Top down cardigan – calculations

Making pullovers and cardigans from the top down is my preferred technique – I love the fact that I can check and adjust the fit right from the start. Another benefit is being in control of the yarn. After I finish the yoke I usually make the sleeves, and then all the yarn that is left can be safely used to build the length of the body.

So the next projet on my needles is a top-down cardigan with a V-shaped neck. In this article I will explain the construction an the calculations I made for the top part.

My plan is make an oversized V-neck cardigan with a 5 cm wide button band that would also extend around the neck line. I want the edge to be quite close to the neck in the end, for added warmth and better visual structure.

What is top-down raglan construction

In its essence, you start with a rectangle that’s the opening for your neck. There are 4 lines that separate stitches for future front, back and sleeve. You increase one stitch on either side of each line every second round (so 8 increases in total every round) therefore growing the rectangle from inside out, until you have enough stitches for your body and your arms to fit in plus some extra for the desired ease of fit. At this point, you separate sleeves from the body, and then continue each sleeve and the body separately.

How to make the calculations

The first step was to calculate the circumference of the finished neckline as if it were round. My measurements suggest it should be about 50 cm. The 5cm band will be added at the end, so I now need to calculate the “round” circumference for the cast on edge. To do that, we need to multiply the difference in diameter by 3 (or by pi to be exact) and add it to the initial circumference. The difference in diameter is twice the width of our band, so 2*5*3+50=80.

This above means that if I were making a round-necked pullover, my cast on edge would be 80cm in length. I will use that as a base for my calculations for the cast on and raglan shaping, and then adjust to account for V-shaping. Schematically, one can represent our construction in the following way:

And we now need to calculate the number of the stiches to cast on, and how they will be divided between front, back and the sleeves.

My tension on the swatch is 14,25 stitches per 10 cm, so the total number of stitches to cast on is 14.25×8=114. I decided that my increase raglan lines will be 1 stitch, which leaves us 110 stitches. I prefer for my calculations dividing the stitches by 10, and allocating 3/10th to the front and back each, and 2/10th to each sleeve. Therefore 110/10=11. 3×11=33 stitches to front and 33 to back, and 22 stitches for each sleeve:

Now we need to make another adjustment. For a good fit, where the neckline covers well your back and stays close to the neck, we need to have more fabric in the back than in the front due to our anatomy. This is solved via “back elevation” short row shaping, which means we will knit more rows across the back increase lines than across front increase line. To end up with the same number of stitches for front and back, we need to decrease the number of the back stitchs and increase the number of the front ones. I like a good back elevation of about 4cm, with my gauge I decided to go for 10 rows (this number should always be even). Divide the number of the rows by 2, subtract the result from the back stitches and add to the front: 10/2=5. 33-5=28 for back and 33+5= 38 for the front.

We can now calculate the number of the stitches to cast on. As our neckline is V shaped, I will cast on all the raglan line stitches, all the sleeve stitches, all the back stitches, and 2 stitches for each of the sides on the front (to shape V-line, we will increase by one stitch on each front side every second row): 4+28+2×22+2×2= 80 stitches.

Finally, we need to plan our short rows for the back elevation that will go as far as about the middle of the sleeve. For 10 short rows, we will need 5 turning points on each side. First, divide the sleeve stitches in half. If you number is odd, give the larger number of stitches to the short-row part. In my case 22/2=11. So 11 stitches of each sleeve that are closer to the back will be used in short rows. Now we need to divide these into equal parts in the number of turning points. 11/5= 2 stitches per row plus 1 – that I will add to the last portion (always make turning points closer to each other in the beginning, and further apart as you get closer to the front:

Knitting the yoke

Now were are ready to start knitting. I will use stitch markers to make my life easier: as many as turning points for short rows, plus 4 for the raglan increase lines so 14 in total. I will also use locking stitch markers to mark the increase points on the cast on edge, to make attaching the ribbed band easier.

So I can now cast on 80 stitches. I put stitch markers after stitches number 2 (front left increase line, MR1), 2+1+22=25 (back left, MR2), 25+1+28=54 (back right, MR3) and 54+1+22=77 (front right MR4) – these are the increase lines, we will increase one stitch before and one stitch after the marked stitch.

