Tag Archives: bottom-up

Seamless Saddle Shoulder Construction


Saddle shoulder construction at its most basic involves 2 saddles (strips of fabric) at the top of each shoulder that continue on to the sleeves. The body is connected at the front and the back to these saddles.
Obviously saddle shoulder sweaters can be constructed in pieces with the saddle continued from the top of the sleeve and then the front and back seamed on to the saddle at each side. However my preference (as always!) is to construct saddles seamlessly.

Top Down



Here’s a breakdown of the different steps that you’ll need to work your top down saddle shoulder sweater. This method creates a very polished finish and is fantastic for combining 2 colours. This is the method I uses for Viminal.

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To create top-down saddle shoulders you start by working ‘strips’ of knitting for each saddle. These start at the side of the neck and end at the edge of the shoulder. When they’re finished you put those stitches on waste yarn or holders and they will form the top of the sleeve caps.


Now we will work on the back and pick up stitches. If you lay the 2 saddles flat you can see how you pick up the stitches; first from the left shoulder, next you cast on neck stitches and then finally pick up stitches from the right shoulder.

After stitches are picked up we work short rows on each side so that the neck edge is higher than the outer edges. This is to create a shoulder slope as our shoulders are naturally sloped not flat.

Once that is complete you just work straight down until you reach the point where you want to increase stitches at the underarm. You increase slowly first and then more rapidly to create a nicely curved underarm. These stitches are then held until later.

This is worked in a similar way to the back but you will need to include neck shaping as well. For a sweater you’ll shape the neck with increases and a cast-on but for a cardigan you’ll never join the two sides of the front.

When the back and front are complete to the underarm you will join each side by casting on stitches at the underarm area. From there you work the body straight down to the bottom of the sweater, adding any shaping you might like.

When the body has been complete you go back to work the sleeves. You’ve got live stitches held at the top from the saddle stitches. If you put those on a needle and pick up stitches from each side you’re ready to go. The saddle stitches will form the centre of the top of the sleeve cap and you then work short rows back and forth, adding one extra stitch every time you turn. When the sleeve cap has reached the underarm stitches you join it in the round and work your sleeve all the way down to your cuff, decreasing as you need.

Bottom Up
The bottom up saddle shoulder construction I’ve used before are a little more complex than top-down. Elizabeth Zimmermann created a very interesting method that I used for my Woodburne Cardigan.

Woodburn Cardigan

Woodburne Cardigan

This method involves using a series of alternating decreases for the body and sleeves until you reach the saddle. Then each saddle is worked back and forth, one at a time, using short rows to decrease the stitches at each side of the saddle and create the saddle shoulder. If you’ve every created a standard sock heel where you work back and forth, decreasing on each turn it is a very similar method.

Picking Up Stitches
There are a few skills you’ll need to master in order to create top down saddle shoulder sweaters. The first is picking up stitches so that the ‘seam’ at each side of your saddle is neat and attractive. You can find a tutorial on that here.

Short Rows
The second skill that’s important for this construction is short rows. These are used in 2 places; the shoulder slopes and the set-in sleeve cap shaping. To create a well-fitted sloped shoulder you work short rows at the front and back of the body after you pick up stitches from the saddles. The second place is at the set-in sleeve cap. Short rows are used to create the curve so the sleeve cap fits the top of your arm correctly. You can use any type of short row you wish. Typically I’ve used standard wrap & turn short rows but leave the ‘wrap’ in place to form a seamline. More recently I’ve been experimenting with German Short Rows and I love how they work! For a full primer on short rows you can take a look at my Craftsy Essential Short Row class here (this is a 50% off coupon, valid for 3 months). For some basic short row tutorials just check out my website here.


Whistle Stop is a saddle shoulder cardigan that uses a slightly different construction, the saddle is much wider at the top so one half goes all the way across the back behind the neck. This cardigan was started with a provisional cast-on at the centre of the neck so that both sides could be knit towards the shoulders.

Whistle Stop

Whistle Stop

Knockmore is a bottom up sweater that uses the same construction technique as Woodburne Cardigan above.



Have you tried a saddle shoulder construction before? I think its a really fun technique to try out!

Seamless Saddle shoulder

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.