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Nothing bothers knitters more about seamless knits than pesky holes under the arm.

Dear Patty,

I’ve tried various tips for avoiding the holes between the held sleeve stitches and the stitches picked up from the cast-on underarm shelf stitches for top-down sweaters. Invariably, I end up using the tail to duplicate stitch around the holes. Would love to know how you’ve solved this one. 

Rosemary 

And knitting tighter doesn’t help either . . .

Dear Patty,

I follow instructions exactly, but anytime I knit a top-down raglan, when I make my sleeves, I get these big holes under the arm. I try knitting really tightly, I’ve even tried twisting the stitches on purpose, but I can’t seem to fix my tension. Also, why are the stitches I pick up over the cast-on stitches backwards? Is this because it’s top down? I hope I’m making sense.

Help!

Kristin

It’s not you, it’s the directions

Dear Rosemary and Kristin,

The answer is obvious: knit seamed sweaters. (Writer ducks.) Just kidding.

I too was baffled by those gaps when I first knit top-down. The pattern had me cast on a set number of stitches under the arm—check. It directed me to put my sleeve stitches on a holder—roger that. Next instructions: Pick up stitches into the same number of stitches cast on, knit across the sleeve stitches on the holder and knit my sleeves! No problem. 

BIG problem.

When I did that, I got this mess (sleeve stitches in a contrasting color to heighten the horror we all feel):

Sure, you can make it work with duplicate stitch:

But a gap on either side of the duplicate stitch is still visible.

When we ignore the usual pick-up instructions, we get this instead:

More on that later. Why do the holes happen in the first place?

The gap

There’s no way that we can simply pick up stitches over the cast on and go about our merry way without a hole.

On the right you see a big ol’ gap that looks like it’s two rows deep. Picking up stitches over the cast-on leaves two stitches in that gap with two big loose threads on the side. One loose thread is coming right out of the last sleeve stitch held. The next one is connected to the first loose thread.

The upside-down stitches

Kristin, you nailed the why about stitch direction confusion. It’s because of top-down construction. Here you see I cast on five stitches. You can see those stitches between the markers. You can also see where I’ve put a needle right at the base of that first cast-on stitch.

But when I hold the sleeve right side up, with the underarm stitches at the bottom (ready to pick up stitches), things look entirely different.

When I look at the Vs (that are really the space between two stitches) it looks like six stitches ready to pick up.

Notice how the stitch markers look like they go through the center of stitch 1 and stitch 6. On the right, I’ve removed the stitch marker and I’m putting my needle right through the middle of the first stitch I’m going to pick up.

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The Fix: More Is More

We are going to pick up five more stitches than the pattern calls for. Don’t worry, we’re going to get rid of them. It took a lot of trial and error to come to this path, but eventually I arrived at picking up two stitches at each corner and an extra in the cast on. 

Start by holding the armhole facing you with the underarm stitches at the bottom. 

Step 1: Using your right-hand needle (I’m using magic loop) pick up that first loose strand, the one coming right out of the last sleeve stitch, by inserting your needle back to front. We aren’t going to knit this yet.

NOTE: You COULD join the yarn now and do a make1 (m1) with the loose threads and then decrease the added stitch later, but I found that it was just as easy to skip the make one and just twist that loose thread as we decrease. Stick with me, it will make sense.

Step 2: Place marker and pick up that second loose strand—the one connected to the first loose strand—by inserting your needle front to back. We aren’t going to knit this yet.

Steps 1 and 2

Step 3: Starting with the first full V, attach a ball of yarn and pick up and knit underarm stitches. You will pick up one more than you cast on because you are really picking up the space between the cast on stitches. 

Step 4: Continuing with your right-hand needle, pick up that first loose strand, the one coming right out of the last sleeve stitch, by inserting your needle back to front, and place marker.

Steps 3 and 4

Step 5: Pick up that second loose strand—this one is connected to the first loose strand—by inserting the tip of your left-hand needle front to back. 

This is going to feel REALLLLY tight. You might need to give those two stitches a little stretch. Now work those two stitches together with a k2tog to twist the loose strand and close it up, leaving the full stitch on top. One stitch added has now been decreased away.

Step 6: Work to two stitches before the next side marker. Slip the first stitch as if to knit, put it back on the needle, and knit that stitch together with the loose strand by doing a k2tog through the back loop (a modified ssk) to twist the loose strand and close it up, leaving the full stitch on top. Two stitches have been decreased away.

Step 7: Slip marker and do a k2tog with the next two stitches to twist the loose strand and close it up, leaving the full stitch on top. Three stitches have been decreased away.

Step 8: Repeat step 6. Four stitches have been decreased away. Remove marker.

We still have to get rid of that extra stitch we picked up in the cast on. 

Step 9: Work another k2tog. Five stitches have been decreased away. And work your sleeve!

Steps 7 and 9

The result is a lovely, no hole, top-down sleeve!

