The Short and Long of Knitting Sleeves

At this point in my knitting “career” (but really, knitting hobby, spare time, whatever we want to call it), I have knit myself 7 sweaters. Ironically, most of them are all the same-ish color, but that’s not the point for today.

When I started knitting sweaters, I followed the pattern exactly. This makes the most sense, right? I didn’t know what I was doing and if I followed the recipe, I’d end up with a sweater. That’s how it works, right? Follow recipe, have sweater.

First sweater I knit for myself and followed the pattern as is

Generally, this is true, but for us knitters, we also like to have a sweater that FITS US. It’s not enough for us to just make a sweater, we actually want it to fit and look nice. This generally means that when we do knit, we often change patterns in order to better suit our bodies or what we really want out of the garment. There’s really nothing wrong with that. That is, once we learn how to make these adjustments and actually know what we do want. I mean how many times in life do we know we don’t like something, but we just can’t explain why?

While there’s plenty to discuss in terms of adjustments to make to garments, I have had found that for me, I have struggled the most with sleeves. So that’s what we’re talking about today. Sleeve knitting.

As I mentioned before, early on, I knit a sweater pattern as is. I knit a swatch, figured out which size to knit based on that and went on my merry way. This worked out fine for the first few sweaters. I’m not sure what changed after that (my body, my knitting, the patterns I was choosing), but something changed. My sleeves were no longer fitting on my arms even though the rest of the sweater was okay. I think the sleeves were always a bit snug, but once I knit the Sipila sweater, it was too tight to wear. We put so much work into knitting a sweater that it’s not worth having one sit in the closet that you never want to wear because it’s not comfortable.

You can see how the sleeve didn’t fit and I couldn’t even turn it to lay correctly

For that sweater, I did make the tough decision to rip out the sleeves and redo them. They were colorwork sweaters, might I add. I knew in the end, the sweater wasn’t wearable the way it was and it was more important to me to want to wear the sweater than not re-knit the sleeves.

A lot of people have mentioned over time to go up a needle size for the sleeves because most often, we are knitting them magic loop, where the bulk of the sweater was either knit flat or in the round. In either case, the gauge swatch knit for the sweater is probably not the same gauge as the sweater. We could knit a new swatch or just follow the general rule to go up a needle size.

This definitely helped me, but it actually wasn’t enough. For that colorwork sleeve, you may be thinking that people also need to go up an additional size for colorwork and I took that into account as well. The upper arm doesn’t have colorwork though and so that wasn’t the issue.

For me, I have a fairly petite frame (although add some quarantine to it), but I seem to have larger upper arms. What I came to realize, for me, was that following the same size for the sleeve instructions just didn’t make sense for me. If I measured my arms, it actually had me go to the next size up from where my body measurements had me in the pattern. For the Sipila sweater, I ended up adding a few stitches to the sleeve right at the beginning and then proceeded from there.

That’s not all! In the end, I measured my arms right above my elbow, kind of the meat of the bicep and found that my arm hadn’t narrowed yet. I find that in many patterns, you knit a couple of inches and then start to taper down evenly throughout the sleeve. This would not work for me considering my arm doesn’t taper evenly. Instead, I knit about 6 inches (the length from my under arm until my arm actually tapered) and then started to decrease from there. Since then, I have knit the sleeves of my arms just like this and it works well for me. My arm then does slim down pretty quickly, so I end up doing decreases more often than the pattern mentions and I always end with the recommended number of stitches. I just crunch in the decreases into a smaller section of the sleeve.

The sleeve lays correctly and even have some extra room

I also use the trick of using a stitch marker at every decrease so I can remember where they were. This help for when I knit the second sleeve and can line them up to be the same. You don’t see it in the picture below, but I generally go in rainbow order so I don’t need to count them and then use the same color stitch marker on the second sleeve.

You can see in the picture above how quickly I knit the decreases and how far down the sleeve they are. Now, my sleeves are fitting pretty well and I’m comfortably in my sweaters.

There’s a lot to learn about fitting a sweater and I know there are a lot of great resources out there. To me, it’s just so ironic that after having a sweater fit, it came down to the sleeves not working out. It’s just not something I thought would be so problematic after knitting everything else.

Pavement sweater – Used my same formula of knitting straight for 6 inches, then decreasing quickly.

Are there any adjustments you’ve learned to make over time to fit your sleeves better?

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