I am the Switzerland of sweater construction

I was reading a thread on Ravelry recently in which people were commenting on patterns. I can’t remember the exact context, but one comment stuck in my head. Someone said “I won’t even look at a pattern if it’s seamed.” Why it stuck in my head now, when I have heard similar sentiments before, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that I have also heard people say “I won’t knit a garment unless it’s seamed.”

You see, there are two primary ways to knit a sweater. You can knit it in pieces (usually 4 for a pullover and five for a cardigan) and then seam them together. Or you can knit in one piece (either bottom-up or top-down, but that is a different type of argument). In the latter case, you must come to some solution for the sleeves, either picking up stitches and knitting down, or knitting the sleeves up to the armholes and then joining to the body; in any case, the primary goal of this construction is to seam as little as possible. There are many arguments in favour of either approach.  (Which are not the topic of this post.) I have always thought that there were sweaters for which it makes a kind of intrinsic sense to knit in the round; and others for which seaming is the sensible option.

I have increasingly noticed, however, that knitters often take sides, as if this is a battle line. Some designers will only create patterns for seamed sweaters and some are known for always designing in the round; most designers, I imagine, have to negotiate this potential landmine as best they can. If knitters take sides, then designers can lose half of their potential customers right from the get-go. I am not going to take sides. In fact, the point of this blog post is that I don’t take sides. You see, after pondering this for a while (and having nothing to do as I am stuck in my hotel room in Johannesburg, am too tired to leave my room, and have just finished reading my book) I decided to look at my projects page on Ravelry and add them up. (Yes, boredom will get you to do all sorts of useless things.)

What I found was this: 42 sweaters, of which 21 are knit in the round, and 21 are knit in pieces and seamed. This, I think, is the very definition of knitting neutrality. I am the Switzerland of sweater construction!

And this makes me think: are most knitters like me? Do you knit the patterns that appeal to you regardless of whether they are seamed or not? Or do you filter patterns out before you will even consider them? (Or alternatively, re-engineer any patterns that violate your preferred technique?)

Inquiring minds want to know. (Bored minds do, too.)

43 thoughts on “I am the Switzerland of sweater construction

  1. Isn’t it funny where a bored mind will take us?! I just finished my first in-the-round sweater (an Arleen since I liked yours so well and… the obvious reason) and found that it was nice to not have the seaming to do. I have​ read that seams provide more structure to a garment but Im quite happy with how this one fits. I did make a couple of changes to the pattern. I moved the increases/decreases to be evenly spaced front and back instead of on the sides. And I used seed stitch for the edgings instead of garter although I don’t think this affects how it lays. Plus my yarn is a bulky weight which made a stiffer fabric. I would not hesitate to make another seamless sweater but my choices are mostly driven by design/style. I’ll be interested to see what your other followers have to say. : )

    • Hi Arlene, seams definitely add some structure to a garment, but like you, I didn’t find that my Arleen pullover needed it. I am so happy with mine; I am glad it inspired you to try something new. (Plus, you share the same name, so…kismet!) Thanks for commenting!

  2. I have only knit 2 garments. The first cardigan was seamed. The second is knit in one piece. I guess I’ll join you in Switzerland. I’m not the biggest fan of seaming, but I do understand that it has its uses and so it wouldn’t put me off a particular design. I think Karen Templer from Fringe Association had a good post that helped me understand the different constructions and why one type may be more suitable than another.

    • This is good; I can have company here among the chocolate and cheese! Seaming gets easier when you do it more, but I have really benefited from reading up on techniques (plus a class or two). Karen writes a great blog, doesn’t she?

  3. I have knit sweaters both ways. However, I always hear my grandmother, who lived to be 100 and knitted into her late 90s, saying that a seamed sweater will hang better over time. I have found that to be true for me. I tend to knit sweaters in sport through worsted weight yarns, and I am rather buxom. There is enough fabric weight to merit the strength seams brings to the garment. Furthermore, I have yet to find directions for short rows, which seem a required element for seamless sweaters, that can’t be interpreted more than one way. I can get very confused with written directions for short rows, so I tend to avoid them. I also like stitch patterns that bias without seams, so there is that too. And I find seaming rather relaxing.

