Knitting a Top Down Sweater: Dividing for Sleeves

When you are knitting a top down sweater like a yoke or raglan pattern, after you complete the shoulders and top of bust, you will separate the sleeve stitches from the body stitches. The sleeve stitches will be held unworked as you finish the body down to the waist.

Joining the front and back of body creating a sleeve

In the Fireworks pattern by Olive Knits, at the beginning of the round you will work a few extra stitches before you separate the body and sleeves. This is because your BOR (beginning of round) is at the top of the shoulder and you must first work to the stitches that will be under the arm. Where you place your first marker is going to be the new BOR. Then you will continue by working a certain number of stitches for the front, slipping the appropriate number of stitches for one arm PURLWISE onto waste yarn, adding a few stitches under the arm, working a certain number of stitches for the back (this brings the front and back together), slipping stitches purlwise for the other arm, adding stitches for under the other arm, and joining the back to the front.

For other top down patterns, the process is the same, but the position of the BOR will change the process a little. A well written pattern will give exact numbers of stitches to work and slip and in what order.

Most patterns suggest holding sleeve stitches on waste yarn. But if you have extra cables you can use those instead. It is important that you use a generous length of waste yarn or a long cable so it will be easy for you to try on your sweater. That’s one of the big advantages of making a top down sweater!

To slip stitches to waste yarn, you will need a tapestry needle and a generous length of waste yarn. (See images below) I recommend using a contrasting yarn in a lighter weight than your work. Thread your waste yarn on your tapestry needle, but don’t knot it. Slip stitches PURLWISE onto the tapestry needle the same way you would slip them from the left to the right needle. Continue working your stitches down your waste yarn, but don’t let them fall off the other end! When you have the appropriate number of stitches slipped for one sleeve, tie the ends of your waste yarn together so you don’t drop the stitches. Be sure to leave plenty of room for you to try on your sweater.

If you are using cable needles, use any needle size smaller than what you are knitting with. This keeps from stretching your stitches and changing the gauge. Slip stitches PURLWISE from the left needle to the new cable being careful to not let them slip off the other end. Secure your needles together so stitches won’t fall off as you are working the body. Be sure to use a cable long enough to allow you to try on your sweater!

My favorite way to hold sleeve stitches is on an interchangeable cable so the needles don’t get in the way. For this technique, you will need:

  • an extra cable long enough to allow you to try on your sweater
  • a needle any size smaller than what you are knitting with
  • something to secure your cable, like a connection piece or stoppers

Attach the needle to one end of the cable and a connection piece or a stopper to the other end. Slip your stitches PURLWISE as described. Then replace the needle with the other end of the connection piece or the other stopper.

After your sleeves are separated from the body, you are ready to work the rest of the body! You will come back to the sleeves after the body is complete.

Find more details on the Fireworks KAL here.

Slipping stitches purlwise onto waste yarn
Backward loop cast on under the arm
Add marker between 2 cast on stitches to mark the center under the arm
Materials for holding stitches on an interchangeable needle cable
Slipping stitches onto a cable

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