Stranded Knits

Time seems to be moving very quickly for me and I’m going to assume that I’m not the only one who feels this way! Back in 2011 I taught in London for Knit Nation and my good friend Ann Kingstone took two of my classes; Short rows and Seamless Sweater Construction. She checked with me before the class that I was ok with her being there but I must admit that having a friend and fellow designer in the class was a little intimidating! (Plus by the time I was teaching my last class I had almost lost my voice…)

At that time Ann felt like a sponge, absorbing and thinking about knitting techniques and constructions and figuring out the way she liked to put her garments together. That’s what makes her books interesting; she takes standard construction methods and tweaks them until she is happy with how they fit together. This innovative approach to construction as well as her prolific rate of design over the last year (Stranded Knits, Born & Bred and A Time to Knit) really leaves me in awe of her.

Note: All photos in this post are copyright Verity Britton.

In this blog post I’m taking a look at Ann’s newest book, Stranded Knits, which she has produced in conjunction with Rowan Yarns. As the name would suggest this is a book of stranded knits, 16 designs in total; 8 garments for women, 1 for men and 2 for children as well as 5 smaller projects. The first 47 pages of this book are devoted to techniques; including stranded colourwork, steeking, splicing, increases, short rows, applied I-cord and grafting. These techniques are nicely laid out with big illustrations with easy step-by-step descriptions.

So I decided to dig into the garment construction a little bit to see how Ann’s mind ticks.

I’m primarily going to look at some of her shoulder construction, there are 4 different shoulder constructions used in the book; set-in sleeves, raglan, circular yoke and modified saddle shoulder.

In the seamless class I teach I discuss top down set-in sleeves. The body is worked first, using short rows to slope the shoulders, then when the body is finished sleeve stitches are picked up around the sleeve opening and the sleeve cap is shaped using short rows from the top down.

In the class I discuss a little about how this type of sleeve construction as suggested by Barbara Walker (Knitting From the Top) is an approximation for the standard set-in bell shaped sleeve cap. It works because knitting is inherently flexible and moulds itself to the shape desired.


Ann used this construction method for Rosebud, Skipper and Snowstar. However to create a truer ‘bell curve’ at the armhole she has modified the short rows sleeve shape.


From Ann: “I wanted to emulate the curve at the top of a seamed set-in sleeve. In a standard top-down sleeve cap the ‘increase rate’ (ie the rate at which picked up stitches from the armhole are joined in) remains the same throughout the sleeve cap, starting with approximately a third of the armhole stitches and adding one more armhole stitch at the end of each short row. I’ve noticed that this can result in a visible bump in the sleeve cap where the short rows begin. However, in a traditional sleeve cap, ie one that is worked flat from the cuff up, towards the top of the sleeve cap the decrease rate increases, creating a gentle transition between the more steeply inclined sleeve cap edges and the final straight edge at the top. To create a similar look when working top-down using short rows, the ‘increase rate’ (the rate at which picked up stitches are worked into the sleeve cap) must be greater in the first few rows. So my sleeve caps begin with approximately a quarter of the armhole stitches (which is close to the number of stitches in the final cast-off of a traditional sleeve), and take in two armhole stitches at the end of each row until the number of stitches in play is approximately equivalent to a third of the total armhole stitches. Then I switch to taking in just 1 armhole stitch at the end of each short row.”


I also personally love using short rows to shape knits; if you want to see this method of sloping shoulders and creating set-in sleeves in action go take a look at my free Craftsy Short Row Class that walks you through it.

As with me Ann also likes to use short rows in her garments:

“I’ve used short rows in some way in most of the garments, for shoulder shaping, scooping front necks, and for top down set-in sleeves.”

Ann has full tutorials for both the ‘wrap and turn method” as well as “Japanese Short Rows”.

In fact I suspect that the Japanese short rows are her favorite as she’s described them being use in most of the book patterns!

The next construction method I’m curious about is Ann’s modified Saddle Shoulder Construction. I first came across this with Elizabeth Zimmermann (Knitting Workshop) and I’ve used it a couple of times in Knockmore and Woodburne. I’ve made some modifications when I’ve used it so that the yoke depth, sleeve size and neck size are all what I want them to be.

The basics of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s construction method are as follows:

You work the body and sleeves from the bottom up to the underarm. Here they are joined in one piece for the yoke, and then every round you’ll decrease each end of the body stitches until the body reaches the width of the shoulder. Next the sleeve stitches are decreased every round until you have 8% of the body stitches for the sleeve. Now finally you begin decreasing the body stitches for 10 more rounds.