  4. Great post! I LOVED the title, so witty! I have tried both types of garments and really prefer seamed sweaters. I feel they are more stable and wear longer , holding their shape as garments. Especially for jackets and blouse-style knits, seaming is preferable. For me, tanks and pullovers knitted in the round are fine.

    I am always confused that people say knitting top down is better for it as it allows you to try on as you go. Top down, I start off with a weird collar-shaped piece and fitting that to my body does not come naturally at all. Then as the garment grows, I found it rather misleading trying it on my body. Whereas with a flat piece, I can lay it on an even surface and measure it as I knit the hip, waist and bust sections, and therefore I know if it will fit me perfectly or not. Seaming also allows me to knit the back piece of a jacket smaller than the fronts, which I find yields a perfect fit for me, due to my bust size. I know many people like to knit fair isle in the round but in my opinion, stranding from the wrong side is not as difficult as people say it is.

    • Thanks, Leah! (I rather liked the title myself.) Thanks for your description of top-down versus bottom-up constructions. I agree with you that trying on a half-finished top-down garment is still fraught with uncertainties; it never sits the way it will when finished and blocked. To measure properly, however, you need to have a good understanding of ease and drape. Thanks, by the way, for your final comment – I am considering making a vest for Doug in stranded knitting and don’t want to knit in the round. Your comment gives me some confidence to give it a go.

  5. Haha I love the idea of being Switzerland!

    For me, seeing a seamed sweater is definitely a turn off, and I’m much more likely to pick something else, or alter the pattern. I totally get that there’s virtue to seaming certain things — that they need the structure. My reluctance to seam stems from 1) a lack of confidence in my sewing up skills and 2) my difficulty finishing projects in general … I find it hard enough to see a sweater project all the way through without getting distracted. So seaming seems like another hurdle to add.

    I’d like to be more open minded/confident about seaming though!! And if I saw a pattern I really loved, I wouldn’t let it being seamed stop me!

    • I get both of your reasons for avoiding seams – particularly the one about finishing off a project. I can’t tell you how many times I read someone’s project notes on Ravelry and they say something like “I knit it in 3 months and then it sat in a basket for three years waiting to be seamed!” There is definitely something to be said for being finished when the knitting is done. But, it is good that you wouldn’t let it stop you from knitting a seamed sweater, because there are some great patterns out there. (And trying new things keeps our brains young!) Thanks for commenting!

  6. I’m Swedish so I’m neutral as well 😊 I think it’s good to do both ways as they do have there + and – And you can, almost, always learn something from every knitting you do as well and that is a good thing 👍

  7. I have used both methods, although lately I have become enamored with the in-the-round process. I REALLY do love to do my sleeves top down as length has always been my weak point. And as Katherine said, seaming has a definite correlation to projects languishing in the to-do pile. However if I absolutely found a project I really adored, seaming wouldn’t keep me away, i.e. some of the gorgeous Japanese designs.

    • You are another vote for neutrality then! It is true that sleeve length is one of the areas where knitting top-down can make a big difference in fit, although you can always use a provisional cast-on and then adjust if necessary at the end. I have to agree about the gorgeous Japanese patterns! I have seen many drool-worthy ones lately.

  8. I am working on only my second sweater, which is top-down, and I definitely enjoyed my first seamed sweater more. I find seaming very relaxing, and am not a fan of how unwieldy knitting an entire sweater at once has been.

    • Yes, the unwieldy knitting is for me the biggest drawback of knitting in the round. Particularly with a heavy-weight yarn and cables. It is like lifting weights. (Hmm, then again I could claim that it is exercise and skip the gym!)

  9. So far the only thing I really don’t like and that I will avoid in any pattern is set-in sleeves from the top down, because they never look right at that point where they join the shoulder. Otherwise I will knit any pattern as long as I like it. I have knit both ways and can say that I like both styles, so I’ll join you in switzerland too 🙂

    • Hooray! Switzerland is filling up with knitters! Yes, a set-in sleeve is really hard to get right. I am intrigued with new methods in which the body is knit in pieces and seamed and then the sleeves are picked up and knit down. I plan to try this soon.

