The Yarnologue

Knitting Top Down Sleeves

I’m very happy I took the plunge to figure out how to knit the sleeves of my Kayleen Pullover top down. Knitting the sleeves top down has been both quick and fairly easy. I feel confident saying that if you’ve turned a sock heel, you can knit a sleeve top down! IMG_4571First, after starting the sleeves last week, I decided that maintaining the ridge on the front was the way to go. Our Instagram followers agreed the ridge was better since it echoes the cabled around the neckline. With that decision out of the way I got down to the business of knitting the sleeve.

The sleeve cap is formed using short rows. You start by picking up stitches around the armhole. Place a marker after the bound off stitches for the underarm, another one at the top center where the shoulder seam is, and third one before the next set of bound off stitches. You round begins in the middle of the underarm.

When it came to determining how many stitches to pick up, I followed my instincts and the formula Maggie Righetti provides in her book “Sweater Design in Plain English”. If you’re interested in designing or adjusting sweaters you should look for a copy at your local yarn store.

I was able to comfortably pick up 54 sts around the armhole opening. The most sleeve stitches my size has is 56, so I was pretty pleased. (I’m making the smallest size of the Kayleen Pullover from the Summer 2014 issue of Interweave Knits magazine.)

Based on Righetti’s formula, I knit to the shoulder seam, knit seven more stitches, and then wrapped and turned. For the second row I purled back to the seam, purled seven more stitches, then wrapped and turned.

With my two pivot points established it was a simple matter of working back and forth, increasing my rows by one stitch each time. I picked up the wraps and worked them with the stitch as I passed them. I worked in this manner until I reached the markers for the bound off stitches.

Just like that, I had a sleeve! IMG_4576Of course, your numbers will vary depending on your project. That’s why I suggest you look up the book for guidance.

After finishing the short row shaping, I knit a few inches in the round to get the sleeve to the correct length. Then I tackled the notch.

In the pattern the sleeves are worked flat. The notch is created by knitting the two sides and then connecting them. I did my best to replicate it by binding off two stitches in the center then decreasing on either side of it on right/public side rows.

As a result of the bind off, I ended up working the bottom of the sleeve flat.  IMG_4579The next challenge was figuring out how to combine an I-Cord bind off, on the live stitches, with an applied I-Cord, in the notch. That took a day of contemplation.

My working yarn was on the left side of the notch. I could either work across it on a right side row, or turn and work a wrong side row. Finally, I decided the best course of action was to span the notch by picking up stitches along the sides. That allowed me to work an I-cord bind off all the way around. IMG_4592I used Kitchener stitch to connect the two ends of the I-cord. To keep myself on track, I used a second double pointed needle to pick up stitches at the start of the I-cord.

IMG_4596Being at the corner helps hide the join, too.

Now I just have to knit the second sleeve, work the applied I-cord on the neckline, and weave in ends. It’s very exciting when a sweater is so close to being finished!

Here’s a preview from when I was testing the sleeve length. I’m really pleased with the fit!



  1. Very nice!

  2. I find sleeves easy to do because I have done toe up socks. Two at a time so I pick up required numbers of stitches and then do the sleeves together, easy they match and are exactly the same length. Yes it seems they take forever to do but in the long run it’s worth it.

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