Saturday, April 6, 2013

Easing in a Sweater Sleeve

Occasionally when you have a pile of pieces, you realize that some of these are not like the others. And unfortunately you need to sew these things together, even though they obviously do not fit.

This is where the skill of easing in can be a great help.

The key points are:
1.) Know your end points
2.) Don't be afraid of tying everything down
3.) Knits stretch

Before you start easing in the sleeves, sew everything else. Sleeves go in last. You will have a wonky shape if you try to put in the sleeves before  you sew the shoulders, and before you sew the side seams. This is because the shoulders and armpits are the key places for the fit of the sweater.

Here is the problem. You knit the body, and the sleeves, and you go to put them together and they are nothing alike. Sure, the top connects with the top and the bottom with the bottom, but nothing in the middle seems to work.

Sure, you can smoosh them together, but it is pretty obvious that you will need more skill than that.

So you lay the pieces out and decide where the most important joins are. In this case it is the arm pit and the shoulder. If you want additional guidance tying additional places is a good plan. like the middle. Here I chose not to, because it gave me more room to ease in. Also note that these points match the body with no stretching at all. This implies that they do actually fit together even if it does not seem like that right now.

When you are making the pieces, leave nice long tails so you can use them to sew. Using the tails reduces the number of ends you will need to weave in and reduces bulk in key areas, like the shoulder. I used the tail from the sleeve to start sewing, so I am slightly offset from the tie I placed at the top of the shoulder. That is fine, in fact that is why I placed a tie there in the first place.

In this sweater I was told to use whip stitch. Normally patterns call for mattress stitch. Unless another stitch is explicitly called for, mattress stitch should be your default choice.

As I go, I lift and rearrange the sweater and verify that I have approximately the same number of stitches on the top and bottom pieces. If one is getting ahead of the other, I will choose to sew the next stitch instead of the current to gently reduce the number of extra, or sew into one stitch twice to increase.

In the photo above I am transitioning from sewing side stitches to sewing the bound off edges again.

Here the sleeve is about halfway done.It is a bit hard to tell in this photo, but there is not significant distortion between the back which is sewed down (inside shown) and the front which is not. The back is stretched in comparison to the front, but this is fine.

When you get to the shoulder, ball you hand into a fist and use your wrist to hold the sleeve up. This provides a good base to sew the most important part of the sleeve in. It helps to have the shoulder filled out because it is easier to sew when it is in the shape it is going to be when you are done.

Once you reach your tie, untie the waste yarn and continue sewing around the sleeve. Try to avoid breaking the yarn at the shoulder. It is easier to weave in the ends where the weight of the sweater is not hanging.

Ta da! The sleeves are attached, they look good, and most importantly, they look nothing like the funny shaped pieces we started with. I hope this tutorial helps. Please leave any suggestions you have in the comments. I am more than happy to edit and expand.

Take care guys,

Molly : )


  1. Thanks for this!
    I tried crocheting a sweater in pieces like this before, but I had issues getting it all to work together.

    Since then I've stuck to knitted seamless sweaters to avoid the trouble.

    This is really helpful, though, so thank you :)

    1. Awesome! I am glad to hear that. After I went to Vogue Knitting Live, all of my classes convinced me that working a sweater in pieces was the best possible way.

      Molly : )