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.

27 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. That makes more sense. Now I should be able to properly calculate when I can stop with the increase sts. Thank you!!

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

  9. 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?

    • Hi, Sandi. Do you mean for your V-neck to be deeper than your armholes? It sounds like every 10th row is too slow of a rate of increase. (Every fourth would be more typical for a deep V.)

  10. 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?

  11. Hi, in an improv top down raglan cardigan, how does one determine how many stitches to cast on at the underarm? Is it by considering an inch or more?

  12. “If you’re knitting a pullover, the left-side marker is your new beginning of round” But all along, my beginning-of-round marker was in the front-center. Wouldn’t the row be off (especially if I’m knitting a texture) if I treat the left-side marker as my new beginning-of-round?

  13. Hi Karen,
    First of all thanks a ton for this entire series. It’s an awesome learning experience in the midst of a sea of internet resources. I have a question about the underarm stitches needing to be cast on. Why can’t the required number of underarm stitches just be added as increases to the respective sections? Eg: total number of underarm stitches: 12; add three increase rounds after the original section targets are reached; move sleeve stitches to waste yarn and join body sections. That will give us the required 12 extra body stitches right? While knitting sleeves, we pick up a stitch in these very stitches and then the sleeve stitches from waste yarn and knit forth. Is there anything basically wrong in this that I’m missing? Thanks a lot for your reply.

    PS: I’m frogging an entire sweater (my first sweater) that i finished and reknitting it into a cardigan because the sweater didn’t fit very well. Would love to not have to experiment in this finicky section.

    • I’m not sure I’m 100% clear on what you’re envisioning, but you do need to cast them on, and all at once. If you were making a swoncho sort of thing, or you were 2-dimensional, you could just increase all the way to the desired circumferences and then join. But to fit a human body, you need to create a 3-dimensional shape, and this is how you do it. Also, when you increase gradually, over several rows, you’re creating a slope — a la the raglans. For this particular point in the equation, what you need is a straight line, which is why they’re cast on all on the same row.

      Does that help?

      • Yes :) that helped, thank you. I had to google “swoncho” because I had never heard the word before, but i saw the picture and got what you mean i.e. that the armholes will be too large. Also I’m so excited you replied.

  14. Hi Karen ,
    It’s me again. The yoke is well underway. I’m done with my increases and just knitting back and forth until the depth is right. It’s probably too late for this question in this project, but still i must ask, is there any difference to be considered in this method for the yoke shaping between men and women? I finished the increases (every RS row) and did an abrupt stop and now working even for a few rows and there seems to be a little “extra” room forming (for a bust?). It could just be my imagination and it might disappear hopefully when I separate body and sleeves. But I’d like to know if there is a difference.

    • There’s no difference between men and women, per se, but you always have the option (as with any handmade thing) of tailoring it to suit your particular needs. So someone with an ample chest might find it useful to have more front stitches than back, etc.

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