Monday, March 31, 2014

Top-Down Sleeve Head Puzzle

I dislike top-down sleeves knitted off of bodice. This is so because I cannot make a neat and tidy pickup row. My stitches are so wonky and unpleasant-looking when I tried. So, I went ahead and attempted to convert top-down instructions into flat instructions. That was when I began wondering. 

The top-down instructions would have you pick up X stitches around the armhole, work short rows starting symmetrically around the shoulder point, and arrive at the underarm with the same number of stitches, X, for the underarm circumference. This seems odd to me unless the armhole size and underarm circumference are the same. Should not we pick up more stitches along the armhole and reduce the stitch count while knitting sleeve head with short rows?

Since I dislike top-down sleeves, I have not paid close attention to this matter in the past. Has anyone seen a top-down sleeve head instruction involving decreasing stitch count?

I knitted my sleeves flat and set them in. They looked okay on a flat surface, but the sleeves had tendency to swing backward on my dress form. Upon inspection, I found out the reason: sleeves were set-in a lot forward than they ought to be, hence swinging backward at sleeve hems. Why did this happen?

My arm holes are made up with four sections: two vertical straight sides, one on stitch holder and another on a white chain cable, and horizontal curved top and bottom. The pattern instructions have you work short-rows around the center of the horizontal curved section, indicating that the shoulder point ought to be there. On my dress form, however, the center of the true sleeve head needs to be located at the top of the vertical armhole section on the back as you can see in the second photo on my previous post.

So, my sleeves were set-in about two inches too forward and lower than the shoulder point on the dress form. No wonder! I must have been blind and failed to think more critically. Had I inspected the bodice carefully without sleeves on the dress form first, I could have noticed the potential problem. Shame.

So, I had to remove the sleeves, and re-set them properly. At least, I did not need to re-knit the entire sleeves.   Here are the final result. 

I love the lightness and warmth of the coat, or the cardigan, not to mention the color!   The ribbed cable is really nice looking on both inside and outside. 


  1. I've successfully knit sleeves downward and it worked fine.

    You don't need more stitches around the armhole. When you knit a sleeve from the cuff upwards, do you add stitches above the armhole? No, you bind off stitches gradually, forming a diagonal. That gives you the extra length around the armhole to set in the sleeve smoothly. Take a look at a sewing pattern for a t-shirt to prove it to yourself.

    1. Grace, I know the method works, not very well for me. I also know that stitches are not added at sleeve head when knitted bottom up. However, I know of no patterns which say you need to use a specific number of mattress stitches to set sleeves in where the number happens to be the stitch count at underarm. There are factors which makes this particular top-down sleeve method works: short-rows add to the length somewhat and knitted fabrics are stretchy, accommodating the difference between armhole length and upper arm circumference.

  2. Not sure if this will help but I recently used this tutorial and it worked.

    1. Sandra, thanks for the link. I have seen several videos on this method and I find it interesting. It is my personal preference. I know the merit, but my previous attempts were not successful. Mine turned out wonky, possibly loosely picked-up stitches. Always there are more to learn out there.