When working a top–down sweater, the yoke comes first. The body and sleeves are separated, and then the body is knit. Finally, the sleeves are worked from the bottom of the yoke to the cuff. This detailed tutorial will show you how to get those sleeves started!
Three basic steps
- Get your held sleeve stitches back on the needles
- Pick up and knit the underarm stitches
- Start knitting in the round
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Get your held sleeve stitches back on the needles
To knit the sleeve (essentially a small diameter tube), you’re going to need either double pointed needles (DPNs) or a long circular needle for the Magic Loop method. If your upper arm is 16″ or larger, you can also use a 16″ circular. If you have one, a 12″ circular also works for an upper arm of 12″ or larger.
To get the stitches off the waste yarn and back onto your needles WITHOUT dropping them (and subsequently crying and cursing!), I like to slide my needle through and THEN remove the waste yarn. I slide my needle into 3-4 stitches and then take out the waste yarn, repeating until all my stitches are on the needles, and the whole piece of waste yarn has been removed.
When working a sleeve using Magic Loop, I like to pull my cords out at the sides of the sleeves, but it’s simply a matter of preference. For DPNs, I like to have my stitches on three needles, using the fourth to knit with.
Here is what that sequence looks like:
Pick up and knit the underarm stitches
Different patterns will have different instructions for this process. Some will have you pick up and knit all the underarm stitches at the beginning or end of round. Some sleeves have an odd number of underarm stitches, so there will be an extra stitch to the right or left of your beginning of round (BOR) marker. The order might change, but the principles are the same. If this is new for you, check out our tutorial on how to pick up and knit stitches.
In addition to the specified number of underarm stitches, I like to pick up and knit 1 extra stitch from the body of the sweater on each side of the underarm stitches. Then, on the next round, I decrease these stitches to get to the correct stitch count.
For my Classic Cardigan pattern, I followed these steps:
- Pick up and knit 4 stitches (that’s half of my underarm stitches), beginning at the centre of the cast-on stitches at the underarm.
- Pick up and knit 1 extra stitch from the body of the cardigan.
- Knit across the previously held stitches that have been returned to the needles.
- Pick up and knit 1 stitch from the body of the cardigan.
- Pick up and knit 4 more stitches at the underarm.
This brings me back to the centre of the underarm where I’ll place my BOR marker, and I’ve got 2 extra stitches.
Now you’re ready to start knitting your sleeve!
April 13, 2023 @ 1:39 pm
I also like using two circulars. And I can use my older, less flexible circs, without having to invest in new ones. Thanks to the late Cat Bordhi! And I want to add: I love Tin Can Knits.
Brigid de Jong
April 13, 2023 @ 5:42 am
I always knit my sleeves first, before I do the body. I hate having the whole body of the sweater flopping around as I turn and turn for the sleeve. I also often knit the sleeves flat and seam them, to avoid the round and round altogether!
April 12, 2023 @ 9:36 pm
I love this part. However, I hate it when I end up with big holes in between the picked up stitches. Thank you for the tutorial though, very helpful!
April 12, 2023 @ 7:44 pm
Great explanation for beginninga top down sleeve!!
April 12, 2023 @ 1:49 pm
Please don’t forget that there is another method for knitting small circumferences in the round i.e. using two circular needles. I have used this method for fifteen or twenty years, since first reading Cat Bordi’s book ‘Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles’. I tried Magic Loop when it became popular and I know many knitters wouldn’t use anything else, but I had become used to the two circulars method and still feel much more comfortable using it.