The Details: Sleeve length

The Details: Sleeve length

Being a persnickety sort, I’ve written before about converting seamless-bottom-up sleeves to top-down and stopping to block top-down sleeves before finishing them off (among other sleeve-obsessive posts), all in the service of knitting a sleeve to hit exactly where I/you want it. The challenge with sleeves — no matter what you’re making or how you’re making it — is that no two sweaters fit or sit exactly the same way. It’s not enough to think you prefer an 18″ sleeve (and to know how to re/calculate the shaping for yourself), because an 18″ sleeve attached to an 8″ armhole will be an inch shorter than an 18″ sleeve attached to a 9″ armhole. And even then, depending on the density of the garment, the drape, the way it sits at the neck (what kind of neck), even two sleeves of the same length will hang differently. So I’m fanatical about studying a schematic (or plotting out my own course), doing the math — hopefully making sure I’m calculating rows, not measuring unblocked knitting — and so on. I take time to get things just where I want them, and I know how to do that. But then along comes a sweater like this grey Cline of mine, which presents a whole new conundrum.

It seems simple enough: The Cline pattern is designed for 3/4 sleeves, which is not my thing, plus I have long arms and compact row gauge. So if I knitted it as written, they would be more like elbow sleeves (as learned in my try-on). So I needed to add some length, but figuring out how much in this case is not straightforward. Cline has a very unusual sleeve shape — it reminds me of a stingray — and no normal spot from which to calculate measurements. Working from a simple shoulder-to-wrist measurement isn’t an option because the sleeve doesn’t start right at the tip of the shoulder (especially on me). But nor is it a regular raglan yoke-depth situation, where you can add yoke depth and sleeve length for the desired total. It’s something of a hybrid. So once again, the only way to get it exactly how I wanted it was to knit the lower part of the sleeves last. To do this, I did the following:

1.) Cast on the allotted number of sleeve stitches in hot pink waste yarn, as seen in the photo up top, and knitted into them, working in stockinette upwards. (In other words, skipping the cuff ribbing and starting the pattern on the next row.)

2.) Added 8 rows into the start of the sleeve, simply by knitting a couple of extra rows before each of the first few increases.

3.) Knitted the remainder of the sleeves as written, plus the front and back of the sweater.

4.) Blocked everything and seamed the sleeves into position, as well as sewing up the side seams, leaving only the unfinished sleeves unseamed at this point.

5.) Picked up the neckband stitches and knitted the ribbing, so the neck’s affect on the sweater’s hang would be taken into account — especially as I was deliberately cinching up the neck a bit.

6.) Clipped together the unseamed edges of the sleeves and tried it on, and at this point determined how much more stockinette I needed to knit downwards before starting the 2″ cuff ribbing (23 add’l rows, in my case).

7.) Removed the waste yarn and put those live stitches onto the needle to complete knitting the lower arm and cuff.

8.) Used the long-tail tubular bind-off, the world’s best BO, which I find faster and less fiddly than the equivalent version of the tubular cast-on. Same effect with less fuss!

The only thing I didn’t do, and should have, was take a moment to check what the cast-on circumference would amount to. It could actually stand to be 3 or 4 stitches bigger through the forearm (I do have slight Popeye arms) but I’ll see if I can do anything with that the next time I block it. And meanwhile, it’s totally fine!

If you missed it yesterday, here’s the full rundown on this fabulous sweater.

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PREVIOUSLY in The Details: Grafted patch pockets

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21 thoughts on “The Details: Sleeve length

  1. Great job! Quick question- is there a kind of job row where you changed knitting direction or is it invisible? It’s something that has kept me from doing sleeves in a similar fashion.

    • It’s usually pretty invisible, but you will wind up with one fewer stitch when you pick up from a provisional cast on and knit in the opposite direction (to understand why, I really like Lucy Neatby’s “Australian Cousins” video https://youtu.be/Cxhv4qBDlrk). At most “normal” gauges that won’t matter a bit, but if you were using super bulky yarn (say, 1-2 sts/in) the change in direction and reduction in stitch count might become more obvious.

