Better Than Frogging: Sleeves

Knitting problems happen, and they happen to every knitter. This post series will collect some common knitting problems and offer some solutions that don’t require ripping out the whole project and starting over. There may be some frogging, but we’ll keep it to a minimum! In this installment, Project Editor Laura Hulslander had nearly finished a beautiful cardigan when she realized the sleeves were too long. Because she outshines everybody else on our team for solving technical problems, she came up with her own solutions. ~Deb Gerish

Problem: The Sleeves that Ate Manhattan

I recently knit the Kathe Cardigan from Interweave Knits Fall 2016, and I was super excited to wear it. Then I tried it on. Oh no: the sleeves were way too long! I followed the pattern instructions exactly, but the knitted pieces stretched a lot when I blocked them. That’s what I get for not checking my swatch for row gauge both before and after blocking. The body was okay— it was a cropped sweater, to begin with, and a little extra length never hurts—but the too-long sleeves made it completely unwearable. What could I do to make my beautiful cardigan something I would actually wear?

Possible Solutions

1. Remove & Reknit

Take out the sleeve seam, frog the upper half of the sleeve, and reknit it using the row gauge from a blocked swatch. Sew in the sleeve.

2. Fold

Fold the extra length back into cuffs—especially useful if the knitted fabric looks good on the wrong side (think stockinette, garter, ribbing, or moss stitch).

3. Cut & Finish

Cut off the end of the sleeve and finish the edge. This solution involves picking up stitches, cutting off the excess fabric, then finishing the cuff. Just understand that the cuff might turn out a little too big if you worked increases on the sleeve.


Option 1, frogging and reknitting most of the sleeves, was just not going to happen. This is the proper way to fix the sleeve and would result in the best fit, but I am (1) opposed to redoing work, especially if it involves seams, and (2) lazy. Realistically, having to reknit a significant part of each sleeve means I’d just put the whole cardigan in time-out. Forever.

Option 2, folding back the extra length into cuffs, definitely appeals to my lazy side; there’s no extra work whatsoever! Although this is a perfectly reasonable solution if you’re three and you’ll likely grow into your new sweater, I am not three. My growth spurt has passed, and I’m not going to suddenly develop monkey arms. In addition, cuffs would cover up some of the stitch pattern on these sleeves with wrong-side fabric. Lace patterns like this one often don’t look great on the reverse side.

I decided to go with the third option as a compromise between the proper-but-annoying fix and the easy-but-childish fix. Cutting my knitting seemed a little scary, but I was confident that I could make this approach work. Plus, I didn’t have to recalculate my row gauge—hurray for the no-math solution!

First, I figured out how long I wanted my sleeve to be. Lacking an assistant, I held a tape measure in one hand, then used the other hand to place the 0″ mark at the shoulder seam. Based on this measurement, I decided to lop off about 3″ from the cuff of the sleeve. I picked up stitches from the row 3″ above the cast-on, using a smaller needle than I’d used to knit the sleeve originally (Figure 1). It’s tricky to pick up all the stitches from the same row (Figure 2)! I just took it one stitch at a time and slowly worked my way around the sleeve. Once I had all the stitches on my needle, I took a deep breath and cut one stitch in the row below my picked up stitches (Figure 3). Eeek! Fortunately, the needle held all my picked-up stitches in place, so there was no catastrophic raveling (Figure 4). I carefully raveled the snipped row, which took off the excess cuff. Finally, I worked an I-cord bind-off on the stitches held by the needle (Figure 5). Voilà—it’s now a perfect-length sleeve (Figure 6).


fig 5: A shorter sleeve, finished with an I-cord bind-off.


fig 6: One down, one to go!

With a little bit of work, my cardigan has been transformed from an unwearable disappointment to a lovely new addition to my wardrobe. It also serves as a great reminder for next time: double-check my row gauge after blocking!

For more fabulous tips, tricks, and hacks like these from Laura, check out Love of Knitting Fall 2017!

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