No more stiff, bulky crocheted sweaters! Author Dora Ohrenstein says working from the top down with soft, flexible yarns will open your eyes to a whole new philosophy of fit.

Writing my new book, Top-Down Crochet Sweaters, has been a thrill — and a learning experience. What did I learn from making the 14 sweaters in this book? Let me start with some backstory.

I’m rather petite, and as a result, I find some people worry that my sweater designs won’t work for larger people. I like to think I can design for lots of body types, but working on this book, I developed an even better understanding of what’s really behind making a garment that flatters — and why working “top down” is a liberating way to get the fit you want.

Of course, measurements are important. Before you start any project, I strongly encourage all sweater-makers to invest in the following steps toward getting a good fit:

  • Know your measurements at the bust, around the bicep, and from the top of your shoulder to your underarm. If you’re not certain of any of these, it’s time to take out the tape measure!
  • Study the schematic of the garment you’re making to see how well it matches your measurements.
  • Think about how much ease you want. “Ease” is what we call the difference between your body measurements and those of your garment. Do you prefer a really close-fitting garment or one that’s roomier? If you’re not certain how much ease you want, you can measure some of the garments you already own that fit you comfortably and compare those dimensions to your actual body measurements.

Now that that’s out of the way . . .

Erde sweater top down crochet

The Erde sweater, worked in a lofty alpaca yarn, uses crossed stitches to create a unique fabric: textured and dimensional, yet light and lacy. Photo © Melinda DiMauro, for Top-Down Crochet Sweaters

Why crochet from the top down?

For one reason, with this technique, you make your entire sweater in one piece, which means you don’t have to work any seams. Another thing to love about this method — especially where fit is concerned — is that you have the opportunity to try your sweater on as you go.

With top-down designs, there’s no need to worry about the length of the garment or its sleeves. Simply try it on as you go and see whether the length suits you. If it doesn’t, just add more rows or rounds. If it’s too long, you can pull stitches out — but be sure to try on your garment before you reach the very end to make sure the body and sleeve lengths are working for you.

Another key area of fit is the neckline. I find open necklines to be flattering for many body types, but snug necklines are needed for warmth. With the top-down method, you can check right from the start to see whether the neckline is lying nicely, and there’s plenty you can do to tighten up a neckline that’s larger than you like. Then, as you proceed with the pattern, you can stop at the end of any row or round and try it on again to see whether it’s growing sufficiently to suit your dimensions.

The importance of drape

My true a-ha! moment came when I realized that it’s not necessary to nail the dimensions of a garment to the exact inch to get the look you want. The crucial factor is whether the garment’s fabric has good drape: that quality that makes a fabric fold gracefully around the body. Fabric that is too stiff and unyielding — a trait we’ve seen too often in crocheted garments — results in the opposite of drape. To avoid this issue, I favor working with thinner yarns and soft, flexible fibers. And now I see even more vividly how it allows for a garment that molds to the body in very flattering ways.

Naturally, when I finished making the 14 sweaters for the book, I tried them on — all of them, whether small, medium, or large. And guess what? Even with my personal preference for wearing close-fitting sweaters, I was amazed at how good these garments looked — including the largest ones — with two, three, four, or more inches of ease over my own dimensions. Having seen the results of top-down and good drape myself, when we planned the photo shoot for my book, I asked Storey to make sure we had models of different sizes. This way, any doubters would have visual proof of the versatility of these designs.

Janelle sweater top down crochet

The Janelle sweater, made in a cotton-and-acrylic blend that results in a drapey and dramatic cardigan that can expand in all directions. Photo © Melinda DiMauro, for Top-Down Crochet Sweaters

It’s still important to have a general sense of the final dimensions that will give you the look you want in a finished garment. But it’s also true that there is considerable leeway. I urge all of you sweater-makers to keep an open mind when you think about fit. You may find some new looks you haven’t tried before!

I’ll be having a CAL for sweaters from the book in my Ravelry group, so please join us!

Top Down Crochet Sweaters Cover

Banner photo © Melinda DiMauro, excerpted from Top-Down Crochet Sweaters. All rights reserved.

Dora Ohrenstein

Dora Ohrenstein is a leading crochet designer, author, and teacher. She is the author of Top-Down Crochet Sweaters and The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Workshop, which is being… See Bio

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