Trompe L’Oeil Sleeve Caps (Part 2)

June 27, 2011 § 3 Comments

It was that gracious hour of a summer afternoon, mid-way between luncheon and tea, when Nature seems to unbutton its waistcoat and put its feet up.  In the shade of a laurel bush outside the back premises of this stately home of  England, Beach, butler to Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, its proprietor, sat sipping the contents of a long glass and reading a weekly paper devoted to the the doings of Society and the Stage.

At this moment, the laurel bush, which had hitherto not spoken, said ‘Psst!’

-Summer Lightning, P.G. Wodehouse 1929

At the end of Part I, we left off  with two shoulder pieces, with 14 stitches between the stitch markers establishing the tops of your sleeve caps, and mirroring back neck shaping.  Both shoulder pieces should be ending with a wrong side row.  The next step is to connect your shoulder pieces with cast-on stitches for the back neck.

What I like to do is use a long tail cast on using the yarn end dangling off the back side of the right shoulder piece.  Just calculate how many stitches you’ll need for your back neck (I used 42 here for about a 6.5” back neck in sport weight) and cast on.

You now need to align your two shoulder pieces and your back neck cast-on on the cable of a long circular needle.  It should look something like this:

Note the loops of cable pulled out at the points of the shoulders.  Until your work grows a little longer to create more width in the sleeve cap sections, you’ll need to pull out loops at the points of the shoulders magic loop-style  to help you get around that tight curve.

Now you’re ready to knit your sweater upper body in one piece.  Start with the left front right side (your work will be facing you as though the above photo were upside-down), knit along the left front to the first marker, slip marker, do a left-leaning, RS, row below (RB) increase into the next stitch.  Knit across the left sleeve cap (adjusting cable mid way through the sleeve cap magic-loop style as needed) to one stitch before the next marker and do a right-leaning, RS, increase into that stitch, working the original stitch, and slip the marker.  Work across the left back section, keep working across the back neck cast on, and across the right back section to the marker.  Slip marker, do a RS left-leaning RB increase into the next stitch, work across left sleeve cap section to one stitch before the marker, work a RS right-leaning RB into the next stitch, working original stitch, slip marker and work right front.  Keep working back and forth RS and WS as established, adding front neck shaping (if working a pullover, you’ll join the fronts and work in the round).

This brings us to the question of sleeve cap shaping; in other words, your rate of increase as you move down the sleeve cap to the armhole.  One of the major inspirations for this method was Jared Flood’s VK article on the simultaneous set-in sleeve worked from the bottom up.  In that article he suggests (looking at it now as decreases working up the sleeve cap from the armhole division) no decreases on the sleeve cap side while body-side armhole shaping is taking place; every other row decreases as you move up the sleeve cap, until you reach a 50% reduction from your original top of sleeve stitch count; then every row decreases until about 8 stitches remain in the sleeve cap, and then 4 or so every other row decreases worked back and forth. (**Used with permission from Jared Flood)

For my prototype sweater (working down the sleeve cap again now), I used one alternate row increase, then every row increases until I reached 50% of the stitches I’ll want at top of the upper arm, then every other row increases until I reached the !00% number minus the underarm cast-on.  Once I reached that count I worked straight (about an inch or so) to the armhole division.  The result is here:

Being the nit-picky knitter that I am, that little fold of extra fabric on the sleeve cap mid-way down the armhole bugs me to no end.  I’ve given some thought to why it’s there and how I can eliminate it on my next test sweater however.  If I compare my own measurements to the standard size tables, I find that my upper arm measurement is somewhat above the standard, while I think my shoulder itself is of more standard proportions.  Therefore, because I was working to my slightly oversize upper arm measurement, the cap itself ended up wider than it needed to be at the mid-point of the sleeve cap relative to my comparatively smaller shoulder.   Next time I will try working every row increases until there are 50% of the stitches for a standard upper arm size, then work every 4th row increases through the middle of the sleeve cap.  Finally, I’ll put in my extra stitches needed to accommodate my upper arm, split between consecutive row increases just before the division for the arm at the base of the armhole on the sleeve cap side and a few extra stitches cast on under the arm.

In general, when I look at what I think of as a classic sleeve cap – say a schematic from a Rowan/Kim Hargreaves pattern, what I see is a sleeve cap with a steep rate of decrease at the base of the sleeve cap, a more shallow slope through the middle, and a steeper rate again towards the top of the cap.  So my plan for next time will more closely mimic that kind of sleeve cap.   It will require more planning and an accurate measurement of my row gauge, but I’ll be very happy to see if it improves on my first prototype.  It’s also possible that people whose bodies more closely conform to the standard may be quite satisfied with the original formula.