I also place one marker after stitches 2+1+11=14 (MSL5), 14+3=17 (MSL4) , 19 (MSL3) , 21 (MSL2) and 23 (MSL1) for short row shaping on the left sleeve, and after stitches 54+1+2= 57 (MSR1), 59 (MSR2) , 61 (MSR3) , 63 (MSR4) and 66 (MSR5) for the right sleeve short row turning points.

This is not customary, but as my cardi is V-neck so this will not affect my stitch count: we will not increase for raglan in row 1. So we start by knitting all stitches across the left sleeve and the back until the first turning point on the right sleeve: so stop at MSL1 stitch marker, remove it, W&T around the next stitch, and purl back across the back, until you reach the first turning point on the left sleeve – MSR1 stitch marker. Remove it, W&T around the next stitch. You are now on your right side, and it’s time to start increasing for raglan. Therefore this time, knit until MR2 marker, m1, slip the marker on your right needle, k1, m1, continue until MR3, m1, slip marker, k1,m1 ( it is important to do the increase first, and then slip marker, so that the marker stays next to the central stitch). Continue to next marker for short row shaping MSR2. As you come across the stitch you wrapped 2 rows before, lift the wrap it and knit together with the wrapped stitch. Remove MSR2 marker, W&T around the next stitch. Purl back until you get to MSL2 marker, lifting the wrap made two row before as you get to it. Remove MSL2 marker, W&T around the next stitch. Continue in the same manner, with increases along the two back raglan lines on the right side rows until you do your last W&R removing MSL5 marker.

You are now on the right side. Knit across all the stitches, making increases along the back increase lines, but do not increase before or after SR4 marker. Turn, and purl back across all stitches. Our back elevation is now finished, and we can now work in regular rows

So for next row:, k1, m1 (the increase to shape V-neck), knit to MR1, m1, slip marker, k1, m1, knit to MR2, m1, slip marker, k1, m1, knit to MR3, m1, slip marker, k1, m1, knit to MR4, m1, slip marker, k1, m1, knit until you have one stitch left on your left needle, m1, k1. Following row: purl all stitches.

This is how my work looks like after a dozen rows:

Once I get to the stage where the total number of stitches of the front is equal the number of the back stitches plus 2, I stop increasing for the V-shaping, and continue with raglan increases. My model will include a button band – and I intentionally make the front panels a bit larger. For a classic fit you would stop with V-neck increases when each of your front halves is equal to 1/2 of the back less 1/2 of the button band width.

Separating for body and sleeves

I am aiming for a straight shape here. So I measure my chest and add desired positive ease, while checking that there is some ease at the hips at the same time. My chest measurement is 95 cm. I decided to add 10 cm for a comfortable cosy cardigan, therefore my back should be 105/2= 52.5, and so are the two fronts combined. I usually cast on about 5 cm for the underarms, so I stop when my back measures approximately 47 cm. The beauty of the top down raglan is that for most people and with a regular knitting tension when you get to that point, your sleeves are the correct width, and the yoke’s length is right for the armholes. You can use an additional pair of cable needles, or transfer the stitches on a long scrap yarn to try your cardigan on at this point to check the fit.

So, on the next row, knit the left front stitches. Then you can either move the sleeve stitches on a spare needle or use provisional cast off with a hook and scrap yarn. Next, on your main needle, cast on enough stitches for 5 cm of underarm ( i use crochet chain provisional cast on), knit the back stitches, separate the second sleeve, and finish the right front. Knit down a couple of rows, and try on again to double check the fit.

For this cardigan I finished the body first, and then did the sleeves, but you can also do the sleeves first – especially if you are not sure you have plenty of yarn. Also, it is a bit easier to do the sleeves without the large bulk of the body.

I will not go here into the details of the sleeve shaping, or body shaping, as there are so many options here!

For this cardigan I have tried for the fist time a button band that’s knitted lengthwise and attached to the body as you go. I think I really like this method, as I hate picking up stitches for the button bands…

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