Seaming a Sleeve Cap: Tutorial, Part One

I've finished the sleeves on my Farmer's Market Cardigan. (Hooray!) That means I'm ready to sew them into the body of the cardigan, a job that some knitters detest. C'mon, admit it–how many of you knit only top-down raglans so you won't have to sew in a sleeve? And how many of you have parts and parts of sweaters sitting neglected in a closet, because you'd rather do the laundry than sew the sleeves in?

Well, knitters, it's time. Sewing in sleeves is not the easiest part of knitting a sweater, I won't lie to you. But it's just like any other knitting challenge: if you learn a few tricks and tips, you'll gain the skills to stitch up a sleeve with the same confidence you use to work a short-row, work a buttonhole, or twist a cable. It's all just yarn and needles, my friends, yarn and needles…and we are knitters. We are masters of yarn and needles, both.

So let's go seam up a sleeve cap. Just for fun. 🙂

This tutorial is going to be divided into two parts, mostly due to length.

This week, I'll show you my methods (and give you some tips) for preparing the seam so it is easier to wrangle.

Next week, I'll show you the actual stitching, step-by-step. (I'll also share with you my Zone Theory for sleeve cap stitching which, once you see it, will both make you laugh and make you go Ah-HA! at the same time. Promise.)

Ready? Then let's do it. As you can see from the photo above, I've already seamed one sleeve in, to Bertha's delight. (Remember Bertha, my trusty mannequin model? Sheeee's baaaack!) However…Bertha really wishes I would have made the cardigan in her size.


Seaming a Sleeve Cap: Part One
Preparing the Seam So It Bends To Your Will

What you will need:

  1. Sleeve
  2. Armhole part of garment
  3. Locking-type stitch markers OR largish safety pins
  4. Matching yarn for stitching
  5. Yarn needle
  6. Scissors




Step 1: Block the sleeve and the body of your sweater. Use the appropriate blocking method for the type of yarn and your garment.

For this yarn, a superwash wool, I could have used the wet-blocking and pinning out method, but it would have taken too long to dry for purposes of this tutorial. I mildly cheated by steaming it with an iron. (Note that I did not PRESS the iron down, I held it just above the fabric and let the steam do all the work.)

Here, my sleeve is nicely steamed and ready to go. I also lightly steamed the body of my sweater, including the edges of the armholes.


Step 2: Mentally divide the sleeve cap in half.

a. We will begin stitching at the top center, and continue down one side, ending at the center underarm.

b. Once that seam is complete, we'll go back up to the top center and begin again, stitching down the other side.

This method helps to keep the seam smooth and even. If any easing is required up at the top, it is less hassle to manage one-half the distance at a time. Also, if things do go slightly awry and you end up with a wee bit extra on one side or the other, you can take a tiny tuck at the underarm more invisibly than anywhere else.


Step 3: Mark the center of the top bind-off edge of the sleeve.

I mark using a locking-type stitch marker or a safety pin so the marker won't fall out.

Don't just guess the placement; count columns of stitches and place the marker in the exact center of the bind-off row.


Step 4: Mark the center of the shoulder seam at the top of the armhole.

Again, place the marker through the exact center of the seam, about one column away from the edge.


Step 5: Connect the tops of armhole and sleeve.

I do this by simply removing the armhole marker and putting the sleeve marker through the seam at the center. The sleeve marker is now holding both fabrics together at center top.

That's how I roll. If you find a way that makes sense for you, go for it. (And maybe tell us about it in the comments so we can all learn something new!)


Step 6: Connect the bottom of the sleeve to the center bottom of the armhole.

The center bottom of the armhole is usually the side seam. Makes it easy! 


Step 7: With wrong sides together, mark the stretched stitch at the end of the bind-off row by putting a safety-pin type marker through the stretched stitch in both layers.

This stretched stitch marks the transition from one type of seaming to another, so it is useful to have it in place before you start sewing. (We'll talk about the types of seaming in Part Two.)


Step 8: Continue to pin the edges of sleeve and armhole together, moving from the bottom upwards.

  1. Place pins about an inch apart.
  2. Try to visually match the number of stitches/columns between pins on each side of the seam.
  3. Lightly smooth out the fabrics without stretching them while pinning.
  4. Stop after placing four or five pins.


Step 9: Starting up at the top of the armhole/sleeve, begin to pin edges together moving from the top downwards.

Follow the same procedure as for the lower pins.

Alternate between placing pins at lower and upper ends until pinning meets in the middle.

This method helps to keep the seam smooth and even; it prevents unnecessary bunching or stretching. (I sound like a laundry commercial, sorry!)


Here's what the seam edge should look like when the pinning is completed.

Note: Don't pin the other side of the sleeve/armhole just yet.


Step 10: We will start seaming at the center top of the sleeve/armhole, up at the center shoulder seam marker.

TIP: To minimize the number of ends to weave in later, use a single long piece of yarn to sew the entire armhole seam. Here's what I mean:

  1. Cut a long piece of yarn about twice the length of the entire armhole seam (all the way around).
  2. Thread one end of yarn through yarn needle.
  3. In the next step (Step 11), when pulling the yarn through the top of the armhole for the first time, pull up just to the halfway point of the yarn.
  4. Leaving one half of the yarn loose inside the garment, sew one-half the seam with the other half of the yarn. Secure the yarn at the underarm when that half of the seam is completed.
  5. When it's time to sew the other half of the seam, come back up to the top of the shoulder seam and thread the yarn needle with the  half of the yarn you left loose inside the sweater.
  6. Work the second half of the seam with the second half of the yarn.




Step 11: To begin seaming, insert needle in center of shoulder seam, from inside to outside.

Bring up yarn to half-way point as explained above.

NOTE: Bring up the needle in the middle of the column of stitches you wish to use as the seamline for the top of the sleeve cap. As you can see from the photo, I generally stitch at least one full column in from the edge of the armhole.

And, like the good writer that I am, I will stop there, hanging by a thread as it were (ouch, sorry, that was really bad), ready to begin sewing things up in next week's tutorial. Don't miss it!

I love to hear from you, so leave a comment and let me know if you have questions or comments.

See you next Thursday!

Till then, I hope you find joy on the needles, and in all the small delights around you.

– Sandi

Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, follow her tweets: alpacasandi.

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