Q for You: Would you rather knit the sleeves or the body?

Q for You: Would you rather knit the sleeves or the body?

A few years ago, my now-pal Anna Dianich and I launched a funny little project we called the Tag Team Sweater Project. We had gotten into a discussion about how she dreads knitting sleeves whereas I dread the body. (We both love the yoke.) So I suggested a swap: We each picked a bottom-up sweater pattern; I knitted all four sleeves; she knitted both bodies; and then we were each responsible for our own sweaters from the underarm join on up. That sprang to mind the other night as I was working on my current top-down yoke* and started thinking “Then I get to knit the sleeves (fun!) … and then the body (ugh).

“I’m stuck on sleeve island” is one of the most common refrains among sweater knitters, and I just don’t get it! Sleeves are inherently short, quick rows — especially if they’re knitted flat (including top-down flat sleeves) — which means visible progress, and there’s something to do along the way. (Regular increases or decreases, in nearly all cases.) But the body, to me, is just this long, dull slog — especially if it’s done in one piece. (For pieced sweaters, none of this seems to even come into play.) Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who feels that way. So that’s my Q for You sweater knitters today: Do you prefer to knit the sleeves or the body? If all sweaters were Tag Team sweaters, which team would you be on?

IN SHOP NEWS: Two of our most popular items this summer — the “Bury me with yarn and needles …” tote and the Fringe knitters tool kit — and both back in stock over at Fringe Supply Co!

Happy weekend, everyone. I’m hoping to be knitting sleeves by Monday!

*OMG, you guys, I honestly wonder I’m ever going to get to the separation round on this thing! It’s been so slow going, and when I finally got to what I had calculated would be the separation round, I double-checked my gauge to make sure it matches my swatch. It’s WAY more compact, so I’m still going …


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77 thoughts on “Q for You: Would you rather knit the sleeves or the body?

  1. I don’t really care which i do first. but I definitely prefer to knit in pieces than knitting sweaters all in one piece. Its the endless slog of one giant blanket like thing in my lap that gets to me. So I will often re-engineer a sweater to knit the sleeves separately and sew them in, because after the long knitting of the body, the sleeves are a delight.

    • Ooooh! It is shocking to me that I’ve not thought about this before! I often pick seamless items, and am currently knitting the Hitofude cardigan, but at some point knitting the body of a sweater gets a bit tedious if there’s no cabling involved. So, I think I prefer doing sleeves! They do go so very quickly!

  2. It seems to depend on the pattern – is there a lot of texture? Color work? Then I’m distracted. If it’s pure stockinette than the body does feel onerous. I like the idea of sharing the work – I loved it when you did it!

    • It’s definitely less of an issue when it’s not just a sea of stockinette, but even then I eventually get so impatient! There’s always the risk I’ll make my sweater an inch or two too short just because I want to be done with the shapeless part.

  3. I prefer to knit the body, especially when there’s no shaping. I like just going around and around. It’s the shaping on the sleeves that I don’t like – I have to keep thinking. Because of that, I always knit my sleeves first, while I’m still in the honeymoon phase of knitting the sweater.

    • That’s such a good way of putting it — the honeymoon phase. I’ve been trying to switch to doing sleeves last I’m not leaving the slowest part for last, which then adds to the feeling that I might never get there. But I really like doing the sleeves first, for so many reasons!

  4. I feel the same way as Ellen… I enjoy knitting both body and sleeves except in the case of a sweater knit all in one piece. Then I dread the sleeves (in the round) with the whole big thing turning in my lap. Thanks to you, though, Karen, I’ve done the top down sleeves flat which helps a lot!

  5. I’m definitely on the body team. I love a top down in the round, but then having to knit sleeves feels so anti-climatic.

  6. I prefer to knit the body, it feels more worthwhile somehow. With the sleeves, there’s always a mild concern about the shaping and length which I generally have to modify and so risk getting it wrong.

  7. I have 2 sweaters for myself and one for my grandson waiting for sleeves. I am definitely on team body.

  8. I love knitting the first sleeve but have such a hard time starting the second. I think I’m so slow at sweaters either way it’s all a love/hate thing!

  9. Sleeves always make me a little anxious – I’m rarely knitting to pattern gauge so I have to redo the shaping, and there is the fear that things won’t go well with that. But the SECOND sleeve I love, it’s fast and I know how it will come out, and it marks the end of the bulk of the sweater knitting. So I guess I’d need to be the third person on a tag team so I can only knit second sleeves….

  10. Hmm, I have never given this any thought. I am firmly committed to knitting both sleeves together, in the round, two sleeves on two circulars. So it’s actually a lot like knitting the body, I think. What a fun thing you did, tag teaming with Anna!

