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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.

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Anatomy of a Top-Down Set-In Sleeve Sweater

Top-down set-in-sleeve sweaters are becoming increasingly popular, but many knitters are unfamiliar with their construction. I thought it would be helpful to explain how this type of sweater is worked, and to offer illustrations that will make it more easy to understand. This first post will be about working the back and front, and an additional post on working the body and sleeves will follow.

Working the Back

In most top-down set-in-sleeve patterns, you will begin by casting on stitches for the back of the sweater. If there won’t be any back neck shaping, then you will cast on all the stitches that you will need for the crossback (the total width of the back at the shoulders), which includes both shoulders and the neck.

If the pattern calls for back neck shaping, then you will cast on stitches for each shoulder (working with a separate ball of yarn for each shoulder), and will work the neck shaping given in the pattern. On the final row of neck shaping, you will work across the left shoulder stitches (the left shoulder as you would wear the piece is the first shoulder you work on when the right side of the back is facing you – patterns usually refer to right and left as you’re wearing the piece, not as the piece is facing you), cast on a number of stitches for the center of the neck (assuming that this is a round neck—a v-neck may not have a center stitch to cast on), then continuing with the same ball of yarn and cutting the second ball, join the right shoulder stitches and work across them to the end.

Whether you worked back neck shaping or not, you will continue to work back and forth on all the crossback stitches until you reach the length given in the pattern.

At this point, you will begin shaping the left and right armholes. This usually begins with increases worked at each armhole edge (i.e., at the beginning and end of the row) on every right-side row. Depending on the pattern, you may then follow the increases with a number of 2- or 3-stitch cast-ons. When you have completed the armhole shaping as given in the pattern, you will cut the yarn and place the completed back on waste yarn. Or if you have a spare circular needle of the same size (you can use a shorter one as long as all the stitches fit on it), you can just leave the stitches on the spare needle and start working on the front with a separate needle of the same size. (You could also use a smaller size circular needle as a holder for the back stitches, as long as you remember not to knit with it, since that would change your gauge.)




Working the Front

Once the back is completed and the stitches are placed on hold, it’s time to work the front. The pattern calls for you to pick up the front stitches from the stitches that were cast on when you first began to work the back; make sure you don’t pick up stitches from the stitches that you cast on for the armholes, nor from the back stitches on hold. If you worked neck shaping for the back neck. then you will probably be instructed to pick up 1 stitch in each of the stitches that you cast on for each shoulder. If you had no back neck shaping, but cast on stitches for the entire crossback at one time, then you will need to count in from each side (armhole) edge and place a marker to mark the end of the shoulder stitches (and the sides of the neck). For the right front, you will pick up the shoulder stitches from the side (armhole) edge to the first marker with one ball of yarn. For the left front, you will join a second ball and pick up stitches from the second marker to the armhole edge. Now you should have the front shoulder stitches on the needle, ready to work front neck shaping.

At this point, it doesn’t really matter whether you are working a pullover or a cardigan. You will be working back and forth on each side of the front until the required neck shaping is complete (where you’ll join the fronts for a pullover), or until the length at which you are to begin armhole shaping (in the case of a very deep neckline).

If you are working a shallow neckline, then you are likely to complete all the required neck shaping before beginning the armhole shaping. If you are working a pullover, you will cast on stitches for the center of the neck and join the pieces as you did for the back. If you are working a cardigan, you will continue working back and forth on the separate fronts. In either case, you will work back and forth until the required length at which you begin the armhole shaping. Then you’ll shape the armhole as you did for the back. Cut the yarn attached to the right front if you’re working split fronts.

Note that in the case of a deep neckline, the neck shaping may not be completed until well after the front and back have been joined; if that is the case, keep careful count of how many neck increases you have made. In my Basix patterns, I give you the number of stitches that you will have by the time your armhole shaping is complete; your numbers should match mine if your row gauge exactly matches mine, and your measurements exactly match mine. However, you may find that your numbers don’t match mine exactly; they might be off by a few stitches. Don’t let that worry you. If you have a slightly different row gauge from what the pattern called for, or if you measurements are slightly different from mine, that can easily cause you to work more or fewer neck increases by the time you complete the armhole shaping. The important thing is to make sure that your total number of neck increases matches mine when the neck shaping is complete.




I hope this gives you a better understanding of how a top-down set-in-sleeve sweater is put together. My next post will talk about working the body and sleeves.