April 2nd, 2013

Tuesday’s Knitting Tip – Start with the Sleeves

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You’ll find that many sweater patterns are knit in pieces from the bottom up. Most of these patterns instruct you to start knitting the body first and then move onto the sleeves.

Recently when I cast on for the Playful Stripes Sweater, it wasn’t until I was nearly done with the body that I wished I had started knitting the sleeves first. I was straying from the pattern and trying a different cast on method. It would have been easier to test the cast on with only 38 sleeve stitches compared to the 144 body stitches.

There are a few reasons you might want to start with a smaller number of stitches on a sleeve before knitting the body.

  • Trying out a new stitch pattern or technique
  • Testing color combinations in your multi-color project
  • Straying from the instructions in the pattern and not sure you’ll like the changes
  • Hate swatching so a sleeve essentially becomes your swatch so you know if you’re using the right needle size.

If I was going to start my sweater over, I probably would have done something a little differently on the cuffs and hem. It wasn’t until I was too far into the body that I realized I wanted something different. But I felt I was too far along to make it worth ripping out and starting over. But if I had started with a sleeve first…I wouldn’t have hesitated to start over and get the cuff/hem I really wanted. Live and learn.

Are you a strict pattern follower? Or do like to use a pattern as your guide and change things up a bit?

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8 Responses to “Tuesday’s Knitting Tip – Start with the Sleeves”

  1. Tam Says:

    Patterns are purely guidelines. I cannot say that I have ever made a sweater which followed the yarn recommendations, the exact instructions and the recommended order of knitting all at the same time. I’m being especially “good” when I do ONE of those. I love the “sleeve first” method. I hate swatching with a passion. What a waste of expensive yarn. I also feel it’s a waste of time when I could be knitting what I want to knit. Sadly, that attitude has led to a number of ill fitting knitwear items. The sleeve first method solves that problem.

  2. Anisa Says:

    Even better: use a patch pocket as a swatch!

  3. Nancy Says:

    This is not good advice if you want to be sure the sleeves are the correct length. Better to knit the body, put it together and then measure for sleeves. Proper sleeve length can make a sweater, improper can make it look too small or too big.

  4. Kristina Says:

    Have you heard of stitch holders? No need to knit the entire sleeve to figure out whether you like the pattern or not. I, for one, hate swatching. I’ll keep this advice in mind.

  5. Nancy Says:

    No need to be sarcastic. I have knit at least several hundred sweaters in the last twenty years and know all about a lot of things you have probably never thought of.

  6. Tammy Tucker Says:

    In deference to the world’s expert on sweater knitting, this method works best on short or 3/4 sleeves where a) the sleeve is actually a small part of the sweater and b) the length of the sleeve does not have to be exact. A long sleeve is as large a part of the sweater as a cardigan front so it doesn’t make a very good swatch. You may as well knit it last so you can tweak the length. I hate pockets on sweaters so I usually leave them off but I do think if your sweater calls for a pocket, Anisa’s idea is perfect.

  7. Liz Says:

    I always do both my sleeves at the same time so I’m not sure this idea would work for me. Wouldn’t want to rip out both sleeves!

  8. Joanne Says:

    This idea works great for me. I start with a sleeve (and use if as a swatch). I knit about 3/4 of the sleeve ( or to where the shaping starts) and put it on a stitch holder or spare needle, then do the other one the same way. Once I have done the front and back, I decide on the sleeve length and complete the sleeves. I can’t tell you how many times I made changes (or even changed the project) once I see the sleeve.

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