  10. If you’re the Switzerland of this, I am the Switzerland of this in the parallel universe. My way of working is pure anarchy. I decide which method I’ll use independently of the pattern. If it’s seamed and I don’t think that’s beneficial to my knitting enjoyment, I’ll knit it in the round. If it’s in the round and I think it would be easier to knit it in pieces flat, that’s what I’ll do. Stay tuned for my top-down modified drop that was originally written as a seamed modified drop. It’s getting started soon whenever I finish some other projects I’ve got on the needles!

    • I’m with you on this! I always rework and recalculate patterns, and always find errors in the original, the most common one being 2×2=5! Yes, really, they tell you how many stitches per 10cm/4″ you should have, then tell you the width in stitches and cm/inch, and the math never works with respect to the tension swatch! Pathetic.
      But getting back to the topic of seams versus knitting in the round – I do both, regardless of what the pattern says. 🙂

    • I’m with you on this. I knit a sweater for Emma (Audrey by Kim Hargreaves) which I modified from a seamed to an in-the-round, simply because I thought that the style of the pattern was better suited to that construction. (I blogged about it too: my collection of posts about this sweater can be found here: https://knitigatingcircumstances.com/tag/venetian-audrey/) And I wouldn’t hesitate to do the opposite as well if it seemed a more natural way to go. “Top down modified drop” sounds like a freestyle skiing move! I can hear the sports commentators now!

  11. I tend to lean towards seamed garment construction and have heard/read both arguments, though. I have recently started doing some top down patterns with minimal seaming that I have enjoyed and liked the finished garment. I did have less than perfect results with a seamed pullover that after finishing, decided I wanted it longer. I cut off the bottom seed stitch band and knitted a wider bottom band downwards in the round, so it mirrored the sleeve cuff width; the new ‘in the round’ bottom band tends to skew/bias – – I love the sweater so have decided to overlook this but have decided in future if doing in the round construction that I should consider adding to a faux seam. Thanks for a very interesting article that doesn’t take sides!

    • Hi Karen, thanks for the comments. Interestingly, I have a seamed pullover which is too short and I have been fretting over the best way to fix it. I was thinking of doing something similar to what you’ve described, but had not considered possible skew/bias. I will have to fret some more!

  12. Hello Kelly, I have seen this argument, I find it funny that Knitting causes so much violent feeling. I once commented on a pattern in a Rowan magazine and nearly died in the flames on the Ravelry Forum.

    I’m also completely neutral regarding sweater construction. If I’m stashbusting and am uncertain if I have enough yarn I will choose a top down sweater so if I need to add new yarn I can hide it in cuffs and edging.

    If I’m purchasing yarn for a pattern I don’t mind if it’s in the round or not, however once a sweater is is in one piece and you’re doing the arms you feel like you are wrestling an octopus and then the next sweater will be knit in pieces for a respite.

    If a pattern calls for garter stitch I will try to avoid seaming as it can cause stress sewing up.

    To all those who are overly forceful or rude in relation to knitting opinions I think it’s a shame. It’s like people in power tweeting rude or bullying things. Bit embarrassing and shameful.

    • Hi Jen, I agree that stash busting is a great reason to knit top-down. I am not a good risk taker and try to avoid playing yarn chicken. And life is stressful enough without rudeness! There is no right and wrong in knitting!!!!!

  13. Fantastic post. I haven’t really thought about it, but I definitely have a preference. I hate seaming because I’m bad at it, so I try to seek out patterns in one piece where possible. That said, if there’s a nice sweater with seams, I will definitely still knit it.
    I don’t have strong opinions about it like you’re mentioning though. I just have a preference for my own style.

  14. Oh, this is an interesting question. I went through my projects on Ravelry too and I’m about 60 % in the round vrs 40% seamed. I don’t mind either way – when I first started knitting garments, I was using most Rowan patterns which are often seamed. Lately, I’ve been drawn more to in-the-round, but seamed wouldn’t put me off. I have consciously avoided doing any colourwork that involves steeking (apart from a cardigan that has stalled at the point where I need to steek) but this is an irrational fear, or maybe just laziness. I have not yet tried colourwork flat, ie. purling back. Should try it one day. I do prefer knitting sleeves flat, mostly because the sweater becomes too bulky at the point, if you are knitting top-down.