  11. I prefer body but I try to knit sleeves first because I get so impatient when knitting sleeves. It’s like ‘damn you for being the last thing holding me back from wearing this sweater!’ I know, totally illogical but that’s how I see it. LOL

    • Not illogical at all! On a top-down, one of the reasons I like to do the sleeves (and neck, and ends …) before the body, is I love that when I finally get to the bottom of that ribbing and bind off, I’m well and truly done! Can put on a fully finished sweater right that second.

      • Exactly!! I always feel like sleeves are the thing that hold me back but I don’t mind a bunch of in the round stockinette. I can blindly knit that in a movie theater, on a train…

  12. Hmmm. I don’t mind sleeves. I usually do them two at a time so they are identical (right or wrong!) and I prefer top down sweaters, when the body is a few inches below the underarms, I do the sleeves so the pile on my lap isn’t too big. And, if I am worried about running out of yarn, the sleeves are done, I can just go around on the body until I am done or run out of yarn.

  13. I prefer the body. For that reason, I always do the sleeves first. It gets them out of the way, with the added benefit of being an additional check of the gauge. I read that somewhere a while back and have done sleeves first ever since.
    Also, I definitely prefer seamed over seamless. Having little goals which you can complete feels like much less of a slog than one seamless sweater with only one piece.

  14. Actually I like both, precisely because one is challenging (sleeves) and the other is not (body).
    What I really DON’T like is the last third of the yoke on a top-down sweater, when I have a zillion stitches on the biggest circular needle I could find and knitting just ONE round seems to take an hour!
    That’s one of the few reasons why prefer bottom-up sweaters : it stays portable much longer, and when joining body and sleeves for the yoke, I feel that all the work is done and I got less and less stitches and it goes faster and faster…

  15. I don’t have a preference, except I don’t like knitting a sweater all in one piece (so of course I cast on a Carbeth Cardigan last week…) I recently finished a Purl Soho pattern called Cardigan Coat and Vest, also all one piece and even the sleeves were knit in the round. I’ll never do that again! Having to turn that thing around and around to knit that smaller circumference…yuck!). I am finally able to successfully knit a sweater per the pattern. Now I think I’m ready to modify a one piece pattern into pieces. We’ll see.

  16. I like to start with a sleeve, it usually gives a good glimpse of the whole garment’s construction and stitch pattern and I use that first sleeve as a swatch 😆. Then, I will do a body piece (if it’s not done all in the round), then the second sleeve and then the second body piece. I know my favourite are the sleeves overall but I just try to alternate with a body piece so that I don’t end up having to knit two big body pieces at the end, it would be the death of me!

    • Yep, I’m all about the sleeve-swatch approach! And I also try not to leave the biggest/slowest parts for last. So I’ll either alternate or kind of work them all to the same point at once, rather than starting back at the beginning for each piece.

  17. This totally depends on what I’m using the project for—if I have no other “mindless knitting” project to do while chilling out with my family, then I prefer the body for mindless knitting purposes. If I’m already working on a simple project and therefore have something to do while the kiddos and I watch Avatar: the Last Airbender or Harry Potter again, then sleeves because of the rapid gratification. :)

  18. I do love the whole process as many have said. I will sometimes, in a top-down (preferred choice) knit the sleeves first to avoid the constant turning of the body, then knit the body. I find it lovely to end a sweater with the more mindless rhythmic knitting of the body with it’s copious amounts of garter or stockinette, getting to the hem and being, tah da…finished. It seems to be a more dramatic end to the knitting relationship with the sweater project and a more exciting beginning to the wearing of it!

  19. Love knitting the body, hate the sleeves. I always mess up the counting with the increases or decreases. I’ve never knitted sleeves flat. I would like to try. Do you have a tutorial on converting a pattern that’s written for in-the-round or know a good one you can recommend?

    • For top-down, there’s a link in the post above. For bottom-up, same basic premise: you just need one extra stitch at each end of the sleeve count, and those will be your selvage stitches for seaming.

  20. With almost every big project, there’s a point around the 3/4 mark where I wonder if it will ever end. With a sweater, if the body is knit first, it’s around the time to cast on the sleeves. With a shawl, there’s a point where I’m SO CLOSE to the end in terms of depth but actually have miles to go in terms of yardage stitches. The only solution is to keep on going; I’ll get there eventually if I don’t stop!

    Happy weekend to you! It’s a long weekend here and I’m taking my knitting to the beach!

