Hi Friends! Welcome back to the series on sweater construction. If you missed the first part, we discussed top-down and bottom-up sweater construction, including the pros and cons of seamless raglan and round-yoke sweaters.
Today, we’ll focus on sleeve construction! What’s the importance of a sleeve type? The construction of sleeves can make or break (literally) a sweater. You can have classic, easy raglan sleeves, more advanced set-in sleeves, traditional Dolman sleeves or even trendy drop sleeves. There are many different methods and techniques to knitting sleeves, and they affect the overall style and appearance of your finished sweater. They also affect your knitting abilities — choose a type of sleeve a little bit too advanced for your skills, and your sweater knitting can go from joyful to extremely frustrating. That’s why we need to learn about sleeve construction! Plus, knowledge on sweater construction can help you to make modifications for a better fit and feel.
Sleeve Construction #1: Set-In Sleeves
What are set-in sleeves? Simply put, they’re joined to the body of the sweater at the shoulder, and have a seam at that join. This is a very elegant and common way to knit sleeves, as traditionally sweaters were knit flat and then seamed together.
I like to think of set-in sleeves as the opposite of raglan sleeves — while raglan sleeves have no shaping and are knit continuously with the the yoke, set-in sleeves are seamed and can be fitted to your exact size. Whereas raglan sleeves can lose their shape over time, set-in sleeves have seams to help your sweater keep its shape.
Set-in sleeves can be ‘dressed’ up or down, depending on what sort for style you’re going for. The seaming can be exposed, lending a sort of jersey sweatshirt type of look to your sweater (seam inside-out, so that the selvedges are exposed). Or, the seams can be hidden and contribute to an elegant shape.
The main con for this method of sleeves is that you can’t try on your sweater until it is completely seamed. Your sweater will be in flat pieces until you cast off, and then you will have to spend some extra time seaming them up.
Overall, this is a wonderful method for knitting sleeves and it creates a professional and well-fitting finished object.
Sleeve Construction #2: Dolman Sleeves
Dolman sleeves have an interesting cultural background. Dolman is a Turkish word that means ‘robe’; this style of sleeves has been around since medieval times! It is thought to originally come from a very loose robe (almost like a cape) worn in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. The loose folds of the fabric acted as sleeves, and this style was widely adopted as it was easier to sew than set-in sleeves. It even became popular as a type of military jacket in Europe!
Dolman sleeves are popular in knit sweaters as they lend an interesting, bat-wing look and the construction is quite simple. Dolman sleeves are typically knit flat, and then two sides are seamed.
The main pros of Dolman sleeves (besides their interesting appearance) are that they can be worked cuff-to-cuff or hem-to-hem, and that they are simple to seam. They also have an overall ‘easy fit’ (loose, swing-y) look that is very trendy right now.
The cons of Dolman sleeves are that sometimes there’s bunching of fabric underneath the arms. Since the sleeves are intentionally knit to be loose, knit fabric can stretch and bunch. With one seam to support all the fabric, this can also make the sleeves sag and the stitches at the shoulder stretch.
Sleeve Construction #3: Drop-Shoulder Sleeves
Unlike set-in sleeves or even Dolman sleeves, drop-shoulder sleeves don’t even start at the shoulder! Drop-shoulder sleeves actually begin at the top of the arm, without any shaping of the ‘armscye’ (the joint where the sleeve and body meet).
This is the main pro of drop-shoulder sweaters — there’s no shaping of the armscye at all. The sweater and sleeves are knit as four rectangles (front, back and the two sleeves). These are seamed together, with the wide body rectangle extending past the shoulder-line. Then, the two sleeves are just sewn onto the the openings.
The cons of drop-shoulder sleeves is the minimal shaping and support. They aren’t really suitable for shaping (a loose, broad chest paired waist shaping just seems…wrong). It also can fall prey to the underarm bunching of fabric.
So, which sleeve construction is your favorite? Which one will you try?