Skill + 1UP

Today’s topic for the Second Annual Knitting and Crochet Blog Week is a new skill that I’ve developed over the past year.

This year has been a good year for my color work skills, but it has been an even better year for my sweater design skills because I finally figured out how to work seamless set in sleeves.


This summer I bought a bunch of books on sweater design and I checked out anything I could find from the library that I thought might help my design skills. I understood how seamless raglans worked, but I really wanted to be able to make seamless set in sleeves. There is something about set in sleeves that just looks less home-made and more hand-made to me, if you know what I mean. Set in sleeves look more polished to me, but seamed set in sleeves don’t work well with my style of knitting. Everything has to be really precise and it’s not clear if it will work until it is completely finished and seamed. I have to knit almost all of my sweater parts at least twice to get them right and I like to try things on and make changes so seamed set in sleeves weren’t going to work for me. I knew that seamless set in sleeves were possible so I got reading so I could learn how to make them.


I read a lot of design books and I finished none of them. Many of them didn’t really go into seamless knitting. A lot of them only mentioned raglans and round yoked sweaters. One of them mentioned that you could work a set in sleeve using short rows, but they didn’t explain anything more than that. They had a lot of fit and proportion information that is useful if you have a good enough understanding of design to apply them to seamless knits, but I didn’t at the time. That’s not entirely what stopped me from finishing any of the books.

Sweater design books, especially the older ones, really really really piss me off. They’re all about making a custom fitted sweater for your body, which is fine and dandy, but they all seem to assume that you hate your body (I don’t) and that you want to cover it up and hide it (I don’t). I kept running into that attitude over and over! There were so many tips like to add positive ease so no one can see your lumps and bumps or to add strategically placed stitch patterns or color work to create optical illusions so no one can see your unsightly imperfect waist. They focused so much on the knitter’s flaws and hiding them, but they barely wrote about embracing the features the knitter likes and how to show them off. I really wanted to slap the authors. I had to put up with this on top of the fact that these books didn’t have all the information I needed.


I finally found out how to construct seamless set in sleeves in a pattern book, not a design book. I had a copy of Custom Knits by Wendy Bernard and in the back it explains all the techniques it uses so you can customize your sweaters. It explained the concept clearly and without insulting me! It was amazing! Some stuff wasn’t entirely clear to me, but the book is full of patterns so I could consult them to see the technique in action. It was a perfect combination.

Now I can knit seamless set in sleeves! I love them. They still take me a couple tries to get right, but they’re worth it. The funny thing is those sleeves that are in pattern took me two tries to get right and the stockinette ones took five. Knitting can be weird like that.

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27 responses to “Skill + 1UP”

  1. Great post! I’ve tried out seamless set-in sleeves recently for the first time and thought they were great! I still haven’t finished the project due to some sizing issues, but I loved loved loved the technique.

  2. Reading this post has made me straight away add ‘Custom Knits’ to the top of my Amazon wishlist! I love a hearty recommendation of a knitting book, especially those that not only have a good selection of patterns but which might also teach us something.

    I would also hint at the fact that as there doesn’t seem to be an adequate modern book on sweater design that, as you say, gives balance to the positive things that we should enjoy about both our bodies and our knits that it will take a young, classy budding designer and excellent writer to write one. After you’ve finished university, of course ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. I haven’t tried seamless set-in sleeves yet, but I do love how they look. I really enjoyed this post and I love your lace sweaters!

  4. Hi Andi,
    I really enjoyed this post…thank you! I am adding you to my blogroll … will be visiting often ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. You’ve definitely mastered the set-in sleeve. I have not tried this yet, but I’ve only made a few sweaters and only finished one worth wearing. In due time, I suppose.

  6. Great post, I also will be adding Custom Knits to my Amazon wishlist.

    PS – Once you’ve written your book, I’ll buy it.
    PPS – What’s the not-Alice sweater pictured in this post? Is it a current design-in-progress? I love it ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It’s a sweater that I knit this winter. It’s sort of still a design-in-progress, though. I’m working on putting a pattern together for it.

