Pros and Cons: To Seam or Not to Seam

Which Side Are You On?

Whether you love it or hate it, seaming has its place in both knitting and crochet. To add dimension to your work, seaming is often required, but if intrigue is what you’re after, there are many seamless projects that can get the job done. This begs the question: what are the benefits of seamed projects?

Whether you love it or hate it, seaming has its place in both knitting and crochet. To add dimension to your work, seaming is often required, but if intrigue is what you’re after, there are many seamless projects that can get the job done. This begs the question: what are the benefits of seamed projects? Is it necessary? Read on to explore what two professionals think of seaming, and decide for yourself which side you’re on.

Why Seaming Works

When I approach a new knit or crochet project, I tend to think of the garment like a SEAMstress would: I visualize it in pieces with a network of seams as the underlying frame. In the garments I design, seams do more than close up openings in the fabric; they also provide structure and support. For example, the weight of an entire sweater literally rests on the wearer’s shoulders, so strong seams in this area can prevent stretching and ensure a proper fit over the long term. Side seams also provide stability by minimizing the tendency of knitted fabric to shift or become distorted with wear.

Planning a sweater with seams also opens up all sorts of possibilities for non-conventional or avant garde construction. Garments can easily be worked from side to side or on the bias if strong seams are in place to support the overall structure.

In some ways, seamed garments can offer more comfort and convenience during the knitting/crocheting process when compared with alternative seamless methods. Working one piece at a time makes a project easy to transport, so one can always knit on the go. The weight of a nearly finished sweater on the needles may cause physical discomfort to some knitters and crocheters, especially those with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome or other similar conditions. Finally, if a critical mistake has been found near the beginning of a project (one that requires frogging) it will be much less discouraging to rip out a single piece rather than an entire garment.

Most seamless sweaters are worked in raglan fashion. While this type of garment certainly has its advantages, it also comes with its own unique challenges. Basic raglan construction does not allow for a drop at the back neck which can cause distortion and affect fit overall. The diagonal raglan lines also tend to draw the eye to the upper arm area, and this can be very unflattering for some body types.

There are, of course, many solutions to most of the issues presented by seamless construction. Artificial seams, short rows, contiguous construction, and other strategies can be employed to overcome some of the problems that may arise. However in my own work, I generally do not see a savings in time or effort realized by the use of seamless methods. I find that by the time I’ve made all the adjustments necessary to compensate for a lack of seams, I could have simply worked a seamed garment in the first place.

Seeing a garment come together during the seaming process gives many knitters and crocheters a deep sense of gratification. So why do others hesitate to even attempt seamed garments or put off seaming the ones they have started? Generally, it is because they have yet to master a variety of seaming techniques. The easiest to learn and execute is the whip stitch, which creates a strong, steady seam. The crochet slip stitch is not only easy to work, but also very easy to remove. My favorite seams utilize the mattress stitch since it is invisible on the public side of the work, thus allowing the garment to appear seamless while maintaining the stability of seams. There are more techniques like the back stitch, baseball stitch and grafting — each with its own unique attributes. Every knitter and crocheter would be well served by having a variety of seaming methods at their disposal.

All things considered, seamless construction is an important skill, and there are certainly times when it is the best option. Still, there is quite a lot to be said for the classical seamed garment.

Why You Should Go Seamless

Top-Down knitting was first discussed and popularized in the United States in the 1970s by Barbara G. Walker in her book, “Knitting from the Top Down.” Since then, many designers have published garment patterns that use the seamless top-down construction method. For example, “February Lady Sweater” remains one of the most popular patterns to date on Ravelry, the popular knitting and crochet website, with over 13,000 project pages of knitters who have made or are making this top-down cardigan.

Apparently, knitting garments from the top-down was nothing new. When I was a little girl growing up in Germany, I remember watching my great-grandmother, who was born in 1894, knit all of my sweaters from the top-down. Her knitting always intrigued me and she told me that she had only ever knit using this construction method and had learned it when she was a young girl from her mother. Nonetheless, I did not knit my first top-down garment until 2009 when I knit the “February Lady Sweater.” That is when I fell in love with this construction method, “hook line and sinker!”

I developed not only a passion for knitting from the top-down, but also for designing top-down seamlessly knit pullovers and cardigans. Most importantly, with this construction method, knitters can try on the garment while it is still on the needles. It is easy to make the necessary changes as the garment is being knit to end up with a great fit. Many knitters have difficulty with gauge and even being ½ stitch off the stated garment gauge can result in a very ill-fitting garment. With a traditionally constructed garment that is knitted in pieces and then sewn together, many knitters cannot judge how it will fit until it is sewn together. Thus if the garment does not fit, it is a sad occasion since the knitter has put so much time into making the piece and will have to un-seam the garment and rip back their piece to knit it again. When knitting from the top-down, it is simple to lengthen or to shorten the body or sleeves without having to do much math in advance. Also, many knitters really enjoy the knitting process but dislike seaming pieces together.

When Ms. Walker introduced the American knitting world to top-down knitting, most American knitters knit raglan sleeves from the top-down, even though Ms. Walker described how to knit two versions of top-down set-in sleeved and saddle sleeved garments as well. Most recently, Wendy Bernard, Ysolda Teague, Ann Budd and a few others well-known designers, have published books that contain the different top-down construction methods. Other designers, like myself, publish a variety of top-down garments on Ravelry as independent designs that have a variety of sleeve construction styles.

Moreover, a few years ago, Australian knitter Susie Meyers experimented with Barbara Walker’s method of knitting simultaneously knit set-in sleeves and, in the process, invented a new method which she calls the “Contiguous” top-down method. She started an online discussion for her construction method on Ravelry and her method has become very popular in the online designing and knitting community.

In summary, top-down knitting has a natural flow where the garment grows in an almost organic manner that will require a minimal amount of finishing with a great fit. And besides, if I had wanted to seam garments together, I would have taken up sewing as a hobby and not knitting.

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