So stay tuned for more thoughts once I’ve made a new sweater incorporating my new shaping plan!  In the coming weeks and months, I hope to start a Ravelry group for those interested in trying it out, and to post some video tutorials on the Row Below increase and on the method in general. Thanks again for your interest and I would love to hear from anyone who is trying this out.








Trompe L’Oeil Sleeve Caps (Part 1)

June 3, 2011 § 12 Comments

A small, but noteworthy procession filed out of the house and made its way across the sun-bathed lawn to where the big cedar cast a grateful shade.  It was headed by James, a footman, bearing a laden tray.  Following him came Thomas, another footman, with a gate-leg table.  The rear was brought up by Beach, who carried nothing, but merely lent a tone.


“Yes, your lordship.”

“Oh?” said Lord Emsworth.  “Ah? Tea, eh? Tea? Yes. Tea. Quite so. To be sure, tea. Capital.”

Summer Lightning, P.G. Wodehouse, 1929

Thank you for all the interest and encouraging comments about my new sleeve caps, which I’ve tentatively named “Trompe L’Oeil Sleeve Caps.”!  Since my last post I’ve been busy working them into a sweater and am so happy with the results:

And on Ravelry.

It’s time then for a more detailed explanation of how to work them.  Today I’ll provide an introduction to establishing the sleeve caps – we’ll call it a test tutorial, to see if it makes sense to everyone.  Once I’ve got a system worked out for the increase rate for the armhole in its entirety with which I’m 100% happy, I’ll post a more formal tutorial on a separate page on this blog.

A huge disclaimer: what follows is very long and wordy and the first time I’ve attempted to explain this.  I suspect a YouTube video might eventually be a much better teaching tool, but it’ll be a while before I can manage to put one together.  In the meantime, for the brave and impatient, I’m going to attempt it anyway. It’s really much easier to do than to describe, and your comments and feedback are very welcome.

Before we begin, you will need to get out your Montse Stanley or your Vogue Knitting guide and practice your Median, or Row Below, increases for left- and right- leaning, for purl and for knit.  I can’t seem to find this lovely increase anywhere on the internet, or in Vickie Square.  Down the line, the plan is to make a YouTube of how to work them and post it here.  It seems to me that no dedicated top-down knitter should be without this increase in his or her arsenal.  I also wouldn’t embark on this sleeve cap method unless you’re very comfortable with magic loop, as I’ll be using it in a new way.

So to begin, using a circular needle with a good long cable:

  1. Cast on sufficient stitches for one shoulder.  Generally this is somewhere between 3 and 4 inches of stitches.  You should pick a number divisible by 3.
  2. Purl across these stitches.
  3. Do three sets of RS short rows: For example, say you cast on 18 stitches, knit 12, wrap the next stitch and turn, purl a row, knit 6 stitches of next row, wrap next stitch and turn, purl a row, then knit across picking up wraps as you go.  You should end up at the narrow edge of the wedge.
  4. At this point (trust me), you should be able to slide your work down the cable, rotate it 180 degrees and be well-positioned to pick up stitches along your cast-on edge, starting at the point of the wedge.  You could in theory put your work on waste yarn, but I prefer leaving it on as the cable stabilizes the edge and makes it easier to pick up stitches.
  5. Pick up along the cast on edge the same number of stitches that you cast on to begin with.
  6. This time you will do two sets of purl side wraps and turns (there is no plain row first on this side, and yes it will be one row shorter than your first wedge, but it doesn’t appear to affect the final product in any way).  So if you cast 18 stitches, purl 12, wrap and turn the next stitch, knit a row, purl 6, wrap and turn the next stitch, knit a row and then purl across all stitches, picking up wraps as you go.

Your knitting should now resemble this:

As you can see, you should be on the wrong side of your knitting, and I’ve placed a marker before the last stitch of this row.  Now you have finished the first few rows of one shoulder (front and back) and next will begin to establish your sleeve caps.  This will involve using magic loop to help you get around the tight curve at the beginning of sleeve cap (which will magically appear at the thin point of your triangle at the left of the picture above).   But instead of working magic loop in the round, you’ll be working it back and forth with a right side and a wrong side.  I’ve never seen this anywhere else, but I’ve done it a bunch of times now, and it really does work like a charm every time!