      • Oh, forgot to add, if you were knitting in some sort of textured or patterned stitch (rather than stockinette), the one fewer stitch thing would need to be compensated for, and the whole maneuver can become less invisible — or even impossible, if the stitch pattern can’t be matched when knitting in the opposite direction. As usual, the best way to find out is to make a small swatch and experiment!

        In these stickier cases, many people choose to put the provisional cast on just above the cuff and knit the cuffs longer to achieve the desired sleeve length — but if you’re picky about cuff proportions, that solution might not always be to your taste.

    • Yeah, I should have noted that this is workable for stockinette but if you’re knitting anything textured or colorwork, it will throw off your patterning by a half-stitch, and you wind up with one less stitch in your count. So you have to be more strategic, in that event.

  2. You are a genius…I didn’t get the “gene” for figuring this out (and many other knitting things) – I was totally absent and MIA the day this was given to others! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise…we are all better and wiser knitters because of it!

  3. I also didn’t get the gene. I so badly want to have this kind of control over my knitting. I am about to bind off the neck to a sweater and just said to a friend, I will follow the directions exactly. But, if it doesn’t fit the way I want it to, I won’t know what to do! Oh how I wish I had this amazing Grandma in my house who says “just do this”!! Your sweater is lovely and mastering of knitting so admirable!

      • Fort by Jared Flood. Yes, the directions are good. I just don’t have the ability to change it if it doesn’t fit my husband the way it should! I will keep you posted, if that’s possible. What I can say is that it appears on Ravelry that getting gauge w as really hard as it was for me too. I am using the yarn he calls for. But now I am holding up my knitting to a sweater that my husband likes and it is lining up! I do have perseverance. This is my second attempt after unraveling it when I was up to the point where you divide for front and back.

  4. Great work on the sweater! And I love that you share your notes and tips on your projects. This is a valuable blog!

    Along the same lines as what you did here, I routinely use a provisional cast on for sleeves , and generally turn a bottom-up sleeve into a top-down sleeve for exactly the fit reasons you point out. I calculate the number of stitches I need at the fullest part of the sleeve and provisionally cast on that amount. I knit an inch or so of sleeve, set it aside, and then do the same for the second sleeve. I attach these “stub” sleeves to the body according to the pattern, then finish knitting the body, neckbands, or button bands if it is a cardigan. Sometimes I block the sweater at this point, sometimes not. Lastly, I knit the sleeves from the top down, and i find it easier to make sleeve adjustments that way. I also use this method for set in sleeves that are seamed, although the sewing is a little more fiddly with just the stubs.

    The only time this method doesn’t work is if cables or another stitch pattern cannot be worked upside down. If that is the case, I handle the sleeves the way you did with Cline.

    • Blocking is super important! You can wind up negating the effort if you knit the sleeve top-down and don’t block it or the sweater to be sure what the true length is before you finish it off.

  5. As a short armed person, I can’t wait to do this. When you sewed the sleeve in but didn’t seam it, did you seam it just at the top? I’m trying to picture a sleeve set in but not connected into a circular piece.

  6. I always have a problem with knitted hats. I don’t know how far to knit up. I guess that a provisional cast on would work for this also. However, when there is a pattern (and there usually is), I will have to plan more. I have been just using hat patterns, lately, that start at the top.

  7. That’s a really nice sweater! I think the longer sleeves transform Cline into a nice utilitarian sweater with a twist.
    I do my sleeves a bit differently. I almost always know where the underarm of the sweater is going to sit on me before I do the sleeves, so I knit my sleeves according to my underarm to wrist/where I want it to end measurement.

  8. Pingback: How I'm Knitting My First Sweater: A Work in Progress • The Glimmer Collective

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