    That’s quite funny that you ended up 50-50

    • I think that 60-40 puts you in Switzerland with me! That’s good, Maylin, because I know you love to hike! I am planning a project now in which I will knit colourwork flat (purling back); I am going to swatch a bit and see how it goes. I’m with you on the sleeves; knitting them in the round drives me bonkers! Thanks for counting up; I am really interested in how people distribute on this continuum.

  15. Interesting! I am not militant about it but prefer to knit in the round, preferably top down, but bottom up more than seaming. However, I am not against seamed patterns and have made plenty. they have more structure, so if that matters, I am happy to seam. I am NOT a fan of making seams where none would exist, as in knitting extra stitches on a knit in the round sweater so that I can add a seam. That seems crazy to me. 🙂

  16. If I see a pattern I like then I will make it, no matter what the construction. I see every new project as a chance for learning, as they all have slight differences that make me have to learn a new technique. All good fun!

    • Well this is a very good attitude, and one which will keep your brain healthy (learning new things is good for us). I, too, love to learn new techniques, although sometimes it’s good to have a comfort knit in which everything is easy. Thanks for commenting!

  17. You can do the math (sweater engineering?) to change the pattern to knit it any way you please and then are not limited to a certain type seamed, not seamed. I like to find something beautiful and use the pattern somewhat loosely as a guide to customize my own.

    • Absolutely. Sometimes I search like mad to find a pattern where I won’t have to change anything, because I am feeling lazy, but even then, I nearly always change something. Math is a knitter’s best friend! It sounds like you use a pattern as a recipe; one in which you can add a pinch of this and a handful of that. I like that approach – it is very creative.

  18. I avoided seamed sweaters as my finishing never looked very good. But then I attended a workshop on finishing, “How to not hate finishing” and it made all the difference! I just finished a seamed sweater and I pulled out my notes from the class along with a few knitting books, and once I got going I actually enjoyed the sewing because it looked so good. Going forward I will choose based on the sweater not the construction, although am still not brace enough to attempt steeking.

    • I attended a finishing workshop some years ago and it really helped. Part of the problem with finishing is that we do it less often than knitting so it is easy to lack confidence. I have steeked before but it still scares me. Thanks for commenting, Megan!

  19. I am generally pro-seams in knitted garments, and the heavier the yarn, the more pro-seams I get. Simply because I think heavier fabric needs more help/support/structure.

    But as much as I love sewing seams, I do see the appeal of top-down, seamless construction. It’s done when you cast off, and that’s undeniably appealing.

    I admit that some of my frustration comes from having knitting friends who complain that their seamless sweaters are now mini-tents.

    My next sweater is going to be top down and seamless, but in a light fingering yarn. I’m still deciding where I will be adding afterthought seams, and how to reinforce the under arm area.

  20. For me, it depends on how the garment is constructed and patterned. But even if the pattern says “seamed”, I’ll change it to in the round depending on the circumstances.
    If there are big parts of stockinette, I’ll rather knit in the round, because my purling is looser than my knit stitches and when I knit flat I always have to take extra care that everything comes out even. Also I’m slower when purling and tiring easier. So knitting in the round is more comfortable to me in that case. The same applies to stranded knitting, because purling stranded is a major PITA.
    If I have a jacket in one color, I would also have to knit flat, even if there are side seams. Or if the pattern is cables on reverse stockinette, I rather knit flat, since then I have mostly knit stitches in the back rows (yeah! less purling!) and it helps with the row counting (uneven rows are always rs rows and even rows are always ws rows).
    Except for one case I haven’t needed the stabilizing factor of seams, though. And that case was in a seamed garment (!), where I had to crochet over an already existing seam to prevent it from stretching too much. All my garments that were knit in the round did never have any stretching problems. Probably it also depends on contruction and material whether this strectching occurs or not. I knit only one top in each cotton and silk, the rest is wool, which may explain this.

    So my decision is made based on whether I like the finished look of the garment. For the right sweater I may be able to put up with kilometres and kilometres of purling 🙂

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