How to Knit a Sweater Sleeve

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If you know how to knit, purl, increase and decrease, you can knit a sweater sleeve.
If you know how to knit, purl, increase and decrease, you can knit a sweater sleeve. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Knitting a sweater's sleeves is not as challenging as it may look. Start with a simple rolled-edge sleeve and knit a basic set-in sleeve. You learn the mechanics of sleeve and shoulder shaping, skills that you can adapt to other sweaters in the future. Develop your skills further by learning how to increase and decrease stitches in two different ways. Once you get to the top of the sleeve's cap you bind off the few remaining stitches. Make the other sleeve, sew both of them to the sweater's body at the shoulders, and your sweater is nearly complete.

Things You'll Need

  • 900 yards worsted weight yarn
  • Straight knitting needles US size 6
  • Straight knitting needles US size 7

Cast on 38 stitches for a small sweater using the size 6 needles and the yarn. Knit five rows in stockinette stitch. Change to the size 7 needles and knit three rows of stockinette stitch ending with a wrong-side row.

Knit the first stitch. Make a backward loop from the yarn and slip it on to the right-hand needle as your first increase stitch. Knit across the row until there are two stitches left. Knit into the front and back of the next-to-last stitch to make the other increase stitch, then knit the last one in the row. Work the next 7 rows in stockinette stitch. Repeat these two steps another 8 times. You should have 58 stitches.

Knit in stockinette stitch without increasing until the sleeve is 17 inches long from where you cast on. Bind off three stitches at the beginning of the next two rows. You should have 52 stitches.

Knit the first stitch of the next right-side row. Decrease over the next two stitches by slipping the next two stitches from the left-hand needle to the right-hand needle. Knit them together. This is a slip-slip-knit, abbreviated as "ssk." The decrease will lean to the left. Knit across the row to the last three stitches. Knit the next two stitches together, abbreviated as "K2tog." This stitch will lean to the right. Knit the last stitch. This is your decrease row. Purl the next row. Repeat the decrease row and the purl row 11 times. You should have 28 stitches left.

Bind off three stitches at the beginning of the next four rows. Bind off the remaining 16 stitches. Cut the yarn and fasten it off. Make a second sleeve like the first one.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cast on 10 percent fewer stitches with the smaller needles and work 2 inches of knit-one, purl-one ribbing. Change to the larger needles and work the rest of the sleeve as usual.
  • Always work the ssk decrease at the beginning of the row and the K2tog at the end. The decreases will be in matched pairs pointing to the shoulder seam. This is a "full-fashioned decrease," one of the signs of an experienced knitter. Knit the first two stitches of increase and decrease rows rather than working a single stitch as many patterns direct. Raglan sleeves and other types are made much like a simple set-in sleeve. The only difference is in how often you decrease the top of the sleeves.

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