It's no secret amongst my knitting friends that I love knitting sleeves, seriously LOVE them. Apparently, this is a fairly unpopular perspective and I'm constantly surprised to hear so many knitters say they hate knitting sleeves!
Sleeves are seriously awesome to knit, they're quick and mindless. If you knit them on small circumference circulars, as I do, it's just a case of knitting around and around and around, and they grow sooo fast. Particularly in comparison to the body of a garment. The feeling of having slogged away at the body of a garment for what feels like forever, and then finally you come to the sleeves, and it seems like the end is in sight; that is such a great feeling! Tuck your knitting under your arm and you can knock off those sleeves anywhere.
However, I do get that some people don't like knitting sleeves, they find the whole process of picking up stitches along the armholes a bit daunting. The feel taunted by those holes that occur and seem to see them as a failing of their knitting skills. They're not. They are a reality for most seamless knitters, but they don't have to be.
I believe it is possible to pick up stitches along the armhole and not have holes. And not have to darn.
I wrote a blog post about this whole process for the Gidday Baby KAL earlier this year, but if you didn't join us for that KAL you may not have read it, so I'm going to go over it again here as it's one of the most common complaints I hear about seamless knitting. Those bloody underarm holes.
Using my technique your underarm will look like the one pictured at top. That's before any ends are weaved in. Excellent hey!
There are some subtle differences that I like to work on my sleeves to help set them up for perfect underarms. The main one being that on the separation row for the sleeves and the body, I work a kfab either side of those sleeves stitches that are slipped to waste yarn. If you're working a raglan, this just means you continue the raglan shaping right down into the separation row, if you're working a circular yoke, you just add those kfabs in there as if you were working a raglan.
PICKING UP THOSE PESKY UNDERARM STITCHES
When it comes to picking up the underarm stitches, remember, there is nothing to fear. In fact, if you get it wrong the first time, it's super simple to pull them out and have another go.
My approach to picking up underarm stitches does differ from some designers. I think the underarm pickup should be the complete process, I don't believe you should have to darn holes under the arm as part of the finishing process. That to me, is not great workmanship and no matter how neat you darn it always looks a bit, well, not so neat. Part of the problem, I believe is that patterns generally don't direct you to pick up enough stitches. Usually it's the same number as you've cast on under the arm, but that is not enough to close any gaps. Depending on whether I'm knitting a raglan or a circular yoke I might pick up anywhere between three and five stitches more than I cast on under the arm. This helps to close up any gaps and eliminate any unsightly holes. You can apply this approach to any pattern.
Need a little refresher on picking up stitches?
Here's a great link for picking up along a cast on/off edge:
When you're picking up stitches, make sure you pick up through the V of each stitch around the underarm, picking up through two strands of yarn. The yarn on your needle should look like this when you're picking up.
Generally, when you're picking up these stitches if you pick up around to the stitch marked by the kfab you'll have the correct number. You'll recognise this stitch as it's the last obvious one to pick up. If you look closely it looks a bit different, a bit tighter and you can see the bump caused by the kfab.
Sometimes though, this will leave you one stitch short of the required number to pick up. This will be the case for the 15" size, you still have to pick up one more stitch. You can pick up this stitch anywhere in the gap between the last picked up stitch and the needle, remembering to choose a smaller space to pick up through. What I do sometimes, however, is a little unconventional, but it works.
Imagine I've picked up around all the underarm stitches, (you need to imagine it, because unfortunately this photo below doesn't show those picked up stitches). There is still one stitch to be picked up. I've marked the stitch I pick up with a stitch marker. Note that I've marked the right leg of the stitch and it is the stitch next to the one on the needle.
I slip this right leg back onto the left needle and knit it. Unconventional? Yes. Effective? Yes.
What I've shown you here is two different ways to pick up an extra stitch either side of the underarm stitches to help close gaps. You can choose either one, or use a mix of both like I do. It doesn't matter how you approach it, as long as you close up those gaps. As I've said before, there is no right or wrong way, just different techniques that may work better for some people. Play around with the way you approach this, if when you've picked up the stitch there's an obvious hole pull it off and try again.
In the first round of knitting the sleeve stitches, you will notice that you knit a ssk and a k2tog. These also help with closing those underarm gaps, and are really the third step in the process. In this instance, I always slip both stitches of the ssk knit-wise.
CONFIDENCE WITH UNDERARM STITCHES
Is fabulous thing to have and super great for creating great FOs. If you feel confident with your underarm stitches, I'm sure you'll grow to love knitting sleeves a little more, because seriously there's no greater feeling than absolutely nailing that perfect underarm. It's one of those crack for knitters moments. Like knitting with Noro.
Finishing sleeves properly is all part of creating a FO that you'll be happier with, one where you're proud of it rather than always being that little bit conscious of that tiny thing wrong with it that only you can notice.
Sleeves that are finished properly are a thing of beauty. Don't you agree?
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Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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