How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body

How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body

To quickly recap, you know you’re done knitting your yoke when you’ve met a couple of criteria: 1) You’ve worked enough increase rounds to attain the targeted number of stitches in each of your sleeve and body sections, giving you your desired dimensions (when factoring in the anticipated cast-on underarm stitches). And 2) The yoke is long enough to reach the target spot, somewhere south of your armpit, where you’ll be casting on the underarm stitches. Which means it’s time to separate the body from the sleeves.

If you’re knitting a pullover, drop your front-center marker at the beginning of the separation round. No matter what you’re knitting, drop your raglan markers as you encounter them.

BASTE NOTE: For me, the first and last st of each sleeve will be my uncounted basting stitches from the two raglans — they’ll become the two extra sleeve sts I need for selvage sts, as I’ll be knitting my sleeves flat and seaming them. If you’ve included a basting stitch in the raglans and intend to knit the sleeves in the round, just decrease them out soon after the separation round so your sleeve stitch count will be on target.

Here we go: Work to your first raglan marker. Divvying up any raglan seam sts however you’ve decided, transfer the sleeve stitches onto waste yarn. On your right needle, cast on the number of underarm stitches you determined you’ll need, placing a marker in the center of them — e.g., I’m casting on twelve stitches, so placing a marker after the sixth one — then continue knitting across the back of the sweater. When you come to the right sleeve, same thing: Transfer the sleeve stitches onto waste yarn, cast on your underarm stitches, placing a marker at the center point, then continue across the remaining front stitches. You’ve now got your body joined in the round, with a marker at the center of each side. If you’re knitting a pullover, the left-side marker is your new beginning of round.

The top and middle left photos above show my sweater immediately after the separation round — the sleeve stitches are on waste yarn, and you can see the cast-on stitches at the underarm, with a marker in the center of them. The middle right and bottom photos show the sweater being worn (albeit by the dummy!) after a few rounds of the body have been knitted.

BASTE NOTE: As with the raglans and sleeves, I want seams at the sides, so I’m opting to work one stitch at each side marker in reverse stockinette, as a basting stitch, and will mattress stitch it when I’m done with the sweater. I had already rounded up when doing my math, so the loss of these two stitches to the seam won’t affect my dimensions adversely.

If you want to knit an inch or two of your body, that’s fine, but don’t go too far until we talk about how to shape the body and sleeves. That’s all that’s left!

POSTS IN THIS SERIES: [Favorite it on Ravelry]
Pattern + overview / Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans / Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping / Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke / Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body / Part 5: The art of sweater shaping / Epilogue: The possibilities are endless

NOTE: The photos and methodology described in this post were both updated in August 2016.

18 thoughts on “How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body

  1. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke | Fringe Association

  2. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping | Fringe Association

  3. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans | Fringe Association

  4. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater: Introduction | Fringe Association

    • Exactly! That’s really the point of working like this. When someone is writing a pattern, they have to make a lot of assumptions and generalizations. But when you’re knitting to your own measurements, trying it on along the way, and moving on to the next step when it’s exactly right, you’re getting a totally customized fit.


  5. I’ve read all the posts, thank you so much for this. I have been thinking about armholes, because on the last sweater I knit for my daughter was bottom up, and I got the idea to put the under arm stitches on hold and then kitchener stitch them together.

    So my thoughts are to use a provisional cast on under the arm, remove it later to get live stitches, and then to knit in them for the sleeve (or do the same on the sleeve and then graft, which was my plan until I read your posts).

    I’m not sure if this will work – now I have the know-how to give it a try!
    Thank you again!


  6. Hi, I am in the process of following your instructions and I a little mixed up on the underarm cast on stitches. This is what I think I’m supposed to do… Cast on for the underarm on each side (will count towards body sts) and again cast on underarm sts for each sleeve. So if my underarm cast on sts = 8, I will cast on 8 sts to each sleeve, and a total of 16 for the body portion? It seems every time I read this, I see info I didn’t see last time! Would like to end the “do over” cycle.


    • Hi, Pamela. You certainly can do it that way, and then seam the armhole closed at the end. (Or do what Kay Gardiner does and leave it open for venting purposes!) My preference, described at the beginning of the next installment of this tutorial, is to pick up and knit one stitch in each of the cast-on underarm stitches.


  7. Pingback: Improv: Basic pattern for a top-down seamless sweater | Fringe Association

  8. Hi Karen! Thank you so much for helping a beginner move up to advance. Love your blog! I just separated the sleeves and body stitches. Sleeve stitches on waste yarn. My sweater is intended to be a deep V neck so I was increasing every 10 rows. I am now at row 64. My sweater is not in the round as of yet. Do I continue increasing until I meet target counts? How do I keep increasing if there are no more raglan markers?


  9. I forgot to cast on underarm stitches after splitting them from the yoke. Am I in deep trouble? Can I cast them on when I go to knit my sleeves or do they absolutely have to be casted on the splitting round?


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