Sunday, April 28, 2013

A new way to make wider sleeves

I picked up "The Best of Threads - Fitting" at Joann Fabrics yesterday to learn more about customizing sewing patterns. I've got my brain wrapped around custom-fitted knitting, but knitted fabric is so forgiving with it's two-way stretch. It's not the same with woven fabrics.

For example, if your sleeve is a bit tight, knitting will accommodate the additional girth (within reason, of course). But if you're making a woven cotton shirt and the sleeves are too narrow, you soon risk becoming the Incredible Hulk.

While perusing the new Fitting magazine, I discovered a fabulous tip about making larger sleeves. I often have to upsize sleeves to accommodate my large upper arms. In the past, I have added the additional inches to the sleeve's side seams and and have tapered up from the wrist.
Then I've made similar mods to the sweaters underarms, both increasing the underarm side seams and making the sleeve cap a bit longer.

But with this new technique, it's possible to enlarge a sleeve without making any changes to the armscye or the underarm bindoffs. And it puts the fabric right where you need it, around the widest part of your arm rather than in your armpit. 
With this method, assuming you're knitting the sleeve from the bottom up, cast on for the sleeve as prescribed. When you are perhaps three inches before the elbow, figure out the middle stitch on the sleeve and then place markers one stitch to the right of the center stitch and then one stitch to the left, as shown here.

Then on the next right side row, add increases inside the markers.

 Before long,you're creating a wedge of fabric that runs up the center of the outside sleeve.

Carry on this way until your reach the underarms bindoffs and then begin decreasing in the same way but at a faster pace (meaning making the decreases at shorter intervals) to remove the extra stitches. By the middle of the sleeve cap, you should be back to the number of stitches specified in the pattern. Throughout this process, you can otherwise follow the pattern exactly as knitted, except for including this additional wedge of fabric.

To look at it another way, assume you folded the sleeve lengthwise. This image shows the original sleeve as designed; the widening of the sleeve at the seams; and the widening of the sleeves  by adding a wedge of fabric on the outer sleeve. 

This technique will work best on a stockinette or garter stitch sleeves; on highly cabled or colorwork sleeves, the increases/decreases  would likely break the cables or colorwork.

I haven't tried this technique yet but I will on the next sweater I make. I'll blog about it then so stayed tuned.


  1. I like it!

    I think it would work on a sleeve with a centre cable, just do the shaping on either side of the cable.

    It reminds me of waist shaping, which we don't do at the seam anymore either.

    This is a revelation, and I predict you've just changed the way plus sized knitters make there sleeves.

    1. Thanks, Laurie! The sewing article said to cut the sleeve pattern piece down the middle, added the additional room, and sew it back up. But I took one look at the sewing pattern graphics and realized this was a great possibility. Now to try it out!

    2. Wow, what a great and simple idea! Thanks for sharing, can't wait to try it out.

  2. Love it!!!!

    purplepenguin on Ravelry

  3. I sewed my clothes for years and struggled with the upper arm adjustment. It just never worked much so I stopped sewing. Seeing this new technique is just enough of a temptation to try again. Thanks!!

  4. Julie, thanks for sharing this tip and adding your wonderful illustrations. This way of increasing looks like it should result in a much better fit around the bust/arm hole area, as well as around the upper arm.

  5. Oh, this is brilliant in its simplicity. I shall certainly be trying this on the sweater I'm currently knitting. Thanks so much for sharing it, and explaining it so well.
    aneccentricbounce on ravelry

  6. So timely! Thinking about my next KAL over on the Kathy Zimmerman group, and the sweater I have picked out is a bit too small at the upper arm, and this seems like a great solution instead of widening the sleeve the usual way and then dealing with sleeve cap issues. I plan to change the all-over lace of the sleeve to a panel of lace, so I'd have to figure out where else to put the increases (I guess on each side of the panel?), but this sure does seem a lot safer than trying to do all that math.

    Great find! Thanks!


  7. Whoohoo! This will be just the ticket to allow me to finish the Vitamin D cardi that's been languishing since last fall. Gorgeous yarn, fits well and drapes beautifully in the body, but the upper arms have the potential to be sausage casings.

    What a relevation this technique could be! Now to figure out how to do it top-down -- it should be a simple matter of reversing the increases and decreases.

    You may have profoundly changed how I knit sleeves. Say goodbye to bulky underarm fabric!

  8. Brilliant! Love it. Thanks for sharing your find.

  9. This is a great breakthrough in sleeve shaping. Excellent idea. And it's so easy to work too.

  10. what an exiting advancement , who'd have guessed vertical bust darts could be used in other areas...

  11. this is good! I can use this. Even at my thinnest (135 pounds?) many many moons ago, I always had larger arms. and even though a small/medium sweater would fit, it would always be a bit snug in the upper arm. now that I am...umm ahem...a bit larger than I was 30 years ago, the issue is even bigger, pun intended. I've just started knitting about a year ago, and so far, every sweater/pull-over I've made, are always a tad too small in the upper arm. so this is golden advice, thanks for sharing!!!

  12. I miss you updates,gal! I know I'm not the only one.

  13. Julie, I am totally gobsmacked by how well this worked! Thank you, thank you, thank you! For my Cypress Cardigan I needed to add 10 stitches to make the biceps area fit properly. I added 2 stitches every 8 rows and then worked even to the armhole bind offs. The decreases were done 2 stitches every 4 rows. All was completed by mid-cap for a beautiful sleeve.

  14. How exciting! Could you send me a photo or if you're on Rav, could you send me a link to your project? I'm anxious to see how it turned out!

    1. I'm just finishing up the neckband. I will notify you when it's up on Ravelry. I also plan to put it on Fit to Flatter group.