Garment Construction Methods: Top-Down Cardigan

Garment Construction Methods: Top-Down Cardigan

7 minute read

Making a top-down cardigan is one of the most rewarding knitting experiences — watching it work up before your eyes is nothing short of magic!

What are the benefits?

All of our top-down designs are knitted entirely in one piece, which means they are completely seamless — your project will be ready to wear as soon as it's off the needles!

Top-down patterns also make it simple to adjust the length of the garment's body and sleeves (learn more). This is a great construction method for those who like to try on their project throughout the process!

How does it work?

As the name implies, a top-down cardigan is knitted from the top of the garment to the bottom. This is done in the following steps:

  1. 1. Start at the top of the neckline (also referred to as the yoke).
  2. 2. Gradually increase the total number of stitches to increase the width of the yoke.
  3. 3. Place markers to denote where the front panels, sleeves, and back of the cardigan will be. Once these sections are marked, put the stitches for the sleeves on a stitch holder (which can be something as simple as a scrap piece of yarn) and the rest of the body is worked flat to the bottom hem.
  4. 4. After the body is complete, the sleeves are each knitted in the round from armhole to cuff.

How difficult is it?

A top-down cardigan is not objectively more difficult to knit than a drop-shoulder or raglan-style cardigan — each individual's skillset and preferences play a part in the difficulty of these designs.

Top-down cardigans are especially great for those who:

  • • have a good understanding of how to increase
  • • are comfortable knitting flat and in the round
  • • prefer seamless construction

For further instruction, check out our two-part video tutorial series on knitting sleeves for top-down styles! Find both parts below.

How to Choose a Top-Down Cardigan Pattern

So you've decided to make a top-down cardigan — but what design will you choose?! As with any other knitting project, there are numerous factors to consider:

  • What fiber do you want to work with?

    • • Merino wool is a great standard option for a cozily warm cardigan.
    • • Cotton is perfect for those in warmer climates, who have wool allergies, or simply prefer vegan, plant-based fibers.
    • • If you love a little extra drama, a Mohair or Alpaca blend adds a touch of eye-catching fuzzy texture.
  • What weight of yarn do you want to work with?

  • A visual chart showing the thickness of a strand of yarn in different weight categories.
    • • Garments made in super-bulky yarn work up extra quickly and make awesome statement pieces.
    • • Bulky yarn is a slightly more subtle option that still knits up in no time.
    • • For a more delicate look, worsted weight yarn is the way to go.
  • What other design elements are important to you? What techniques would you like to learn or revisit? 

    • The inclusion of details such as pockets, ribbed neckbands, or lacework may help you choose between two designs!

How to Easily Customize a Top-Down Cardigan

As mentioned, one of our favorite aspects of top-down designs is how easy they are to customize! The way these garments are constructed make it super simple to adjust the length of both the body and sleeves.

  • • To add length, just keep knitting rows (or rounds) until the desired length has been reached.
  • • To remove length, do the opposite and knit fewer rows than the pattern calls for. 

There are a few basic ways to go about this:

  • • Try on the cardigan as you go and visually estimate how many more rows/rounds you need to knit. Make sure stitches are secure on your needles or a scrap piece of yarn beforehand!
  • • Follow the row/round count for another size with a similar desired length. Be careful when reading the pattern so that you don't accidentally follow instructions for the incorrect size!
  • • Do approximate math ahead of time using your gauge and desired length.
    • This formula may be handy: (desired length x row gauge) / inch gauge = total rows
    • For example: You want your cardigan to be 22". Your gauge is 18 rows/4". To calculate the new total number of rows, you will have:

(desired length x row gauge) / inch gauge = total rows

(22" x 18 rows) / 4" = total rows

396/4 = total rows

99 = total rows

Our Top-Down Cardigan Designs

From merino wool to cotton, super-bulky to worsted weight, we have an array of top-down cardigan designs that we think you'll love.


For the ultimate cozy cardi...

Oejong wearing the Top-Down Cardigan in Merino No. 5, color Moody Blues.For a classic Loopy Mango look, we love the Top-Down Cardigan in Merino No. 5. Super-bulky merino wool paired with an oversized fit creates a staple cardigan for keeping extra cozy. This design primarily lets the understated beauty of stockinette stitch truly shine, along with bits of ribbing along the bottom hem and sleeve cuffs.  

Pictured above in color Moody Blues.

Get the DIY kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing



For vegan fiber fanatics...

Oejong wearing a Top-Down Cardigan in chunky cotton.Our Top-Down Cardigan in Big Cotton offers a non-wool alternative with the same versatile silhouette. This design also includes a bit of extra stabilization from a ribbed neckline, which prevents the edges of the garment from curling in on itself.  

Pictured above in color Ginger.

Get the DIY kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing



For year-round use...

Oejong wearing a cotton top-down cardigan with lace details.Another cotton option is the Top-Down Cardigan in Summer, a bulky yarn that is a lighter-weight companion to Big Cotton. This design features a different method of increasing, which creates the delicate eyelet detail around the sleeves. 

Pictured above in color White Night.

Get the DIY kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing



For lightweight warmth...

Anna wearing a merino wool top-down cardigan with lace details.The Top-Down Cardigan in Dream includes the same lace detail as the Summer version, plus it has super-cute seed stitch pockets! Dream, our worsted weight merino yarn, makes for another excellent "all-seasons" cardigan — it's lightweight enough to feel breezy while still providing the plush warmth of merino wool. 

Pictured above in color Tweed Stardust.

Get the DIY kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing



For fun, fuzzy texture...

Oejong wearing a fuzzy mohair top-down cardigan.

The soft and fluffy feel of mohair yarn is on full display in the Top-Down Cardigan in Mohair So Soft. Our bulky mohair-merino blend is both fun and elegant, especially when knitted in a classic pattern like stockinette stitch.

Pictured above in color Pretty in Pink. 

Get the DIY Kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing

Oejong wearing a fluffy alpaca top-down cardigan.

For an even bolder look, consider the Fluffy Cardigan in Fluffy Alpaca. Our super-bulky alpaca-wool blend is voluminous yet airy — it's almost like knitting with a cloud! Plus, this design is mostly knit on size US 36 (20 mm) needles, so you'll be done before you know it!

Pictured above in color Supernatural.

Get the DIY Kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing



For lacework lovers...

Oejong wearing a lacey top-down knitted cardigan in merino wool.

Looking for more of a challenge? The Pinecone Cardigan (available in both Dream and Summer) elevates the top-down silhouette with a sweet lace motif that adorns the entire body and sleeves of the cardigan.

A collage of two photos. Oejong is wearing a lacey top-down cotton cardigan in both photos, but the one on the left is a short-sleeve cardigan, and the one on the right is a long-sleeve cardigan.

Pictured above in Dream, color Bubble Gum, and Summer short-sleeve version, color Amethyst, and long-sleeve version, color Pearl.

Dream version: Get the DIY Kit || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing

Summer version: Get the DIY Kits: Short-Sleeve + Long-Sleeve || Get the digital pattern || Ravelry listing

Never knit lace before? It's easier than it looks: The pinecone stitch is made up of simple yarn overs and decreases. Watch our video tutorial below to see how it's done!

Whether you're preparing to knit your first top-down cardigan or simply looking for something new, we hope this guide provided you with inspiration and motivation for your next project. Happy knitting! 🧶

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