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In my last column, I talked about how to handle a common issue with garment knitting: compensating for a discrepancy in row gauge.

The method uses division, the math you also use to sort out pesky little instructions like increase or decrease stitches “evenly” across a row or round—even when the number of stitches isn’t even!

With those tools in your kit, I now want to show you some other ways you can use the same method to fine-tune sleeve adjustments.

The long and short of sleeves

In my last column, I showed you how to distribute the shaping along a sleeve, to adjust for a different row gauge.

You can also adjust the style of the sleeve: Does the pattern have three-quarter sleeves but you want full-length? Want to take full-length and make them elbow length? To do this, there’s one additional calculation to required: you need to figure out the stitch count required for the cuff, wherever you want it to land. 

But once that’s sorted out, wonderfully and fabulously, it’s the same as a row gauge adjustment: you know the starting stitch count, the ending stitch count, and the number of rows/rounds you’ve got to cover.

You can do it!

Here’s how it goes: Measure around your arm where you want the sleeve to hit. Then figure out how big around you want the cuff to be, taking ease into account. 

So if you want the cuff to be a couple of inches bigger around than your arm—which is pretty typical—take your measurement and add 2 inches. But if you’re not sure how big the cuff should be, you could use the pattern’s existing cuff ease as a clue by looking at the finished measurement for the sweater cuff, and comparing that to your own measurement at that place. Alternatively, you could look at a sweater pattern with a sleeve of a similar length and style to the one you want to make, and use it as a guide. 

Taking the 2 inches adjustment as an example: 

Cuff circumference = wrist circumference + 2 inches OR 6.5 inches + 2 inches = 8.5 inches.

Stitches for cuff = cuff circumference x stitches per inch.

If you’re working at 5 stitches per inch, for example, then you’d need 8.5 x 5 = 42.5 stitches for the cuff. (Round it to the number you need for the ribbing pattern: if you are working (k1, p1), round to 42. If you’re working (k2, p2), round to 44.)

Then the rest is just as you did before: figure out how many rows you need to cover to get between the cuff and the underarm, and figure out how many increases or decreases you have to work, and then just distribute shaping

Kate’s Sleeves here from top to bottom: Her own Kiernan, Portiere by Fiona Ellis (Ravelry link), Nimbus by the Berocco Design Team, and Hakone by Amy Herzog

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About The Author

Kate Atherley is a teacher, designer, author and technical editor. She’s also the publisher of Digits & Threads, a magazine all about Canadian fibre and textile arts.


  • I’m comfortable altering patterns, but I would now like to know how to calculate how much yarn I will use as a consequence of the mathematical gymnastics.
    Almost always I adapt a pattern to 3/4 length sleeves and a longer body, usually with a little more swing over the hips. These alterations do not always equate to the same quantity of yarn.
    Are there any formulas to help with this, after swatching of course and therefore knowing the needle size for my chosen yarn.
    Hopefully this would stop me from buying too much yarn, which is becoming an expensive luxury (Ok I can hear wool shops everywhere cursing! )

    • Oh, oh, oh… There are no easy formulas that I’m aware of. The way most designers calculate yardage is either by considering surface area of the garment, or numbers of stitches. Yes, really! So what you can do is calculate the surface area or number of stitches in the new sections, and compare that to the yarn used for the main part of the body. To do this, of course, you’ll need to either calculate surface area/stitches for the main pattern, or make a very good size swatch – like, at least 8 x 8 inches. The third option is to make educated guesses based on yardage for similar types of projects at the same gauge and same size. Refer to other patterns, or tools like Stashbot for guidance on this… and keep the receipt for the yarn. Does that help at all?

      • Thank you for replying. I will try mapping a new surface area and numbers of stitches!
        I always keep the receipt, but as my size is more Rubenesque it takes more time to knit than returns normally allow.!!!

  • Thanks Kate. May I suggest an article on fitting sleeves the other way, ie widthwise? Please? I can handle fitting drop shoulder type sleeves to my plump upper arms, but I groan when a pattern is raglan and has”slim sleeves”. Especially in the round. Please help :).

    • For all the commenters looking for sleeve adjustments, I want to recommend patterns by Jacqueline Cieslak. I am currently knitting her Rift sweater, and the pattern is unbelievably detailed, with sections specifically providing a “custom fit bicep,” as well as one for bust darts, with a short worksheet to figure out if an adjustment is needed and, if so, what that adjustment should be. I haven’t personally needed the bicep adjustment but I have used her bust dart adjustment and it’s extremely helpful. Even beyond this specific sweater, it might be helpful for those of you looking to figure out arm fit issues. I believe all of her patterns are size inclusive.

    • Yes, please! I bought the Carbeth pattern for the bang out a sweater knit-a-long here and it turned out that the 60″ size had only 16 1/2 inch sleeves. No longer a bang it out pattern and I did not have the energy or time to figure out adjustments. (I’m sure I would have gotten help here, but I really needed a quick knit with minimal attention, which is what I thought I was buying!)

      • I would like to add that when sewing I pretty much use Cashmerette patterns which are exclusively designed for full busts, and come with a choice of regular or full bicep sleeves. I know the drive now is for size inclusivity, but choosing a niche and serving it well should also be an option.

    • Stephanie Pearl-McPhee recommends knitting different parts of the sweater from different pattern sizes. For raglan sleeves, it’s easy enough to knit one body size, and a different sleeve size. It’ll take a careful read of the pattern, and – trust me!!! – you’ll want to annotate your pattern very carefully and completely.

      Altering set in sleeves is still a mystery to me. Looking forward to the next column, Kate!

      • Susan, you’re not wrong, but it’s not *quite* as simple as we’d all like it to be! The issue is that you then will end up having to adjust one piece to match the other where they meet (whether that’s with a seam, or just shaping.) It requires both copious notes AND advance planning!

        • For sweaters knit in one piece, I’ve had very good luck with this technique.

          But, as you say, it takes *copious* notes and pre-planning. I’ve gotten used to reading patterns all the way through, with a calculator to check stitch counts and pen at hand, to annotate my pattern. It’s a pain, but when it means I have a sweater that fits me perfectly? Totally worth it!

    • Oooh… this is an interesting question. I will address some aspects of this in the next column, and then if you’ve still got questions after that, let me know?

    • Me too, also adjusting the girth and cap for set-in sleeves is a devilish puzzle.

      • Nancy! I’m going to tackle your question head-on in the next column… Stay tuned!

        • Great! as I am always adjusting sleeve increases/decreases, as not all of us have skinny/youthful arms anymore.

          could you also (at some point) address translating ‘sleeves in the round’ to knitting flat? (for those of us who (a) hate it; (b) dislike flopping a sweater constantly in their lap; and (c) whose mother’s taught us to knit both sleeves simultaneously so that all increases/decreases, as well as gauge, stay the same for both sleeves.

  • Getting a good body fit using a sweater pattern is easy but the sleeves are a crapshoot. It’s not the length, it’s the upper arm width that is the situation personal to each knitter. A slim sleeve is best for me so I’ve worked out my own specs for a basic sleeve which I can adjust to whatever weight yarn I’m using. Isabell Kraemer patterns are among the only ones that I can knit the sleeves without any adjustments.

  • Speaking of sleeves, I’d love to see a column on how to add or lengthen cap sleeves. So many interesting patterns are sleeveless … or nearly so … and that’s just not my style.

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