The Details: Sleeve cap short rows

How to knit sleeve-cap short rows

There’s a trick I have wanted to try for as long as I’ve known the term “short rows” but hadn’t until my Grace pullover — for reasons unknown. What finally prompted me to try it was that I was knitting this sweater out of chunky yarn and in pretty fitted proportions, the combination of which made the urge more pressing. What am I talking about? Making more room for my shoulders.

If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that (even before discovering the freedom of experimentation that comes with top-down sweater knitting) I learned to favor raglan sweaters at a young age because my shoulders are so broad that fitting into set-in-sleeve clothes is a challenge — if the sleeve cap seams hit at the tips of my shoulders where they belong, the garment will be too big for me overall, and vice versa. Raglans solve this in that there’s no sleeve seam to sit uncomfortably in the wrong place, but it can still be the case — especially on a snug pullover — that there’s not quite enough fabric to get over my big shoulders. It has always seemed to me that this should be addressable with short rows, and I’m glad I finally gave it a go!

This was an especially easy case for them, too, since the gauge of this sweater meant I could create extra fabric in only a couple of short-row turns. I’ve left my pink waste yarn in place for the pic up top so you can kind of see, but here’s all I did:

1) After separating my yoke into the sleeves and body and knitting a few inches of the body, as I like to do, I put my sleeve stitches back on my needles. (That’s the upper pink strand of waste yarn.) I’ve knitted my sleeves flat, as usual — picking up underarm stitches starting at the midpoint of the underarm (aka side seam), knitting across the sleeve stitches, and picking up the last few underarm stitches back to the midpoint — but this process would be the same if you were knitting in the round.

2) I then purled back across the WS of these stitches, stopping one stitch before the end of the row, and did a YO-and-turn. (You could wrap-and-turn, or whatever your favorite short-row method is.) Then knitted back to 1 st before the end of this third row, YO and turn. That’s one pair of turns.

3) For my second pair of turns, I placed them in line with my front and back raglan “seams.”

4) And then I worked my way back across the stitches one last time, closing up the YOs as I encountered them, to the end of the row. (That’s the lower strand of pink waste yarn.)

This amounted to a wedge of six extra rows of knitting at the sleeve cap before I continued downward with the full set of sleeve stitches as normal, giving me an extra 1″ of fabric to help accommodate my shoulders before worrying about my arms. For a finer gauge sweater, I would want to do the equivalent number of rows at whatever row gauge to create the same amount of extra fabric, and would distribute those turns within the underarm stitches.

This will factor into every top-down raglan I do from now on, stitch pattern permitting!

For all other details on this sweater, see the original FO post.


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11 thoughts on “The Details: Sleeve cap short rows

  1. Such a clever solution, and one I might try since I, too, although if I do I’ll give it a go in the round. Looks great.

  2. I have the same issue with my shoulders and may give this a try with my Liv cardigan, currently on hold, because I’m not quite ready to face the sleeves. It’s a raglan so should work the same as your Grace. I’m wondering if this would have improved the fit of my Carbeth cardigan as well. It’s fine open, but feels a bit too…something…when closed.

    I’m curious why you knit your sleeves flat (is it a gauge issue with circular knitting vs flat?), and also wonder if you could specify step 3 above. I take the raglan “seams” to be the lines created by the raglan increases in the body of the sweater. So you are wrapping-and-turning the 2nd time where the shoulder stitches separated from the body (i.e. before the underarm stitches), yes?

    If I like the look of the Liv after adding the short rows, maybe (someday??) I’ll go back and reknit those Carbeth sleeves to see if its fit improves. Maybe…

  3. The angled lines of raglan seams also make wide shoulders look narrower, so it’s not the best look for a pear shaped figure.

    • There’s definitely no one style of garment that looks good on every body, but even generalizations to individual so-called body types make me nervous, since no two bodies are the same. I think each person has to figure out what meets their definition of what looks good — and feels good — based on their own unique combination of height, bust, hips, torso and limb length, etc.

  4. Very interesting. No argument with the fit of the FO – all loveliness! I imagined your short row fix would be more wedge-like. It seems when you wrap & turn so close to the end of a row, and so few times that the effect is more length to the whole sleeve, rather than more length to the outer sleeve. But my eyes and your comfort says that subtle wedge was just enough. How can a craft of needles and string continue to yield new thoughts and variations after many hundreds of years?

    • It’s hard to see in the photo, for sure, because of the way it tapers into the underarm, but the whole sequence is contained to that single underarm row. So it creates an extra wedge of fabric (just a little over an inch, in this case) right at the separation point, before you start downward for the sleeve.

  5. So interesting. Before you described it, I was imagining the extra length at the point of your shoulder, but I guess you didn’t put it there because that was still in the yoke? So with the short rows at this point you are making up for extra length taken up to get over your shoulder?

    I guess theoretically short rows could be worked within the yoke, just wrapping and turning in the fabric that covers the shoulder? But maybe it would be more visible?

    thanks for sharing!

    • There’s a photo of me on an earlier post about this sweater — a mirror selfie from the first try-on — where you can see how it hits me. On most people, by the time you separate the yoke at the underarms the sleeve stitches are an actual sleeve cap coming down over the tops of the arms. On me, that hits right at the tips of my shoulders. So that’s where I’ve added the extra inch to get over the bend.

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