For an upcoming design I’ve been researching all the various different ways you can knit a saddle shoulder sweater. Now, the idea of sewing seams for a saddle shoulder doesn’t seem like such a fun idea so I’ve confined myself to bottom-up and top down.
Two of the old favourites that detail different methods are Barbara Walkers ‘Knitting from the Top’ that shows the top down method and in Elizabeth Zimmermann ‘Knitting Workshop’ (and I’m sure several more of her books) she describes the bottom up method.
For a sweater I made my husband last winter I tried the top down method. It is actually a very intuitive and straightforward way of doing it – you begin by knitting a strip for each saddle starting at the neck, for both the back and front you pick up stitches along the side of the saddle (plus extra between them for the neck). Next you work some short rows to slope the shoulders and knit both front and back down to the underarm (adding some shaping around the armhole). Then you cast-on your underarm stitches and work down the body. For the sleeves, if you have ever worked set-in sleeves from the top down it is the same method – you have live saddle stitches at the top, and you pick-up stitches around the armhole. Working from the saddle around the armhole you work short rows (usually adding 1 st at a time) until you reach the desired length of your sleeve cap. From my own experience you need to be careful to keep the saddle a little shorter than the shoulder or you end up with a ‘puff-sleeve’ effect. Now while this is sometimes desirable for my husband’s sweater not so much!
I was all set to do top-down saddle construction for this design until I picked up the knitting workshop and I’m fascinated by the bottom-up method. The way Elisabeth Zimmermann has worked the shoulder decreases in this is really fascinating. Both the body and sleeves are worked in the round from the bottom up. Then they are all joined at the armhole level (after removing underarm stitches) and worked for around 1 inch together without shaping. Next each of the start and end body stitches are marked, and for every round body stitches are decrease each side. After the shoulder width is reached it switches to the arm stitches being decreased – but the reason that the decrease lines work so nicely is that both of the body end stitches are effectively your seam lines and are always included in your decreases. So even though you are alternating between body and sleeve decreases all that seems to change visually is a change in the direction of the seam line. Very pretty. Next you decrease a few more body stitches and finally the top of the saddle is worked. This is effectively like turning a heel – except you’re turning a shoulder. You are working short rows across the top of the saddle, at each end decreasing and turning until you’ve decreased enough stitches to reach the neck size you need. I’m going to have lots of fun designing this saddle shoulder! With of course the added benefit that you can easily carry your stitch pattern all the way up the sleeeves to the neck.