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Further Anatomy of a Top-Down, Set-In-Sleeve Sweater: the Body and Sleeves

In my last blog posting, I explained how to work the back and front(s), to the end of the armhole shaping. In this post, I take the next two steps, which are to work the body from the armholes to the bottom edge, and to pick up and work the sleeves from the armhole to the wrist.

Working the Body

Now that your armhole shaping is complete, you will need to join the front(s) and back to work the rest of the body of the sweater. If you are working a cardigan, or a pullover with a deep neck that continues after the armhole shaping is done, you will continue to work the piece back and forth. If you are working a pullover and the neck shaping is complete, you will begin working in the round.

In either case, the first thing you need to do is transfer the back stitches to the circular needle that holds the front stitches. If you’re working a cardigan or deep-neck pullover, you need to transfer the back stitches to the left-hand end of the circular needle, then the right front stitches to that same end. The left-hand end of the needle is the opposite end from the one with the working yarn. Once you transfer the stitches, you should have the left front, back, then right front on the needle, in that order from right to left, and the yarn should be attached to the left front, ready to go. If you’re working a pullover whose neck shaping is complete, then you transfer the back stitches to the left-hand end of the circular needle; you should have the front, then back on the needle, in that order.




Once you have all the pieces on one needle, using only the ball of yarn attached to the first piece [and cutting the other ball(s)], work across the first piece, cast on the number of stitches indicated for the underarm, placing a marker in the middle of these cast-on stitches, work across the second piece and cast on the underarm stitches and place another marker in the middle of the cast-on stitches. If you’re working a completed front, the second marker will mark the beginning of the round, and you’re now ready to work in the round. If you’re working with a left and right front, work across the right front to the end. The markers you have placed will mark the sides of the sweater, and will be used for any waist and hip shaping that you do later.

Don’t join for the cardigan or the deep-neck pullover. Do join for the finished-neck pullover. Continue as instructed, working any waist or hip shaping specified, and finishing with the trim. For a deep-neck pullover, you will need to join the pieces when the neck shaping is completed. Note that for a very deep neck, you may not complete it until you have worked waist and/or hip shaping. Continue to keep track of your neck increases to make sure you complete all of them.

You may omit the waist and/or hip shaping if you prefer, change the length of the body from underarm to bind-off, and work a different trim if you’d like. If you want to try the piece on as you go, slip all the stitches onto a piece of waste yarn (removing the circular needle), and try it on. This will allow you to change where you begin the waist and hip shaping, and to shorten or lengthen the piece if you’d prefer.




Working the Sleeves

Once the body is completed, you’re ready to work the sleeves. These are worked from the top down as well. You begin picking up stitches at the center of the underarm stitches, and pick up evenly all the way around the armhole, ending back where you began. Make sure that you have the same number of stitches before the shoulder “seam” that you have after, and place a marker at the shoulder seam.




Once you have all the stitches picked up, you will join the sleeve to work in the round and begin shaping the cap of the sleeve. This is accomplished by working short rows back and forth. If you’re not familiar with short-row shaping, it is an ingenious technique whereby you work partial rows that allow you to create the curve of the cap without having to work the sleeve from the bottom up and sew it into the armhole. They create a bit of extra fabric so that the sleeve fits nicely over the shoulder and down the upper arm. The first and second short rows will take you slightly past the marker at the top of the sleeve cap, then the remaining short rows will continue the shaping down the sides of the sleeve until you reach the stitches that were cast on for the underarm. For the larger sizes, you will likely be short-rowing into those cast-on stitches. A lot of knitters are intimidated by short-row shaping, but if you following the instructions given in the Special Techniques section of the patterns, you will find that it is not difficult at all. I use what is called Japanese Short Rows because I think they are simpler than standard wrap-and-turn short rows, and I think they give a more finished look once completed. I will address the how-to of short-row shaping in my next blog post.

Once the short-row cap shaping is completed, you’re ready to work the rest of the sleeve in the round. You may change the length of the sleeve from underarm to bind-off, change the number of decreases so that the sleeve fits more tightly or loosely, and work a different trim if you’d like.




Stay tuned for more on how to work short-row shaping in my next blog post.

