How To Change The Shape Of A Knitted Sleeve In A Top-Down Sweater

Have you ever found the perfect sweater pattern only to discover that you don’t like the shape of the sleeves? Or maybe you find that standard knitting pattern sleeves don’t fit well, especially in the upper arms? Whichever it is, this ‘how-to’ will help you work out how to change the sleeve decreases to get the perfect fit and the look that you want!

Whichever way you’re planning to adapt the sleeves for your top down garment, it’s a good idea to have finished knitting the body and blocked it, before starting the sleeves. I know this is a pain, especially if you’re keen to get your project finished, but it’s really helpful if you know how the finished body is going to sit on your torso before starting to adjust the sleeves.

How To Narrow Wide Sleeves

If the pattern you want to make has wide sleeves, but that’s not your thing and you’d like to change them, you need to take note of three numbers in order to make them more tapered.

One: write down how many stitches you have at the top of the sleeve (this is probably the number of sleeve stitches on hold plus the number of underarm stitches that are either cast-on or picked-up).

Two: you need to know how many stitches will be in the cuff, again this is probably in the pattern or you might need to work it out: Measure loosely around your wrist, depending on how wide you’d like the cuff to be. Make a note of this number. Now find the stitch gauge from your pattern, let’s say it’s 21 sts per 10cm. To work out how many stitches are in 1cm, divide 10 by 21 = 2.1 sts per 1 cm. Then let’s say that your cuff is going to be 22cm circumference, multiply 2.1 by 22 = 46.2 sts (round this to 46 sts).

Three: the last number you need is the sleeve length in number of rounds, which you could take from the pattern or you might like to check that it’s going to fit first! So with your unfinished sweater on, measure your arm down to your wrist (remember to leave space for the cuff), starting from the underarm of the sweater. Make a note of this number and use it to work out how many rows or rounds this will be. Take a look at the patterns row/round gauge, let’s say it’s 28 rounds per 10cm. To work out how many rounds are in 1cm, divide 10 by 28 = 2.8 rounds per 1 cm. If your sleeve length is 38cm, multiply 2.8 by 38cm = 106.4 rounds (round this to 106 rounds).

Take these three numbers (beginning stitch count, finish stitch count and number of total rounds for the length) and plug them into this calculator (use the bottom one, ignoring what it says about sleeve caps!). It will tell you how many decrease rounds to work, and how many non-decrease rounds to work in-between to achieve the sleeve length that you’d like.

How To Adjust Sleeves for Bigger Upper Arm Circumferences

Often a knitting pattern sleeve has the decreases distributed evenly along the length of the sleeve, but if your upper arms are a similar circumference from your shoulder down to your elbow, then you might prefer to keep the upper arm circumference the same and start the decreases at the elbow working down to the wrist.

You can use roughly the same method as above to calculate the decreases: work out where you’d like the decreases to start (perhaps measure your upper arm in different places to see if the circumference from the pattern is going to fit all the way down your upper arm, or if you want to start the decreases just above the elbow etc) and measure the length of your arm from there down to your wrist (taking into account the cuff). Use the calculation from part 3 above to work out how many rounds this would be.

Then use this measurement, along with the starting stitch count (from where you’d like the decreases to begin), and the finishing stitch count (the one needed for the wrist/cuff), and plug them into the calculator!

How To Create Wider Sleeves or Puff Sleeves

If you’d like to adapt a pattern to have wide sleeves or even puff sleeves, then there’s a few options. Obviously these will all use more yarn than the pattern states so make sure you have enough before you start!

For wide sleeves all the way down, including the cuff, just keep knitting, with no decreases. Think about how the sleeve will finish and whether there will be a cuff to prevent the sleeve rolling back on itself.

For a wide sleeve with a narrower cuff (something a bit less dramatic than a puff sleeve but with a similar feel), you can use the calculation above to work out how many stitches would be in your cuff and then work out how many stitches you’d need to decrease by. Work those decreases (probably k2tog all the way round, for example) on the round just before the cuff starts.

For puff or balloon sleeves you’ll need to increase the number of stitches part way down your forearm, depending on the desired effect this could be doubling the stitches or increasing by one stitch every third stitch, or you could gradually increase either side of the beginning of round marker for several rounds (to find out do a search on Ravelry for free patterns with puff sleeves, and have a dig into the instructions to see what they do and what the effect is!).

These kind of sleeves, usually have some drastic decreasing just before the cuff (either get the stitch count from your pattern or measure your wrist, as above), for example k2tog all the way around, but make sure that the cuff will be the right fit for your wrist before you start.

Looking for further help with sleeve adjustments? Have a look at this blog post about lengthening or shortening effectively for top-down sweaters.

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