No-Pattern Jumper (Part 3) – Sleeves

This part is all about the sleeves.

In many ways, knitting the sleeves is just like knitting the body of your jumper – just on a smaller scale. But unlike the body, where you have (most likely!) knitted a tube that did not change size, the sleeves usually change size – they tend to be smaller at the bottom, and bigger at the top.

There are several things to consider when you’re thinking about your sleeves:

  • how tight do you want them to be? Not much bigger than your arms? Much bigger? Somewhere in between?
  • Do you want a tight cuff at the bottom, or do you like your jumper to have a wide, loose cuff?
  • Do you want your sleeves to be full length – and what does that mean for you? Do you want them to sit at your wrist bones? At your thumb? Halfway up your hand? 
  • Do you want them to follow the shape of your arm – narrow at the bottom, bigger at the top? Or do you want them to be the same size all the way down – which means baggy sleeves at the bottom?

The jumper I made has sleeves that follow the shape of my arm, and – like the rest of the jumper – they have a good bit of ease. This means that they are not tight, and that I can easily fit shirts and jumpers underneath. My sleeves are long, about an inch up my hand from the wrist, and they have a long tight cuff to stop wind coming in. This means my sleeves suit my purpose – wearing the jumper outside over other things.


Like with the body of the jumper, the sleeves require maths – the same kind of maths you’ve done already. Work out what measurement you’d like your sleeves to be – at the cuff, and at various bits up the arm, and then use your magic number to work out how many stitches you need to cast on for this, and how many stitches you need to have at various points.

For example: if your magic number is 8 (8 stitches per inch), and you’d like your sleeves to measure 4 inches at the bottom, then you cast on 32 stitches. Be sure to remember that you’re after circumference here – measure around your arm, not just flat. Compare your measurements with those of a favourite jumper, where you like the sleeve shape. Lay it flat, and double that number.

Also keep in mind what we’ve said about ease: do you want the fabric to stretch or lay flat?

To extend our example: if you start with 4 inches – 32 stitches, in this case – at the wrist, but you know that you’d like your sleeves to be 8 inches by the time it reaches your elbow, then you know you’d need to double your stitch count – you’d need 64 stitches by the time you get to the elbow. To work out how to increase, measure the length of your sleeve, from the point at the wrist to the point at the elbow (that is, your two measurements), and – using your swatch, or indeed the body of the jumper you have already knitted – work out how many rows it will take you to get there. Let’s say it will take you 20 rows. In our example you’d need to increase 32 stitches over 20 rows. 32/20 = 1.6, so you’d need to increase one stitch every 1.6 rows. Or two stitches every 3.2 rows. And that’s really difficult to do, seeing as you can’t really do partial rows when you knit! So, a bit of fudging is in order. Imagine your 20 rows. Take away the first and last row (set up row, and finishing row). This gives you 18 rows over which to increase. That still doesn’t work out neatly. But – 16 rows does! If you increase two stitches every row over 16 rows, you end up with 32 additional stitches. That’s probably how I’d do it in this case. Or maybe 4 stitches ever other row over those 18 rows. 

This is just an example, though – a mathy example. Chances are your actual stitch and row numbers will work out differently, so it’s a case of looking at the numbers, looking at the shape you want to create, and experimenting. And if you get stuck, give me a shout – very happy to help talk you through it!

Increasing stitches

I tend to favour increasing either on one side or on both sides of the sleeves – that is, if I lay. my sleeve flat, the increases would sit along the side. If I want to increase more slowly I would have my increases on one side only – on what would be the seam on a commercial jumper (or rather, one that is knitting flat), but if I wanted to increase more quickly I’d put them on both sides. I tend to to a very simple increase of knitting through the back of the bit of yarn between the two stitches where I want to increase – a simple ‘Make 1’. This page shows you how to do different kinds of increases, and what the resulting fabric looks like.

The cuff

I usually have the same kind of cuff at the bottom of my sleeves and the bottom of my jumper – I favour 2×2 rib, where you knit 2, purl 2 all the way round. But you don’t have to – you can have whatever cuff you like. This brings us back to thinking about what you want your cuffs to do – do you want them to be tight or loose? How long do you want them to be?

It might be an idea to take the cuff you’ve already knitted, at the bottom of your jumper, and to ‘try it on’ – that is, to wrap it around your wrist and see how it feels. How loose do you want it to be? Do you want it to be shorter or longer than that? Do you like how it feels? This will give you a good indication of what to do – and how many stitches to cast on. You can simply count the number of stitches in the bottom cuff/hem when you wrap them around your wrist, and see where that takes you.

Sleeve Instructions

Are you ready to cast on? I would very much recommend that you knit both sleeves at once, the same way that you would knit two socks at once (or at least the leg part). There is a great tutorial for that here. The reason for this is that doing two at once means you’re sure to do the same thing on both sleeves: you’ll increase the same and at the same time, and you’ll be sure to knit them to the same length. You can use the same needles you already have, that you used for the body of your jumper. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t make detailed notes – you won’t need to remember what to do for your second sleeve because you’re doing both at once. 

The basic instructions for the sleeves I made are:

  • cast on stitches for your cuffs, and work in 2×2 rib to the desired length
  • increase some stitches immediately to give you a wider shape of sleeve, and then knit your sleeves while increasing regularly every few rows all the way up to your shoulder, mirroring the shape of your arms
  • when you get to end, cast of 10 stitches on each sleeve in the centre (usually above your row of increases), exactly like you did when you made your body
  • bring sleeves and body together. First place the two sleeves on spare yarn – thread them off your needles onto yarn, and thread your jumper stitches back onto your needles. Knit along the front of your jumper until you get to the cast-off bits, knit the stitches from sleeve 1, knit along the back of your jumper to the cast off stitches, knit the stitches from sleeve 2. Place a marker – this indicates the beginning of the row. 

Return to #SkillsFromTheHills main page

Return to No-Pattern Jumper Overview page
Return to No-Pattern Jumper Part 2

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