Close up of the raglan shoulder seam on the Sagebrush tee.

Considerations in Sweater Knitting: Seamless vs. Seamed

Recently in my Instagram stories, I posted a poll on knitting sweaters in pieces. Not surprisingly, there are some strong opinions on seamless vs. seamed sweaters. Now, I love a good seamless yoke as much as the next person, but I generally prefer to knit sweaters in pieces. Here are a few of the advantages of pieced sweaters:

  1. The project is more portable. It’s easier to carry around a piece of a sweater that you’re working on than a whole sweater. Personally, I think sleeves especially are an underrated on-the-go project. And you don’t have as much sweater in your hands and lap as you knit, which is a) less weight for your wrists to deal with, and b) less hot in the summer.
  2. You can use the sleeve as a gauge swatch! Of course I’m going to be a stickler and tell you to knit a proper gauge swatch, but there are times when my knitting changes between knitting a swatch and knitting an actual garment. Maybe I didn’t knit a big enough swatch, or maybe I’m simply more or less relaxed when knitting the swatch vs. the actual garment, but starting with a sleeve is a great way to double-check my gauge. The downside, of course, to using the sleeve as a swatch, is you may have a bigger chunk of knitting to rip out if your gauge is off or you don’t like the fabric you’re getting. And yes, you do need to stop and block the sleeve before measuring the gauge.
  3. Seams help add structure and may prevent bias in the fabric. This is especially true for fibers that have a lot of drape, or for plant fibers which will tend to bias (twist) when worn. Have you ever had a cotton top you knit twist around your body when you wear it?
  4. This is more particular to top-down seamless sweaters, but in my experience trying on as you go works better in theory than in reality. I know lots of folks will argue with me on this point, but hear me out. First, you usually won’t have blocked the sweater if you’re trying on as you knit, so if your gauge is going to change with blocking, you won’t get an accurate sense of the fit. Better to knit an accurate swatch (see above) and do a bit of math. Second, I’ve found that it’s easy to overestimate the length of a piece that’s on the needles – I think maybe there’s some wishful thinking at play when I want to get the piece done!

On the flip side, there are some distinct advantages to seamless sweaters. The most obvious one is that once the knitting is done, there is less finishing standing between me and wearing my new garment! And one time I do appreciate a seamless sweater is when I’m playing yarn chicken. If the sweater is knit top-down, or if the sleeves are picked up and knit down from the completed garment, I can make adjustments to the body or sleeve length (or both) according to how much yarn I have. If I don’t have enough, I can maybe live with a slightly shorter hem or a 3/4 sleeve.

What is your favorite way to knit a sweater? Are there any advantages or disadvantages I haven’t covered here?


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