Top Down Set in Sleeves

One of my goals this year has been to learn new techniques to incorporate into my knitwear designs. With my most recent release Marsh Song I learned how to knit a top down set in sleeve. 
First of all let me just say that I LOVE a seamed garment. Seaming sweaters gives stability to the finished piece. When shoulders are seamed the sweater weight is distributed more evenly and holds up much better over time, stretching and uneven wearing are less common in a seamed hand knit sweater than in a yoked or top down one piece sweater.
There are many different styles of seamed sweaters, the raglan (like in my Meara or Hadley Sweater), the drop shoulder (like my Kerrytown and Mint Lotus designs), saddle shoulders (like in my North Bound and Navigate Pullover patterns), and a traditional set in sleeve (like in my Boho Love, and Home Again designs). To knit a traditional set in sleeve you knit the sleeve cap flat and bind off stitches at different intervals to achieve a nicely rounded cap with a great fit. This can be a little tricky as a designer, the math is a bit more complex than for other sleeve styles. For knitters it can be intimidating to fit the sleeve cap perfectly in the armhole. Really you just need to have patience to take care to line up and pin everything properly and some seaming skills to seam it in evenly. Just like anything with practice this is totally achievable! But still, some knitters are nervous to tackle the set in sleeve.
An alternative to a traditional seamed set in sleeve is a top down set in sleeve. For this style you aren’t actually creating a seam, its more of a modular knit; stitches are picked up around the armhole and the sleeve cap is worked back and forth using short rows at different rates. I think in some ways this is simpler for knitters because you don’t have to fuss about easing a sleeve into an armhole and seaming it perfectly! When working on my Marsh Song pattern I knew I wanted a tailored fit with a set in sleeve. Throughout the entire time I was knitting the body I was going back and forth in my mind about if I should just stick with what I know and do a traditional set in sleeve, or if I should push myself out of my comfort zone and try to make the top down set in sleeve. I ultimately decided to acknowledge my fears and go for it anyway!
To learn this new skill I pulled out my copy of Elizabeth Doherty’s book “Reimagining Set-In Sleeve Design.” She thoroughly explains how the top down set in sleeve works, the different sections and rates of short rows in the sleeve cap, and how to actually do it! One thing I love about this sleeve cap is the ornamental look of it.  When working short rows, you actually leave the wraps and it almost gives it a faux seam look and gives some more stability to the shoulder, it looks lovely too!
After reading through the book a couple of times and practicing a bit, I decided to work this style of sleeve into my Marsh Song pattern. I love everything about the top down set in sleeve and how it turned out! I will definitely be incorporating it into designs in the future!
I highly recommend Elizabeth's book if you are interested in learning how a top down set in sleeve works or if you want to knit one of her lovely sweater designs in the book! You can find it on Amazon HERE.
Or if you want to try it out by working up my Marsh Song pattern you can find that on Ravelry HERE.
I think what I loved most about this experience is the confirmation that when you push yourself to try something new, even though it can be a little scary and cause some nerves and anxiety, its surprising how its usually not as difficult as you imagined. When you master a brand new skill it gives you a real sense of pride and confidence in yourself and in your ability to grow and become a better knitter. And as always, a knitting lesson learned is actually much deeper life lesson in disguise!

Leave a comment