Examining Top Down Set-In-Sleeves Construction

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In many of my patterns, I use set-in-sleeves construction to knit garments from the top.

Over time, I have improved this construction. First working sleeves separately and then working the sleeves at the same time than the yoke.

Let’s see a little more details about this construction.

1. Set-in-sleeves construction with sleeves worked after body is done

This construction starts with the back: you will start by casting on stitches for the back with a provisional cast-on; or for perfectionists, a Knitter Cast-On to avoid a shift of half a stitch when you’ll pick up stitches to knit the fronts.

1.1 Let’s examine the set-in-sleeves construction

You will therefore knit flat and from the top of the neckline to the bottom of the armhole.

To get a nice shoulder curve (because yes, shoulders are not straight unless you are a wide-shouldered man), you will play with short rows on each side of the neckline to shape a slope.

Once the back is finished, you will then work on each side of the neckline (which is often marked with markers) to work on fronts separately. The fronts will either be worked one after the other to the bottom of the armhole if you are making a cardigan; or worked one after the other and then joined together to close the front and then work to the bottom of the armhole if you’re making a sweater.

You will therefore get a front and a back worked flat, front worked in one direction from the provisional cast-on and back worked in the other direction.

1.2. A schematic could help, right?

The provisional cast-on is represented by the central line, the bottom of the schematic represents the back and the top represents the front. It’s clearer this way, right?

Once these front(s) and back are finished, you will join the front(s) and back together to work flat if it is a cardigan and work in round if it is a sweater.

1.3. What to do with the sleeves?

This is where you tell me: “what do we do with the sleeves”?

In classic top down constructions as raglan or circular yoke, the sleeves are worked at the same time than the yoke before separating the sleeves.

This will not be the case in this particular type of construction unless you work the sleeves at the same time – I’ll tell you about this method later.

The sleeves will then be worked on afterwards, so “set-in”.
In the case of Margaux, it’s a close-fitting cardigan and sleeves need to be set on the top of shoulders.

Margaux a top down cardigan
On the pictures above, you can see the Margaux’s sleeve cap which is shaped with short rows.

If you’re used to sew, you know that a sleeve cap can’t be straight, it will be rounded to follow the head of the shoulder.

First, you will take up all the stitches along the armhole and knit in round. Then you will have to work on the top of the sleeve with short rows, this is what will give the “sleeve cap” that you shape at the same time as the yoke in the other top down constructions I mentioned above.

In the case of Broadford, Calm Vibes or Alpine Valley, there is no sleeve cap because the top of the yoke covers the top of the shoulder, you don’t have to work any short rows, you just have to pick up stitches and work in round to knit the sleeve.

Broadford - top down sweater
Alpine Valley sweater
Alpine Valley
Calm Vibes sweater
Calm Vibes

2. Contiguous set-in-sleeves construction

This construction is more or less identical to the previous one but it requires a little more technicality.

I refined it over time to avoid having to cut the thread regularly when doing the yoke.

The principle remains the same, you start from the back with a provisional cast-on, then knit a few short rows to shape the shoulder and then, instead of continuing to the armpits, you will pick up stitches on both sides to form sleeve caps and fronts.

So quickly, once the front, back and sleeves are placed correctly, you will find yourself with a construction almost identical to the “contiguous method”. So from now, you only have to increase on the sleeves.

You will find this method in the Gustav pattern and with a slight variation in my first large size pattern, Joan.

Gustav sweater

Set-in-sleeves construction may seem confusing at first, it requires knowledge of several techniques: provisional cast-on, short rows but it is also the most morphological as it ideally follows the curve of the shoulders. It is also the most adaptable if you don’t have an X-shape silhouette.

I hope I have clarified this method with this construction’s summary. This tehcnique is not a new one since Barbara Walker talked about it in her book “Knitting From the Top“.

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See you soon,


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