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Sweater Class:
Theory and Materials

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Sweater Class
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It's March, so it's time for the Top-Down Raglan class. I love doing top-down sweaters, especially for kids. After a little math at the beginning, I can take any yarn and any kid and end up with a sweater that fits, looks good, and can be lengthened easily when, two weeks after the sweater is finished, the kid grows six inches!

Top-down sweaters are especially wonderful for handspun, which can vary in grist somewhat, and even better for folks who find their gauge swatch never matches their actual sweater. It's very easy to make adjustments as you go, and often (don't tell the knitting police!) I don't bother making a gauge swatch. Nearly everyone has the same size head, I've knit for long enough I can usually match up needles and yarn by eye, and once I've knit for a bit, I have a better idea of what my real gauge is and how many stitches I will eventually need. (The idea isn't original -- I think I first saw it in Medrith Glover's No-Sweat Sweatshirt, Knitter's #5).

Barbara Walker is the queen of top-down knitting, and her _Knitting from the Top_ covers all kinds of armholes, necklines, sweaters, pants, skirts, etc. all started from the top. There are no patterns, but sufficient explanations that with a little thought, you can adjust almost any pattern to a top-down one. I highly recommend it if you find this style of knitting as addictive as I do.


Yarn: Your yarns should all be about the same grist/thickness, though if you're within 10%, you'll do fine. Knitting is very forgiving, and your fingers are smart, and will adjust to different thickness by varying the tension. The yarns I used for Zack's Rainbow Raglan were spun over a period of three years, and varied from 8 to 10 wpi. It's simplest to use yarns of similar fiber content -- then you won't have any washing woes.

For knitting yarns, I set the twist by washing the skeins in hot water and letting them hang unweighted to dry. Weavers often dry their yarns under tension, but I prefer knitting with unweighted yarns. If you wash all your skeins identically before you begin knitting, you won't be unpleasantly surprised by uneven shrinkage or dye leakage in a finished garment.

Needles & Gauge: Any needles that give *you* the pattern gauge with *your* yarn are the right needles for this sweater. Actually, any needles that give you a fabric you like with your yarn are the ones to use -- we can play with the numbers to make them work, but there's not too much you can do with a boardlike or too-airy sweater.

For handspun, a bigger gauge swatch will give you a more accurate gauge. For this project, since it is so easy to adjust as you go, casting on 20 to 24 stitches and knitting for four inches or so should be sufficient. To measure your gauge most accurately, take the swatch off the needles, and lay it flat. I put a heavy metal ruler across mine, then pin it at 1" and another pin at 5". Count every stitch and fraction of a stitch between the pins. For a gauge of 4 stitches to the inch, you should have 16 stitches between your pins. If you've got a different number, but are happy with the feel of your knitted piece, great! Write down YOUR gauge somewhere, and we'll talk about how to make the numbers work for you.

For the absolute most accurate gauge, you should bind off your gauge swatch and wash it before measuring. Wool, however, is most forgiving, and can usually be blocked. If I'm using wool and have washed my skeins, I skip this step. If I'm using a yarn that's prone to shrink, like Rowan's Denim, you may want to wash that swatch...

(How much math you'll need to do depends on how far you are from the target gauge. If you're getting 15 st/4in, or 17, no big deal, just follow the pattern and watch the inch measurements. If you're getting 2 1/2 st/in, or 8, we'll have to crunch some numbers. Let me know...)

For the intrepid, the Incredible Custom-Fit Raglan Sweater will allow you to crunch the numbers for any size sweater. Her computation method is a little different from mine, but the techniques we'll be using are the same -- you'll just have a lot more stitches with an adult sweater than a toddler-sized one!

For the adventurous, you can alter this sweater however you like, with cables, lace, colorwork, different necklines, crop it shorter or stretch it to tunic length. Most of these will alter your yarn requirements, so keep that in mind.

Today's homework: round up some yarn, break out your needles, and make a gauge swatch!

(And if knitting is very new to you, you may want to review casting on and knitting. One site I know with photos is