I started crocheting the Sweet sweater so I could have something I’d want to throw on all the time—the top you always gravitate to when you’re putting on jeans or want to be comfy—something that looks great and feels good. I also thought, since it should be comfortable to wear, it should be “comfortable” to make, too: easy, intuitive; the kind of sweater you could do out of any yarn once you’ve got the concept down.
I joined up with a few other crocheters to make five different versions of this sweater based on the same template: a beautiful lace-edged version, a fun kid’s purple sweater, a mohair version using both brushed and bouclé yarn, and a girl’s stretchy cap-sleeve top. You’ll see not only that the sweater is easy and fun, it’s also ripe with possibilities for embellishment and customization. We’re even hosting a Crochet-Along for this project so you can get help from us, and share ideas and pictures with other crocheters as you make your own favorite sweater.
Of course, knitters are already familiar with the technique for this type of sweater—the top-down, in-the-round, raglan. A raglan is a sweater whose sleeves attach with a diagonal seam going from neck to underarm. They're often associated with “sporty” garments, but recently the construction style has been adapted for all kinds of designs.
Elizabeth Zimmermann and Barbara Walker made seamless “top-downs” famous with their books: EZ’s Knitting Without Tears, among others, and BW’s Knitting From the Top. Both books are fascinating, if prosaic reads. Almost all the concepts in Barbara Walker’s books can be translated to crocheting. She has no conventional patterns, just theoretical discussions about construction, proportion and technique.
To create a top-down sweater, you begin by swatching. Using the yarn you’ve chosen for your project, you play with hook size and stitch pattern until you’ve come up with a combination you like. Create a swatch that’s big enough both to accurately measure gauge (at least six inches square), and big enough to determine if you like the drape and hand of your chosen yarn and stitch.
The next step involves determining the number of stitches you’ll need to chain for the neck—you do this by measuring yourself or the intended recipient, then following the formula I’ve created in the pattern template. If you don’t have handy the actual body of the person you’re making the sweater for, find a shirt that’s of comparable size, and measure that.
Once you know how to start, you begin crocheting, working increases according to the pattern template—these increases take the place of the raglan seams in a normal, sewn together garment, so they are worked around what are often called “seam stitches.” This is the "in-the-round" part of the top-down raglan.
At any point in the crocheting process, you can try the garment on. Lay it around your neck to see how it fits; do you like the way the V is falling, etc. As you progress, you’ll see the sleeve caps are being created, and you can wrap them around your arm to see when the sleeves become big enough.
This increasing part of the sweater goes quickly when you’re crocheting, sometimes - depending on your stitch and sizing - taking only 8 or 10 rows. (At this point, knitters have to fuss with putting stitches on holders - lucky us!) Once the sleeve caps fit, you stop crocheting them, skipping over those stitches to create an underarm—your rounds get significantly shorter now, as you zoom down towards the waist.
Soon after you’ve worked a few rows under the arm, you’re just below the bust: here’s a great place for adaptation or embellishment. You can decrease a little bit under the arms to give yourself a more fitted garment, or you could change stitch pattern, color or hook size to add some interesting flare.
When your sweater is the length you want, you can add any kind of waistband finish. My template gives instructions for a ribbed waistband like Deneen made for her daughter, but you can do a lace edging like Andi did, or no edging like I did on Selma’s sweater.
The next step is to crochet the sleeves—you join yarn to the sleeve cap (I usually join under the arm to make it less obvious) add a few stitches to fill in any gaps and start working the sleeves in the round until they're the length you want. For a simple cap-sleeved garment, you may have to do nothing at all, or just add an edging to match the waistband. For longer sleeves, you may want to decrease a little as you go, so the sleeves taper as they grow. (A secret about top-down garments: if you’re making one for a child, save some leftover yarn. As your child grows, you can add length to the bodice and the sleeves so they can keep wearing it!)
The final step is edging the neckline—this can be as simple as single crochet to even things out, or as fancy as adding a collar or other detail. The sky’s the limit. Weave in your ends, and you’re ready to go!
I really appreciate your instructions. Even without a picture it is the first time that someone actually made sense to me. I have knitted since 8 years old and I am 60 now. I also crochet and yes you made it simple to read and do.
Elsa in Chicago