followed it up with another top-down garment...

The Susannah Sweater Pattern is now available on Ravelry & Etsy, listed at a 10% reduced price for the first 3 weeks of publication!

Subscribers to my blog (click here if you would like to subscribe) & members of my pattern support group (click here if you would like to join Pepper-Gaggle) can access a discount code for 30% off the already reduced list price (valid for the same 3 weeks only, meaning a 37% discount off the normal pattern price!)

I blogged about this pattern recently but in case you missed it, here is the link for all the details re sizes, schematic measurements, tester projects and yarns that have been used).

Here are some General Tips for Making Top-Down Crochet Sweaters :

1. Top-down sweaters are constructed in the round from the neck down to level of armhole, then you split off the bodice from the sleeves by working some extra bridging sts under each arm. A quick test fit. From there its just finish the neckline, add the lower bodice and lower sleeves and you are done - haha! "Just!? - which means you get to check your fit before the majority of the garment is worked. How good is that!?

2. Read through the pattern first to get a good understanding of how the instructions are organised, specific sequence of construction and highlight your size and any “tips” offered within the instructions on where you might do somethings differently for your size. Get the overview before zooming in for detail. This allows you to plan any custom changes early (see tip number 7 below).

3. Check you have downloaded the right language PDF: UK vs US terms. That first scan through helps confirm this too (and can prevent significant frogging). The pattern PDF should clearly state this somewhere but if not: If you are seeing sc or hdc abbreviations being used, then its US terms. If you see htr abbreviation, then that is UK terms. Check the stitch chart symbols and their symbol key - are they labelled the way you expect?

4. Swatch for gauge (even if you are using the exact yarn specified in the pattern). Make a square of the main fabric pattern of the garment (something close to 15 cm as you want to measure gauge in the central 10cm (4in). All the finished measurements are contingent on achieving gauge, but this is super-important for the critical measurements of bust circumference, upper arm circumference and armhole depth (the image of Ever-Change Sweater test-fit that I showed above demonstrates this is all okay before moving on) . Yes you can make the sleeves or bodice longer if that is your preference but good fit around the bust, arms and shoulders is critical to be comfortable in the finished product.

5. Block your swatch. In the Susannah Sweater I have provided specific swatch instructions and pre and post blocked gauge so you can at least see fairly early on if you are way-off on the pre-blocked gauge, but its the post-blocked gauge that helps you decide if your stitches (AND the yarn you are wanting to use) are working the way they need to. Blocking might show you that the yarn you were considering might behave in ways you don't like: move, stretch, not be colour-fast).

In top-down construction the row gauge relates to vertical length measurements and stitch gauge relates to body circumference measurements. The goal is to achieve both row and stitch gauge, but if that is not (quite) possible then stitch gauge is most important for bodice circumference fit in the finished top-down garment.

6. Consider the yarn you want to use carefully, and even if it’s a close match you still want to Swatch and Block. Designers use a certain yarn product for any given pattern and that will give the most reliable results. Substituting the yarn for something with a very similar fibre blend (%X, %Y) and yarn thickness (metres per gram) is a great start, but even if these match the original yarn perfectly, the twist/yarn construction/chemical treatment of the yarn will impact how it stitches up and how it blocks. Swatching allows you to figure out which hook size you need to use to counteract any of these factors so you end up achieving gauge, ….and THEN you can dive in to the project! (All “winging it” roads lead to Frogtown).

7. Plan Custom Changes. If you want wider sleeves or bodice compared to the size you are making, you need to consider how to achieve this before you start. It may need to be incorporated into the shaping rounds from neck to armhole, and/or at the underarm bridge.

Minor adjustments often involve just the underarm bridge and could perhaps be made on the fly. Having said that, Is the underarm bridge repetitive stitches where you can change it easily or will you work with motifs meaning you have to modify a whole motif or a set of stitches at a time? (You don’t want to make the rest of the instructions impossible to follow or create a hole in the fabric if the number of stitches you changed throws everything out).

Major adjustments (for instance if your bust circ. falls into XL category and your arm circ. falls into 3XL category) will involve a more challenging planned approach involving multiple locations …but top-down construction means it CAN be done, in a seamless way AND be sure that its all working out before you go adding the lower bodice and sleeves!

My patterns include tips on where to make these modifications - in the Pattern Notes/Overview section and also sometimes during the relevant section of the instructions. That initial read through helps a lot!

8. Gentle custom shaping can also be tweaked during the project by changing up your hook size. Because you can try a top-down sweater on as you go, you might find your fit is a bit tight only across your bust, but only at the front - maybe frog a few rounds then rework them using a slightly (0.25-0.5mm) larger hook size for the front bodice section only (and regular hook size for the remainder of each round) to create more width and vertical coverage for the bust curves. Alternatively you could reduce hook size for selected areas where you want things to be a little bit smaller/closer fit.

9. Win at yarn chicken: If you think you might be cutting it close, top-down construction allows you to have finished the neckline and lower bodice completely, then weigh remaining yarn, halve it and then you know your limits for sleeve length, or maybe the extra yarn you order to finish could be the cuffs so the colour (which may not quite blend with the rest if a different dyelot) is balanced! Mind you, its always a good idea to buy an extra ball/skein to make sure you absolutely don’t run out and so you would also have options to add length - sometimes this is something you decide you want during the project.

You might notice that 7 of my 9 tips are all things you do before you even start the sweater itself. Success for garments-that-fit is all in the approach!

If you enjoyed this post and like to support my designs please share this post, follow me on @peppergoose on Instagram or at Peppergoose Design on Facebook.

Thanks, and happy stitching!

Susannah (Peppergoose)


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