14 thoughts on “Further Anatomy of a Top-Down, Set-In-Sleeve Sweater: the Body and Sleeves

  1. I just bought your sleeveless pullover. I am going to attempt to add short sleeves to it. I am hoping most of what you have posted so far will be explained a little in the pattern. Do you plan on making possibly an add on sleeve for this sleeveless pullover. I would like a good basic for work with short sleeves and a V neck. I looked at your other web site but I did not see the other pattern that was free and it did have a sleeve pattern add on I thought. It was not big enough for me so I never attempted it although it did have the short rows explained nicely and the belly shaping very good. I love these top down patterns. I was never able to make anything for myself. I am just finishing up a cardigan in size 54 with a larger belly. Thank you. I am anticipating starting this sweater but adding the sleeves last. That is okay. I can still see how it is fitting going down and that is important to me to make allowances as I go. Thank you so much. I love your patterns!

    1. Thanks for your purchase and comment Joetta. The pattern will have everything in it that you need to work up the pictured pullover. The purpose of the blog was to clarify how top-down sweaters are worked, so that if you’re not familiar with them, you’ll have visuals and explanations that will help you understand how the parts fit together. I don’t currently have any instructions for adding sleeves and changing the neckline, but both are very good subjects for blog posts. I’m not sure what pattern you’re referring to that had a sleeve add-on and belly shaping – I don’t have one that fits that description. Perhaps another designer? I’m glad you like the patterns! Happy knitting.

  2. Visual instructions are invaluable and your diagrams are terrific.There’s nothing like “seeing” a pattern to understand it.

    1. Thanks Pam! I’m so glad the visuals help – that was my hope.

  3. Hi Sue, I have tried and tried to knit top down set in sleeves… this is what I am struggling with: what amount is x – the amount of stitches I have to pick up around the armhole??? If it is the amount of stitches I will end up with after the short rows are done and the sleeve cap is completed – that is the amount I am left with for the top sleeve, right? I have seen it done like that but it looked to me that the sleeve cap was TIGHT, because not enough stitches were picked up around the armhole. Because the armhole is round, it would require MORE stitches than the top sleeve amount, to sit nicely, right? I am thinking that I would have to forget about the amount of stitches required around the top arm when picking up stitches around the armhole, let’s say … just as I would if I was to knit the front edge of a cardigan, I would pick up 2 stitches for each 3 rows, ok? But now – if I just go with what the armhole ‘wants’ – then I am likely to have to decrease stitches at some stage to have end up with the right amount for around the armhole… and that just doesn’t look nice… I would love to solve this mystery!

    1. Thanks for your email. The number of stitches I pick up around the armhole opening is based on the number of stitches I need at the top of the sleeve (this would be the total stitches you have before you begin cap shaping if you are working a sleeve from the bottom up). To determine how many stitches I need at the top of the sleeve, I take the upper arm measurement, add the appropriate ease for the fit of the sweater, then multiply that amount by my stitch gauge. That is how many stitches I pick up around the armhole. You’re right that it is likely to be less than the number of stitches you would pick up if you picked up 1 stitch per cast-on stitch and 2 stitches out of every 3 rows, but I’ve found that it works out well, and that the cap isn’t too tight. The short-row shaping around the armhole creates extra fabric, which forms a pocket for your shoulder.

      I also take into consideration the depth of the armhole. If I have a shallow armhole, then stylewise, the top of the sleeve should be slim, so that it looks right. You don’t want a shallow, fitted armhole and a loose, wide top-of-sleeve – that wouldn’t look right. If you pick up more stitches around the armhole than you need for the upper arm, then you are likely to end up with a sleeve that is baggy at the upper arm. You could decrease stitches at the underarm right away, but if you have a lot of stitches to decrease there to get to your desired top-of-armhole stitches, you will likely end up with bunching and a sleeve that doesn’t lay right at the top.

      When picking up the stitches around the armhole, I don’t always pick up 1 stitch for every cast-on (if knitting top-down) or bound-off (if knitting bottom-up) stitch under the arm. I may pick up 1 stitch for every 2, or 2 stitches for every 3, or something along those lines. And when picking up along the increased (top-down) or decreased (bottom-up) edge near the base of the armhole, I don’t pick up in every row. I do try to pick up approximately 2 stitches in every 3 rows along the straight sections of the armhole, which is why I may pick up fewer stitches along the base and shaped edges of the armhole, which are less visible and more forgiving areas.

