Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

I know the last Hot Tip was about knitting the sleeves first, but this time I want to talk about the exact opposite! This is my St. Brendan-in-progress, and it’s a perfect example of a case where deferring the sleeves makes more sense. With bottom-up-seamless construction, you knit three tubes — one body and two sleeves — then you work a join round where you knit across the front of the body, across the stitches of one sleeve, then the back of the body and the other sleeve, and voilà, you’ve got them all joined together on one circular needle, ready to proceed with the seamless yoke. But sometimes, you might not be ready to commit!

Sleeve length is a function of two factors: the depth of the yoke it attaches to (shoulder to underarm) plus the length of the sleeve itself (underarm to cuff). In the case of this sweater, I don’t know exactly how deep the yoke will be, so how could I know how long to make my sleeves before joining them at the underarm? What do I mean I don’t know? The schematic in this case is not quite as detailed as I like a schematic to be, but even if it were, that’s not enough information. I already know my row gauge tends to be more compact than everyone else’s, so working the prescribed number of rows might very well leave me with a shallower yoke than the pattern writer’s. Plus I’m planning to change the neck a bit — working some short rows to bring the back neck up a little, and making a smaller neckhole. So I’ll be adding rows that the pattern doesn’t call for, and don’t know how many (I’ll be experimenting), which means I can’t know precisely how my finished yoke will sit.

That’s when this trick comes in handy. (That, or you aren’t certain about the fit or styling or color or something, and want to see how it plays out before investing sleeve time. Or you just really want to get on with the yoke because that’s where all the fun is!) I learned this one from Felicia of The Craft Sessions a few years ago and find it invaluable. As noted above, when you get to the point of joining the body and sleeves, you have the body on one needle and the sleeve stitches on another. It doesn’t actually matter whether those stitches on the other needle are literally sleeve stitches — you just need stitches to work into. In this case, I am meant to have a sleeve composed of 54 sts, 8 of which have been set aside for the underarm, and the other 46 of which are to be joined to the body. So I need a needle with 46 stitches on it. To get them, I’ve simply taken a length of waste yarn, cast on 46 stitches (plain old long-tail), then worked the join row into them exactly as if they were the sleeve stitches (repeating for the second sleeve). When my sweater is done and blocked and I know exactly where the underarm falls, I can measure exactly how long I want my sleeves to be. At that point, you carefully unpick the waste yarn and put those live stitches back on a needle, and you have a couple of choices about how to proceed:

  1. Knit the sleeves from the top down, either picking up or casting on for the necessary underarm sts, and reversing the sleeve shaping so you’re working decreases instead of increases. You can even knit them top-down flat, if you like. (Note that in a case like this one, where there is colorwork involved, you’d need to work the chart from the top down as well. Not all charts are readily invertible.)
  2. Knit the sleeves from the bottom up, exactly as described in the pattern, then graft them together with the live stitches from the yoke.

Of course, to get sleeve length (or any length) right, in any case, you need to have blocked your swatch and measured it carefully, before and after blocking. If the fabric grows or shrinks with blocking, you always need to take that into account when knitting your sweater/parts. As always, a blocked swatch and precise measurements are the key to nailing the fit.

p.s. If anyone’s concerned about the shape of this sweater, remember the bottom 8″ or so have been blocked and the rest has not, which is why it’s so much wider at the bottom right now.


PREVIOUSLY in Hot Tips: Start with a sleeve

35 thoughts on “Hot Tip: Postpone the sleeves

  1. Thanks for the empowerment here. I’m knitting the Riddari sweater with a patterned yoke and have started with the sleeves. I always need to shorten a pattern’s stated length of sleeves. Plus this is my first sweater with a patterned yoke. So you can imagine my delight this morning in receiving your blog—–just in time! Thanks much and happy new year.

  2. While your experimenting with the neck, I hope you’ll be able to provide some details on what you did for the final result. I would prefer a smaller neck myself, but not sure I could there on my own. I was surprised when I saw how much progress you had already made, just love those colors and that yarn looks like pure joy to work with.

    • Sure, I’ll try! I’ve never free-handed short-row shaping before, so it’ll be a whole new experiment for me. And yes, this Arranmore is a total dream. I want to cast on another sweater with it immediately upon finishing this one. The blocked fabric is just amazing.