  21. I don’t have parts that I don’t like. I do like to start with the body and then sleeves. For one reason- I can try it and see for sure that sleeves are perfect length.

  22. Sleeves first; they can easily double as swatches. I notice you’re knitting garter stitch cuffs; when I hosted a KAL for Harriet’s Jacket (https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/harriets-jacket) a few years ago, I encouraged knitters to take their garter stitch gauge from the garter cuffs in that garment. Ditto (does this reveal my age?) for Petrova (https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/petrova). Why languish over swatches when you might just as well be getting on with your sweater?

  23. I do them both at the same time. I commute, so I take a sleeve with me for the train, or in my carry-on for business trips — anywhere space is a premium. Meanwhile, I work on the body if I’m at home or in the car. I’m just happy to get any knitting time I can!

  24. I like them both, it’s just a different part of the process. I don’t understand being marooned on sleeve island either; it’s generally a sign the project is moving along, and there is a pretty lake to swim in. Metaphorically. And there’s two, so you can get the second one right! Ha ha. The body is fun because for me, there is either pattern or shaping, and it’s such a large piece that my brain can finally rest from all that visualization. So. It all results in sweater, which is my favorite kind of knitting project.

  25. I tend to prefer the sleeves vs. the body, but I generally knit the body when the whole project is a new great idea, By the time I get to the sleeves I am generally ready for it to be over. If I stick it out, it usually soars and I wonder why I waited for so long.

  26. I prefer sleeves, but just turn the needles when knitting them in the round not the whole sweater. It’s a little trick I read on a ravelry forum and makes sleeeves much less of an issue.

  27. I am embarrassed to sayI have never thought of knitting sleeves flat on a top down garment. Thank you for turning on the light bulb – it seems so logical now that I have read your piece on it. No more wrestling with needles that seem too big for the amount of stitches. Thank you.

  28. I always think I am almost finished with the sweater when the sleeves are all that’s left. And then I realize that I am really only half done 😯

  29. I seem to think that I enjoy the body more, but that really makes no sense to me for the reasons you mentioned, so I wonder if it’s just a matter of whichever one I do first! I usually do the body first. Just finished the yoke on the sweater I am knitting now, and I am actually doing the sleeves first (for color organization because of limited yardage), so we shall see if I enjoy the sleeves more this time around! I do love a good sweater knitting in the name of science. ;)

  30. I am a sleeve teamer! Love seeing how the pattern will turn out faster. Also, I am a two sleeves at a time knitter. Can be a mess with color work, but there is no last sleeve! I knit the front together, too. Guess that explains why I’m not enthusiastic about socks or mittens!

  31. Seamless all the way, sleeves first then body. I like knowing I have enough to make the sleeves the length I like then use up the rest in the body. Winning yarn chicken is so much easier this way
    I really can’t stand seaming so knitting sweaters in pieces gives me anxiety.

  32. I am definitely a body knitter! Mostly because I have a lot more circular needles to fit body-circumference than sleeve-circumference, so knitting sleeves usually involves magic loop-ing or using DPNs, which is fiddly compared to knitting on the body and just going without obstruction. Also, I do a lot of all-in-one-go top down sweaters where you pick up stitches for the sleeves and knit them last, which means manipulating much more sweater that’s not being actively knitted than when you’re knitting the body.

  33. Oh my, I’m definitely team body. I can’t bear knitting sleeves… shuffling needles around tiny rounds, the finicky muddling if modifying patterns because my arms are disproportionately larger than my torso, and then you finish one only to have to repeat the same thing again… I think that’s why I can’t bear to knit socks, rarely repeat a pattern, etc.

  34. I hate sleeve knitting, full stop. You can’t ever get into a meditative flow – especially when knitting sleeves in the round :( I wish I had a friend who wanted to knit the sleeves on all five of my current WIPs … sleeves is ineveitably the point when I abadon sweater projects!

  35. I do like the body as it provides a good, long stretch of knitting (when it’s stockinette anyway). Having said that, sleeves are good too, especially top-down ones that allow length customization.

  36. I’m definitely team body! I don’t dislike sleeves, but the body feels a bit meatier, and I like the endless swathes of work that I can zone out to.

  37. I tend to stall out on longer sleeves, and I’ve no idea why. Even if they’re knit first. It’s the weirdest thing.

  38. Sleeves or knitting a sweater in pieces definitely! I often prefer top down construction so I don’t get too bored and put the sweater aside. 😊

  39. Body? Fun! Sleeves? Not fun. But that’s probably because I always knit the body before the sleeves. So, by the time I’m halfway through the sleeves, I just want to finish the damn sweater.

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