  7. Custom Knits is awesome, I agree!! your seamless set in sleeves look amazing.

  8. wow, I didn’t know seamless set-in sleeves were possible! I’m all about seamless (can’t stand having to sew parts together and will avoid patterns that require it) so I must investigate this further ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I think it’s great that you took the time to look through lots of different design books to help you find ideas and solutions. Interesting that so many of them focus on how to hide your flaws – not something I would’ve thought of as being such a major part of the design message. Glad you found the set-in sleeve method that works for you.

  10. Thank you for your post and for the great book info! I love set-in sleeves too.

  11. That is one of my pet-peeves as well. Not everyone who is a knitter needs to hide their body. I mean – I have a waist and I’d like to showcase it, thankyouverymuch!

  12. I’m impressed with your perseverance ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. An excellent, fresh viewpoint (and thanks for the book recommendation).

    You might like another two, from a place you’d least expect: the big girl knit series (Big Girl Knits and More Big Girl Knits). Both spend considerable content time (at the front of each book) doing nothing but talking about measurements and techniques to make what one crafts look good on the body one has. It’s a slight twist, but nary an insult to be found.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion! I haven’t really looked at those two because I’m just about a size too small for the patterns in them. I’ll have to see if I can find them at the library.

  14. I’m all about set-in sleeves, and I usually work them with short rows from the top down — which I assume is your method too. I learned from our good friend Barbara Walker, since Wendy Bernard makes me want to vomit.

    Here’s my question — have you figured out how to work set-in sleeves top-down, simultaneously with the body??? I would love to knit sweaters that act like raglans — cast on, work down, separate for sleeves, etc — since bottom-up sweaters never fit me as I want them to. I haven’t tried very hard, but I can’t come up with a good way to work this out. Any ideas?

    1. I’ve read about working them that way. If I remember correctly, you’d start the front and the back and when you have enough of the shoulders knit, you’d pick up stitches along the sides for the top of the sleeve cap. After that you work the sleeve cap shaping simultaneously with the body like a raglan. I haven’t tried it myself because all of the pictures I’ve seen with that method have little funny corners where the sleeve meets the shoulders. There was a series of articles by Jared Flood in Vogue Knitting in 2009 about going seamless that mentions that technique I think.

      1. Interesting … thanks for the tip. I’ve been wanting to try out something like the method you describe. I’ll check out the Vogue article!

  15. I wish I could knit anything more complex than a square, you’re so talented!
    From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

  16. I’ve been a frequent visitor to your blog and am always in awe of your experimental nature. Sweaters are scary to me, and yet here you are, cranking out one beautiful design after another, and looking for ways to leap out from the norm each time! Thank you for sharing your process with us ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Custom Knits is one of my favorite knitting books. I’ve never made a single project from it, but I’ve consulted it for almost every other sweater I’ve made! I agree that so many ‘design-your-own-sweater’ manuals are very body-negative, and I don’t understand the motivations … if people really hate their bodies that much, I doubt they want to design sweaters for themselves. Thankfully Wendy Bernard never gives off that vibe! (and neither do you!)

  18. LOVE the shaping on that mustard sweater–looks like bust and waist shaping in one cool under-arm panel thing!

  19. I love that sweater! I too am beginning to read up on how patterns are designed. I have and LOVE the Wendy Bernard book. It is a definite knitter’s must have. It has helped me so much. Love the blog, I will be back. You inspire me!!!

  20. Holy moley, I love that goldenrod color — that sweater is amazing!

  21. I’d say that becoming a knitwear designer is more like a + 10UP! I’m loving your designs, I really want to do your Miette!

  22. I haven’t tackled customizing garments to your size, but it’s interesting to see your comments on hiding your shape through customizing patterns. And I’ve heard great things about Custom Knits by Wendy Bernard so I got the book to get more of an idea about sweater knitting techniques. Glad to hear that it really is a good investment.

  23. There are two techniques, that to me make a handknitted project a thing to behold. One of them is the icord bind-off. The other is the seamless set-in sleeve. Just yesterday I was looking on ravelry for a pattern for one – alas, very very thin on the ground.

    I think your designs have the potential to set the knitting world on fire actually. You’re certainly more than 1up on most of the designers out there, I agree.

    also, you should ask wendy bernard for a kickback, because I just bought her book (I didn’t think I liked it before you mentioned set in sleeves).

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