a sleeve tutorial

In Which We Discuss the Various Merits of Picking Up Stitches for Sleeves Around the Armhole and Knitting Them from the Shoulder Down.

Several months (!) ago, I last left Rosemarkie in a sleeveless state. In June, I had picked up her button bands at Knitting Camp and worked some lovely buttonholes to accommodate some great buttons from Victoria. [Teaser: photos to follow... perhaps by Sunday?]

The next phase required some ol' fashioned figgerin': the kind I do all the time for my Unpatterns, but which somehow here created a little road block toward progress. (The wedding knitting provided the other road blocks necessary to bring this and other projects to a screaming halt.)

Before Rowan discontinued their fabulous "Rowanspun 4-ply," I procured many skeins of it in my favorite colorway from Churchmouse. And, since my taste in yarn is screamingly consistent, this yarn matched not one, but ALL the colors in Rosemarkie. And also since knitting a garment with Rowanspun 4-ply would take size 00 needles and more time than God has, I elected to use it *doubled* for Rosie's sleeves.

Swatching ensued. I, unlike the Harlot, love a good swatching. Much swatching was had by all. I tried smaller needles single-stranded, larger needles double-stranded, and swatched away furiously until I had the right combination of strands and needle sizes to get a fabric that matched the (double-thick) consistency of the Fair Isle work in the body.

The winning combination? Two strands of Rowanspun 4-ply and size 4 needles. (My favorite size, incidentally.)

Now comes the geeky part: picking up stitches and working the sleeves from the shoulders down.

My aunt who taught me to knit does this all the time; in fact, it's the only way to do sleeves that makes sense to us in our family. Why the *@&% would you cast on for the cuff and head up to the armpit, hoping and praying that your sleeve will be long enough? Why would you do that, when you could work the sleeves down to the cuff so you can try it on as you go?

[Of course, there are several situations in which it makes good, clean sense to do sleeves from the cuff up: were I doing the same Fair Isle colorwork on these sleeves, I would need to knit in the same direction here as I had in the body. But stockinette sleeves? On a drop-shoulder sleeve shape? No problem.]

So here you have
Karen's Basic Approach Toward Knitting Sleeves from Shoulder to Cuff:
[Beware: Beyond Here Lie Dragons Numbers.]

1. Use a 16" needle in the size you'll need for gauge in your sleeve, and a strand of your yarn. Begin at the center of the armpit, pick up and knit 3 stitches for every 4 opportunities all the way around the armhole. (Note: due to the squashy row gauge of the Fair Isle body, I needed a different rate of pickup for Rosie. I compared the # of inches in the circumference of my sleeve opening to the # of sts/1" from my swatch and divided things out to see what I needed. Turned out to be 5 stitches picked up for every 6 opportunities.]

[Note: my needle tips are up at the upper shoulder because I knit partway around in the first round before taking this photo. Do not be fooled.] 

2. If you have some bound-off stitches creating a flat bottom to your armhole opening, place a marker before and a marker after the stitches picked up along that flat bottom area. I decreased all these stitches away in an armhole gusset (in the same manner as a traditional Gansey sweater), because my armhole width was a full 11", pretty wide for a sweater these days. Didn't need those underarm stitches hanging around any longer than was necessary, nossir.

3. Begin working in the round, working 2 decreases every round as follows: knit all the way around the armhole, up to the first marker flanking the flat bottom of the underarm. Slip marker, K2togtbl (or SSK, if you prefer), knit to 2 sts before second marker, K2tog, slip marker. Repeat all this, thus decreasing 2 sts each round, until you have no sts remaining between your markers. (If you end up with 1 stitch left, just remove one of your markers – doesn't matter which one – and carry on as if nothing was the matter.

4. Now stop and count the total # of stitches on your needle.

5. Take the bottom hem of your garment (which is probably edged in the same edging you would use for the cuffs, right?) and wrap it around one of your wrists, pinching the fabric together to create a comfortable circumference for a cuff. Count the # of sts in the pinched-off portion: that's the # of sts you will need for your cuff.

6. Pull your garment on and (gently) slip your arm into the sleeve in progress (the one with the needle(s) in it). Measure from the stitches on the needle along your (slightly bent) arm and note where you'd like your sleeve to end. Subtract out the depth of the cuff, and you have the length of your sleeve (minus cuff).

7. Now the only number we are missing is your row gauge; it translates the number of inches of knitting left in your sleeve and 'translates' it into the number of ROUNDS left to knit in your sleeve. Using your sweater body (or your swatch), check your row gauge.

8. Time to put it all together! With 2 simple calculations, you can figure out your rate of decrease to work down your sleeve. Here goes:

[# of inches left in sleeve to cuff: _____"]
TIMES  [Row gauge]
EQUALS the # of ROUNDS left to knit in your sleeve: ________

[# of stitches currently on sleeve needle: _____]
MINUS [# of stitches desired in cuff: _____]
EQUALS the # of stitches to decrease.

But we always decrease stitches 2 at a time as we work down the sleeve, so take the:
[# of stitches to decrease: ______] and
DIVIDE them by 2 (2 @ a time)
EQUALS the # of ________ SETS of decreases.

Now it's simple:
[# of ROUNDS left to knit]
DIVIDED BY [# of SETS of decreases]
EQUALS [probably some number with a lot of decimals after it.]

Don't panic. Take that number, round it up or down, and that will give you your rate of decrease for this garment.

Other garments will vary; you have to do this calculation every time. It's interesting how often I get a rate of decrease that's about every 4 or 6 rounds. But on Rosie, it's every 9. Huh.

But the super-cool thing about all this is that you just work round and around, decreasing as you go, and you can keep checking the sleeve for length and fit as you go! Here is Rosie's left sleeve in progress.


Cool, huh?
And after the number-crunching, totally painless.

Happy to answer questions in the comments, and follow up in a later post.