So go ahead, wave to your friends, walk around like Evita in the balcony scene, raise your arms in triumph like Simone Biles after nailing a vault. No more holes!

Patty in your pocket!

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About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at [email protected].

 

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36 Comments

  • Yikes! I would never, in a million years, have figured this out by myself. Thank you so much, Amazing Patty!

  • Patty The Wonder Worker does it again. She has worked out a solution we
    were all wondering about.
    Thank you, thank you!

  • Brilliant! That always annoyed me so much that I stayed away from top down sweaters – don’t need to do that anymore! Although I still prefer seamed sweaters- the fit is better.

    • Just brilliant. Such an efficient method with a beautiful result. Thank you!

  • Thank you, Patty! This is clear and wonderful.
    But one little thing is bothering me….shouldn’t the last sentence in Step 5 read “One stitch added has NOW been decreased away.”?
    This reminds me of what I do when knitting socks, after turning the heel and when adding back the held stitches.
    However it’s 4 am here on the west coast and I’m up because of a headache, so I may not be thinking clearly.

    • Yes! Pesky typo fixed.

  • How about the hole you get when working a thumb in a mitten? Would something like this work? I usually close it with the yarn tail, but it looks lumpy. Maybe there’s a trick to help?

    • I would love a trick for this – I do lots of fingerless gloves and I hate those lumps.

    • I’m always fiddling with that gap too, but adding 5 sts in such a small area might be too much. I also use a tail to duplicate st to pull it all tighter.

      • Thank you so much for this explanation. I’ve spent years and years frustrated with raglan sweaters and the unsightly armpit hole! I’ve tried EVERYTHING. This is the most clear and sensible fix. I am knitting a baby sweater and thought…”It’s just a baby sweater, it won’t matter.” But i tried your method and it’s gorgeous/beautiful!!!!! Thanks again for helping me take my knitting up a notch.

  • Wow! Magic! You and your brain are amazing as usual.
    Gail❤️

  • Oh thank you! This is exactly what I needed. You are brilliant!

  • Do you have a video explaining this? That would be even more helpful for knitters like me:}
    Big big fan of yours!!

    • I’m with you. I, too, would love a video.

    • Yes, please, a video would be so helpful. I think I understand but I’d love to see it done before attempting it.

  • This is a keeper! One more idea: I like to join the yarn for knitting the sleeve well away from the cast-on area. Make the beginning of round in the lower back of the sleeve, knit around, pick up from the cast-on in stride.

    • First of all, thank you. I am looking forward to finishing my first top-down sweater. It has been vegetating for over a year now. I made it a goal to finish it before Thanksgiving and thought about it again last night and, blessings be, there was your snippet ready for me to pick up the needles and finish. Tanks much again.

  • Once again you have saved us HOURS trying to reinvent how to close up those dreaded holes. Thanks so much!!

  • I’ll try this next time–thanks. I agree it would be super helpful to have a video demonstrating this brilliant technique.

  • Splendid! I expected nothing less.

  • This is a great but I am having trouble with step 5. If the marker is between the two loose strands, how do you knit them together, unless you move the marker?

    • The k2tog is the two stitches after the marker. You are knitting a full stitch (that ends up on top) with the twisted picked up strand. See the stitches in the red circle.

      • This is brilliant! I’ve just used it and no gaps. Patty, thank you so very very much. I’m just hoping that no one notices right armpit = holes, left armpit = intactness.

    • In step five, you’re using your left needle to pick up the stitch and then knitting it together with the following stitch, not the one already on the right needle.

  • Thank you Patty! I usually pick up extra stitches when starting sleeves and then decrease them away in the next round, but this method is so much more refined and takes that techniques to a whole new level. Amazing!

  • Love to Patty.

  • Yay! Thanks, Patty!

  • I just read Patty’s instructions. Confusing! When I ran into the problem with my first top down sweater sleeves, I decided that I would knit my sleeves separately via magic loop 2 at a time, and then I would seam them like I would with a sweater done in pieces. This has been working like a charm for me and I don’t get confused. Plus, I didn’t care for the extra weight of having to hold the whole sweater in my lap or dangling from my needles. I didnt like having to knit 1 sleeve completely and then the other one either. I do get bored easily!

  • This is fascinating, and makes a lot of sense. I’m always ‘improvising’ extra stitches…but now I see there is a real method to this, supporting my instinct.

    A related question—-can one first pick up stitches all the way around and THEN knit them? Why do the instructions always say ‘pick up and knit’? Why would it matter?

    • Here you have no yarn attached. Pick up and knit (often used interchangeably with “Pick up”) is when you put your needle through an existing stitch and then pull yarn through it to knit. Here, we are actually combining pick up and knit with pick up. We just “pick up” the loose strands on our needle.

  • Brilliant!

  • Can’t wait to try this! Top down sweaters are my favorite. (Sorry Patty, I hate seaming…)

  • Is there any way I can print this? Thank you.

    • Great question I forgot to ask!

  • Thank you, my underarm looks so much neater.

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