Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sleeve Caps, Sleeves and Short Rows (Oh My!)

Let me talk briefly about inserting sleeves into the Chuck Sweater (which is done by picking up and knitting the existing armhole stitches). I knitted the arms in size small, though I modified the bodice in such a way that I have a few extra stitches at the underarms (3 extra at each armhole). It worked fine. I really encourage you to take your time picking up those stitches. I drew numerous diagrams (you know how I like to plan) but still ended up ripping out each first attempt a couple of times. I'm glad I did that because the final result was more evenly-spaced stitches for better sleeve insertion.

What Exactly Is the Sleeve Cap?

It's the area of flat descent from the top of the sleeve, right from the sleeve head at the shoulder, facilitated by short rows. Those short rows allow you to create a sleeve that will run perpendicular to the shoulders. Just think: if you were to knit a tube off of the side of each armhole (i.e. no short row, sleeve cap shaping), you'd have a very weird and bulky underarm and a sleeve that would just pop out from the side of the bodice at the arm hole, at a 90 degree angle. The sleeve would not be able fall towards the waist without wrinkling at the underarm.

Enacting the short row shaping to produce the sleeve cap, which is done simply by applying a wrap and turn technique (lots of info out there), is not so tough to understand. Let's deconstruct it using the dimensions of the small as an example.

The Chuck pattern advises picking up 54 stitches from the entire round of arm hole (that's about 1 stitch every 2 or 3). As the arm hole is symmetrical, that means, at the top of the sleeve at the shoulder seam, one must have 27 stitches (54 divided by 2). At the bottom, one must have 54 stitches (Stitch 54 is right next to stitch 1 at the bottom of the arm hole).  Let's pretend that "one" is actually "you". At this point, you'll need to knit your next row, starting at stitch 1, just till you get to stitch 31 (4 stitches past the shoulder seam). Then, wrap the next stitch, turn around, and purl 8 stitches in the opposite direction (i.e. 4 stitches before the shoulder seam or stitch 23).  After this, wrap and turn on the next stitch, the one to the left (the ninth back if you're thinking about the numbers in terms of the going backwards from stitch 31 AKA 5 stitches before the shoulder seam AKA stitch 22 if you want to view this from the bottom of the work i.e. stitch 1). And, as the instructions direct, just keep wrapping one stitch further out than the last, and then turning, till your short-rowed crescent of a sleeve cap grows to encompass almost the entire sleeve opening.

It's important to know that you are knitting a symmetrical, originally 8-stitch wide, but ever growing crescent by moving out one stitch on either side of the top of the shoulder till you get to the instructed, designated end point: 1 stitch before your cap markers. (Note: I didn't mention these markers before now, so as not to confuse things.) For your info, you're instructed at the outset to place the markers 5 stitches on either side of the base of the armhole i.e. after stitch 5 and before stitch 49. You'll understand this once you're actually working the sleeves.

The idea is that you use short rows to knit the sleeve cap (really, the sleeve till it almost gets to the bottom of the armhole) in a little half moon shape, where the outer crescent attaches first to the shoulder (and then extends to the side seams as you increase its size). Yeah, it's weird that you knit a good third of the entire sleeve as one modified row (which is what a short row is, really). But, hey, if it works...

I really struggled with this at first because I didn't understand the purpose. (See above). Then I struggled cuz I didn't understand the specific impact what I was instructed to do. I couldn't visualize it so it was a scary undertaking.

Admittedly, short rows take many different forms, this is just one of them. But now you can see how they work to make a nice symmetrical crescent to facilitate the perfect, vertical fall of the sleeve from the shoulder.


Does this make any sense? Or should I make sure not to quit my day job in favour of a technical writing career??

10 comments:

  1. This makes sense to me. But then I've done short rows before when knitting the heel of a sock. I was a bit confused before doing it and once I saw it happening (luckily the pattern I was using explained what to do really well) I was amazed and suddenly understood. They're super clever things!

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    1. A good pattern is worth its weight in gold!

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  2. Yep. Makes sense to me. And I think it would be really useful if more designers explained the concept rather than simply gave the short-row instructions. It can be -- as you say -- really uncomfortable to proceed on faith. You explain the concept and the process really clearly.

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  3. I have to do short rows on my Milena cardigan! Eep! I can do it! Your explanation makes sense. Although of course a picture is worth 1000 words. Now that's how I find understanding! I need to watch that free Craftsy course on short rows. Thanks for the heads up on that :)

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    1. I know a pic is most useful. In truth, the Fit Your Knits course is more useful on short rows in sweaters. But it's not free.

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  4. My first sweater (by the same pattern writer, no less) used the same short row technique to put in the sleeves. It confused the shit out of me at first, but now I think it's totally brilliant - knitting in a sleeve cap! GENIUS. And the sleeves wear so beautifully, I love it. Hate knitting short rows, though ;)

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    1. It's not so bad once you do all of the thinking, right? Then it's just a fussy technical thing that ends soon enough and looks awesome.

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  5. As Johanna hinted at, I'd love to see a picture of the sleeve cap you've created. I think I'm following your explanation. I'll have to find a place to try it out.

    Lois K

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    1. Hi Lois: This post http://line4line.blogspot.ca/2012/09/what-doesnt-kill-us-makes-us-stronger.html shows a shot of the finished sleeve from the side so that you can see the impact of the sleeve cap. I'm not likely to post pics of the short rows in action (too labour intensive for me to do at this time), but this is an excellent post to describe things visually: http://techknitting.blogspot.ca/2009/10/short-rows-method.html

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