The final step works each of the shoulders in turn back and forth using short rows and decreasing/consuming the body stitches until you have only neck stitches and top of saddle stitches remaining.

I think this is a very elegant construction method but I like to tweak it for a few reasons, I want to control the yoke depth by fitting the decrease rounds in the way I want them to fit and I also want to make sure that my saddle shoulder width and depth are where I want them to be.

Field Study

In Stranded Knits Ann has used this method for Field Study and Sylvia. Both designs are worked from the bottom up and then joined for the yoke. Ann has worked full raglan yoke decreases at the underarm area, first every round and then every other round. Then she works sleeve cap decreases first every round and then every other round. Now finally Ann works the Saddle Shoulder shaping but rather than completing one shoulder at a time she works back and forth on each side within the round.


From Ann: “In Elizabeth Zimmermann’s saddle method (which is a bottom-up method) for half the width of the shoulder the body and saddle shoulders are worked together with decreases ‘eating up’ body stitches as you go. Worked this way each row adds height to the body so that the shoulder slopes upwards. Then for the second half of the shoulder width each shoulder is worked separately, still eating body stitches, but without otherwise working across the front and back stitches. Thus the second half of the shoulder width is flat – it does not slope upwards.

In a bottom-up ‘contiguous’ shoulder the body stitches are worked in every row throughout, with body stitches decreased in every row throughout. There is one row of shoulder width for every row in the body. This adds a lot of height to the shoulder, creating a more steeply inclined shoulder than is usual in sweaters with set-in sleeves.

My method adds three rows to the shoulder for every row in the body, so covering the shoulder width with far fewer rows added to the body. After working each saddle you turn and purl back across the saddle, then turn and knit back across it again before continuing across the body stitches. Decreases eat a body stitch at the beginning and end of the first pass across the saddle, then at the end of each of the ensuing two passes across it. Thus each full row (including six shoulder rows – three at each shoulder) eats 8 body stitches in total. This creates a much more standard shoulder slope than either the Elizabeth Zimmermann or the contiguous method. The slope is continuous across the full width of the shoulder, yet has a gentle incline.

I’ve referred to it as a sort of ‘hybrid’ of the contiguous method and the Elizabeth Zimmermann method because it uses a saddle (like EZ), but has a continuous slope (like contiguous).

I’ve worked this method bottom-up in Field Study and Sylvia, but the method can be adapted for working top-down by working increases instead of decreases next to the saddle.”

I’m always curious about designers choices so I wanted to find out from Ann why she wanted to combine and modify these two methods:

“I’ve seen many comments from knitters on Ravelry saying that sweaters with a set-in sleeve construction suit their body type much better than raglan constructions. I believe this partly relates to the steep level of incline in a raglan construction. The contiguous shoulder is essentially an adaptation of a raglan shoulder construction, with an increase rate (top-down) or decrease rate (bottom up) of 8 stitches every 2 rounds. So it replicates one of the problems that irks knitters who dislike raglan constructions. I wanted to create a seamless sweater construction that more truly reflects the shoulder slope in a traditional set-in sleeve sweater – a continuous shoulder slope with a gentle incline. The Elizabeth Zimmermann saddle shoulder method isn’t continuous, and contiguous shoulders are too steep.”

Just in case you have forgotten that this book’s primary topic is colourwork rather than garment construction:

“The primary motivation for creating a better seamless shoulder construction was to do as little purled colourwork as possible in sweaters with set-in sleeves. I needed a method that I could combine with a simultaneous set-in sleeve for sweaters with colourwork sleeves. I used top-down short row sleevecap method in the set-in sleeve sweaters that only have colourwork in the body (Snowstar, Skipper, and Rosebud).

Purled colourwork is very difficult for all kinds of reasons! :o)”

So in conclusion, I want to thank Ann for thinking and unventing for all of our benefits!

To get your hands on the book:

In the UK Stranded Knits  costs £17.50 – look for ISBN i978-0-9569405-6-8

Stranded Knits is available from Rowan stockists, which will also include US Rowan stockists by the end of the month.

Book is available for purchase online from McA Direct.

One thought on “Stranded Knits

  1. Thank you for this wonderful detailed review of the construction types. I have Stranded Knits but was so awed by the amazing colour work that I haven’t drilled down into the constructions yet.
    I do hope you and Ann will collaborate and share your improved methods in a book – the knitting for the top down/knitting without tears for the new generation.

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