Book Review: Elizabeth Doherty, Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design

So, I have a confession to make: I have never knitted a sweater with set-in sleeves.

But now that I’ve read Elizabeth Doherty’s new book, Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design, I may finally give it a try.

IMG_0874This new book, published with/by Quince & Co, is what I would call a kind a technique-pattern book hybrid. The primary purpose is to explain how you can knit set-in sleeves in top-down sweaters, at which it succeeds extremely well. The book walks you through the structure of a sleeve (and particularly the sleeve cap, the bit that fits the curve of your shoulder) and what different factors lead to different kinds of sleeve cap shapes. Doherty’s explanations are extremely clear, and she provides a basic formula for knitting set-in sleeves from the top down that can be applied to any/most patterns. The book also has useful instruction sections on things like how to fit a set-in sleeve sweater and how to modify a given pattern to get results you like with Doherty’s set-in sleeve method.

If you are like me, and not yet practiced enough at constructing your own sweaters to come up with your own pattern or change the armholes/sleeves on a pre-existing one, you will find it particularly helpful that Doherty has included six patterns using her technique, three cardigans and three pullovers. The patterns each involve mostly stockinette stitch, with textural touches at collar/cuffs/waist, or down the button bands or front of the cardigans. They’re classic, simple designs that would fit into many people’s wardrobes.

With regard to the designs, each one shares a lovely balance between a kind of spare simplicity and enough texture in the details to make the sweaters interesting. Personally, I particularly like that the Meris Cardigan uses a more geometric lace, because it lets people who are not perhaps into some of the more frilly or traditionally feminine lace designs have the fun of knitting lace (as well as get a little ventilation in our sweaters).

This simplicity’s also reflected in the fact that I think these are fairly beginner-friendly patterns.  For instance, the button band in the Meris Cardigan is an eyelet rib, creating buttonholes for you automatically. More experienced knitters could easily modify this to handle the button band however they like, with whatever size buttons they like, but when the goal is for you to learn how to make top-down short-row set-in sleeves, that you don’t have to learn how to make more complicated buttonholes if you don’t already know how makes sense to me. Another example of this is how Doherty creates the look of cables on the Copperplate Cardigan with a traveling rib stitch. Of course there are tons of knitters out there who can cable up a storm, but it’s nice that if you want to tackle top-down set-in sleeves but haven’t yet done cables, you don’t have to. And perhaps one of the most considerate aspects of the patterns is that they all include both written and charted instructions for any kind of stitch pattern.

This is also a physically beautiful book. The photographs and layout all share that simple, spare aesthetic that can be seen on Quince & Co’s website and their previous designs, and they do an excellent job of showing you the designs.

I like all the patterns, though I think perhaps my favorite is the Underwood pullover:IMG_0894

I am a sucker for a wide neck, and I think that the collar detail is particularly flattering for someone like me, who wants to draw attention to my shoulders. (We’ll ignore that that the patterned hem probably also draws attention to the hips, which I don’t want, because its geometry is so satisfying.)

I have plenty of WIPs (as you know), and even more plans for others, but I think I will have to find time this fall to cast on something from this book, and tackle a set-in sleeve for the first time.
Not that anyone would have any reason to send me something to review, but just to be clear, I bought this book myself, mostly because I’m a sucker for anything to do with sweater techniques. 

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Elizabeth Doherty, Top Down: Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design

  1. I, too, bought this book and am loving it. Of course, Meris is on my needles and about half done. It will have to slow down so I can finish a couple Christmas presents. Serif will probably be next spring. Have you started anything from it yet?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s