      • I just free-hand short-rowed for the first time! It was on an Icelandic lopi-style sweater, and though it was bottom-up, it was totally inspired by your most recent knitalong. As I was getting up the yoke, I realized that I couldn’t stand the necklines on most lopi sweaters. I had to repeatedly draw a schematic of what I was going to do (literally, row by row). It was the only way I could convince myself I was doing it correctly. And though I never had to use them, the lifelines I put in were VERY comforting.

  3. This is a game changer. I always want to get to the yoke faster! Could you say a little more abt how to work the sleeve? If I have live stitches could I just attach yarn and start to knit downward?

    • Yeah, just exactly like any top-down sleeve. If you go that route, every detail will be the opposite of the instructions — so you’ll create the underarm sts instead of setting them aside, decrease instead of increase, bind off at the cuff rather than casting on.

      Or option 2 up there, just knit the sleeve as written and graft it on.

  4. You have made amazing progress on this sweater. The only sweater I knit like this ended up with too long sleeves. I can’t wait to make another one and apply your tip.

  5. Such a great tip Karen! Thank you!! And this sweater is gorgeous…I want one too!

  6. Thank you! This is next up for me, waiting on yarn. It’s been a year since I’ve knit a sweater, a Cowichan, thanks to your motivation! Arranmore is a pretty dreamy.
    Thanks again!

  7. This makes my fingers itch to knit!

    Have you shared a similar tip in the past? I have always remembered it and contributed it to you!

  8. That’s a fabulous tip! (And gorgeous sweater, too!). I always have issues with bottom up yoked sweaters. Regardless of the schematic, my sleeves are never right (unless it’s a top down sweater). I have a beautiful yoked sweater sitting in time out right now for fit issues in the yoke and sleeves that could definitely use this approach. That’s what I love so much about knitting, so many ways to approach a problem. Thanks!

  9. Omg, it’s turning out even better than I’d expected! Beautiful work!

    Yes, nice tip, as well; sorry…got completely distracted by the colorwork…

  10. Love that tip. I would remember that for the next time. I’m knitting my first yoke sweater (for my daughter) and I was just wondering about the length of the sleeves once they will attached to the collar…

  11. Thanks for the great tip! I think the only thing I might do differently is perhaps knit a few rounds on the sleeve bit before attaching, so I don’t have everything going on right there at the armhole. Looking forward to trying it!

  12. Beautiful work. Makes me do eager to knit my first jumper–will look forward to it. My question is, as you have already washed and blocked the bottom 8″, how will you wash and block at the end? Will you just wash and block the remaining part of the jumper (minus the bottom 8″)? I’m still fairly new to knitting and blocking–I haven’t got the proper gear yet. I wash it carefully and re-shape it to dry. Just wondered what your process would be? Cheers Xx

    • Mm no, there’s no reason that part would get left out of any future soak. The whole thing got soaked again today so I can see how I’m feeling about the yoke. It’ll get soaked again at the end, and then again however often it needs it for the rest of its life!

  13. Thanks, Karen! Good to know! I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience 😊

  14. This would also be a way around those Very Tight First Rows after you add the sleeves to knit the yoke. I’m going to try this some time.

    • Unfortunately, it doesn’t really make much of a difference in that regard. That is why I don’t like bottom-up seamless, though — I would rather seam or knit top-down to avoid that whole scenario.

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  16. Hi,
    I’ve been looking at this pattern you are knitting, and I really like the like the look of it without the full sleeves. Knitted to this point it looks like a really cute cap sleeve summer sweater. I’m a newer knitter and don’t know how to design or alter a pattern, so how would you go about finishing it off pretty much as as? Thanks for any advice you can give me

    • You’d probably want to put the sleeve stitches on needles still and knit at least an inch or two, but it’s totally up to you and what you’re after!

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  21. Re-reading all your Hot Tips, due to your post today (love following you in Portugal on Instagram).

    I’m going to use this tip to finish the Gramps Cardigan, for my son’s girlfriend for Christmas, ( that I’m making this summer. That way I can finish the body and have the sleeves to work on during the 8 hour car ride. Thanks!

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