      I hope this helps!

      1. Dear Sue, how can I send you a bunch of flowers on the net??? Thank you so much for taking the time to create such a detailed response – all is absolutely clear now. I did not bother unraveling the sleeve heads one more time… I just left them and will follow your advice by the dot next time. I am also keen to explore Barbara Walkers’s method.
        What I also realized (as I read your response) is how much I have learned from other people’s blogs. Though I am time poor (who isn’t???), I will make a much bigger effort to explain how I do things, provide charts and instructions, detailed photographs and so forth, to give back… Thank you again, what a great blog you have! Swantje

        1. Hi Swantje! LOL! I’m so glad my response was helpful! I’ve learned a lot as well through others’ blogs and comments. No matter how much I know [or THINK I know! :)], there’s always some new bit of information to be gathered, or some new technique to be considered. We’re fortunate to have so much available at our fingertips! Have a great day! Sue

  4. Just stubbled onto your blog ( via FBook) – have never knit using Top-down method ( looks interesting ) – was looking for some knit inspiration; for my next project. Looks to me like your blog followers are ardent knitters – probably crafters in general! Looking forward to following other posts and comments. travellerON

    1. Thanks for your comment. Top-down knitting has become quite popular. What’s wonderful about it is that you can try the piece on as you go, and make adjustments if necessary to make sure it fits you properly. You’ll never have to worry about whether or not a sweater is too short or too long, since you can just keep knitting until you get to the proper length. Be sure to sign up for my mailing list so you’ll be notified when new patterns or a new blog posting are out. Sue

  5. Where is your post “on how to work short-row shaping in my next blog post.”

    1. I hope to have that post ready around the end of the month. If you’re on the mailing list, you’ll be notified when it’s up.

  6. Sorry to be posting here, but the contact form is not working.

    Im working pattern 105, and its my first sweater. Maybe too ambitious, I know. In any case, right away on armhole shaping, I’m confused:

    It tells me to m1 at each end of RS row. It then goes on to tell me to CO stitches at each end of RS rows, and gives me the number of rows. However, it does not give me a number of rows for the m1 at each end of RS. Am I meant to continue M1 at each end of RS Rows to which I am casting on as well?

    It appears that the stitch count for XL at the end of this part is 110, which is 20 more than the 90 originally cast on.

    With the additional cast ons called for at this part, I will be adding 16 more stitches. I need four more, so am I only meant to M1 for two RS rows, then start doing the cast on? Basically, how many rows are we talking here?

    Confused, hope to hear back soon,

    1. Hi Dorothy,

      Thanks for your email. It sounds like you’re learning how to work a sweater pattern and at the same time, how to work a top-down pattern, so you’re probably coming across some new language. Have you read through my blog entries on how to work a top-down sweater? I think you’ll find that they will be a big help. Here they are in order:,,

      When you begin shaping the armholes, the instructions tell you to “Increase 1 st each side this row, then every RS row once”. So you will increase a total of 2 sts on the first RS row (1 on each side), then 2 sts on the next RS row, for a total of 4 sts increased, and 3 rows worked (RS, WS, RS). Then you will CO 2 sts at each end of the next RS row (so you have to work a WS row first), so that’s 4 sts increased and 2 rows worked (WS, RS) (total so far: 8 sts, 5 rows). Then you CO 3 sts at each end of the next 2 RS rows (work a WS row first), so that’s 12 sts increased and 4 rows worked (WS, RS, WS, RS) (total: 20 sts, 9 rows). Then the instructions tell you to purl 1 row, so that’s 10 rows total.

      Here’s how it looks:

      RS – inc 1 st each side – 92 total sts
      WS – purl
      RS – inc 1 st each side – 94 total sts
      WS – purl
      RS – CO 2 sts each side – 98 total sts
      WS – purl
      RS – CO 3 sts each side – 104 total sts
      WS – purl
      RS – CO 3 sts each side – 110 total sts
      WS – purl

      I hope that clarifies it.

      Best regards,


      Sue McCain
      Basix – Top-Down, Set-in Sleeve Knitting Patterns
      Vermont Fiber Designs

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