  1. Into that last isolated stitch of that row, you’ll need to work a single left leaning increase.  Since there is no row-below to increase into, I fudge this first increase with something resembling a lifted increase.  It really doesn’t show in the final product.  So you should now have two stitches to the left of that marker.
  2. This is where things get a little funky because we are going to use magic loop to get around that corner.  So rotate your knitting 180 degrees, and pull the needle into the stitches at the top and slide the knitting that you just did down the cable, freeing the needle to use in the right hand.
  3. Perform a purl side right-leaning row below increase into the first stitch of the needle, working the stitch as well and then place a marker.  Take care to adjust the tension so that you don’t end up with ladders as you cross from one side of the work to the other, just as you would with a sock or sleeve. You should now have two stitches then a marker at the thin edge of the wedge of both top and bottom of your work.  Purl to end of row.
  4.  Flip over your work so the right side is facing.  At this point you’ll want to designate this little piece of knitting as a right or a left shoulder.  You’ll need some back neck shaping here in the form of three right side increases at the back neck edge.  If you want a right shoulder you will want to knit 1 or 2 stitches here (as you prefer), and work one increase each right side over the next three RS rows.  [If it will be a left shoulder, work until you are one or two stitches before the very end of the row, which is now directly opposite.]
  5. Knit to marker – we will skip an increase in this row just to get the stitches evenly established, slip marker, k2, rotate work 180 degrees, slide upper row of stitches onto needle, slide lower onto cable, k2, sm, knit to end.
  6. Flip over work, purl to marker, sm, perform left-leaning purl side increase into next stitch.  Purl to end of stitches on needle, rotate work, readjust cable and needles, watching tension across the gap, purl to 1 stitch before the marker, perform right-leaning purl side  row below increase into this stitch, working the stitch as well.  Slip marker and purl to end.  You should now have six stitches between your markers and congratulations, you have the beginnings of your sleeve cap!
  7. Continue as before – flip over work to RS.  Perform back neck shaping increase (f making right shoulder), knit to marker, sm, work left-leaning knit side row below increase into next stitch, knit to end, adjust needles and cables, rotate work 180%, knit to one stitch before marker, work right-leaning knit side row below increase into this stitch and work the stitch.  Slip marker, work to end.

This is it in a gigantic wordy nutshell!  At this point you will continue knit and purl side every row, right and left leaning row below increases as established (along with your neck shaping until you’ve worked all three back neck increases plus a final purl side row.  You should have 14 stitches at the top of your sleeve cap between the markers.  Your work should look something like this:

Make another, reversing back neck shaping.  You may notice some wobbly stitches and general unevenness.  So far these have blocked out beautifully for me.

Next time I’ll discuss joining your two shoulder pieces and the various options for calculating the rate of increases for your sleeve cap as your work down the yoke.  Good luck!

All Roads Lead to Rome

May 3, 2011 § 8 Comments

‘Western Union,’ echoed Miss Sharples, inscribing on her tablets something that resembled an impressionistic sketch of pneumonia germ…'”Happy Birthday”,’ murmured Miss Sharples, pencilling in two squiggles and a streptococcus.  Spring Fever, P.G. Wodehouse

This weird looking piece of knitting is making me inordinately happy.  I recently attempted Barbara G. Walker’s simultaneous set in sleeves from the genius Knitting From the Top.  While I love the idea of this method, I was frustrated with the results.

Walker’s method involves casting on for the top back, working a couple of inches of back, picking up stitches for the front shoulders along the shoulder edge of the first piece (or working from a provisional cast on), and working down the fronts a couple inches to match the back.  Sleeve caps are then created by working across a front, picking up stitches in the side of the work for one sleeve cap, working across the back, picking up stitches for the second sleeve cap, and working the remaining front section.  In subsequent rows, the sleeve cap gains stitches raglan-style with sleeve-side only increases on alternate rows.

I loved watching the set in sleeve caps grow with the yoke, but I found myself frustrated with the little bumps in the fabric at the corners at which the knitting moves perpendicularly to the picked up sleeve cap top stitches.  I also found myself wishing for lovelier smoother rounder caps.

A few weeks back I decided to experiment a little with the method, inspired by Jared Flood’s Vogue Knitting article on seamless set-in sleeves from the bottom up, and this little patch of knitting is what sprang into being.  It is worked using magic loop – imagine a toe-up sock with one side slashed open, and Median or Row Below increases, which conveniently look just like a seam.  My next step is to insert this into an actual sweater – I will work both shoulders first as mirror images to the bottom of the back neck shaping and then join them with some cast on stitches equal in width to the back neck.

I’m finishing my annual spring cardi – photos soon – this time in the lovely Sanguine Gryphon Bugga in Tomato Frog (a loud “transvestite-lipstick” red as the SG website describes it) and then it’s on to my actual sweater prototype, so more soon!  If all goes well, I’ll post a tutorial.

Verbiage about knitting, especially top down sweaters, coming soon!

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment