Measurement Problems with Drop Shoulder Sweaters done with Steeks — Solved! (Maybe)

I’m watching the Lucy Neatby knitting videos B loaned me. I already know most of it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I’m enjoying the review. They’re very well done.

I hate sewing seams. I just learned about steeking a year ago, and haven’t had any call for knit sweaters since then, but it’s on the short list.

(Steaking is when you cut — yes, cut — the knitting on a vertical line. You can knit the entire sweater in the round, which is much faster, and then cut the front open. It doesn’t unravel side-to-side that fast, and you usually reinforce it before
cutting.)

I just watched Lucy graft the top of a shoulder by setting pieces at right angles and combine grafting with mattress-stitch. One side of the seam looks like an extra row of knitting, the other hides the ugly edge stitch. I discovered that technique years ago by experimenting myself.

Before that I watched her pick up a steeked edge.

And now it comes together with another dilemma: The last drop-shoulder sweater I did, I converted the pattern to in-the-round until the armpits, then went to back-and-forth. There are two problems with this approach. First, most knitters get slightly different gauge in back-and-forth compared to in-the-round. Both look good, but there can be a faint line where you switch techniques. Second, it’s hard to tell where to change. Yes, the math is pretty simple, but real knitting doesn’t always meet the planned dimensions. The arm might be larger or smaller than planned, or the body above the armhole might be different.

Some patterns written in-the-round tell you to set aside an inch of stitches under the armhole. On the next round you cast on a few, which become the seam allowance for the armhole steek. As with the first approach, beware of knitted dimensions not matching pattern.

And, in writing this, I thought of even more solutions.

Common Thread: Knit the arms before cutting. Hold the actual sleeves up against the body to see how large the arm hole has to be — no more math!

Solution One:

Knit the entire body in the round. Choose a pattern with boring side panels, so you can later cut as far down the armhole as you like, and it doesn’t matter if some of the side panel is used as seam allowance for the steek.

Today’s great insight is: The width of the top of the body can be smaller than the width of the bottom. A moderate seam allowance for the armhole steeks is fine.

If you attach the bottom of the sleeve to the bottom of the steek — i.e., a horizontal line across the armpit — it will actually make the sweater fit a bit better and allow you to use a smaller arm diameter. More like an inset sleeve.

If you trust your gauge, you could still do the math and pick up stitches from the body at the armhole, then steek, and get the same shape.

Solution Two:

This might not work with deep fancy necklines, but will work for others. It won’t work if the neckhole is barely large enough and the tolerances all add up wrong.

Knit the arms. Put them on and decide how far down you want the armhole openings. Measure from there to the bottom of the plan.

This tells you how high to make the bottom part of the body.

Now look at the pattern. Count the rows of shaping at the bottom of the armhole and at the neck / armhole top. Calculate how many inches there are of each. Most patterns have a “knit even” bit in the middle of the armhole. Calculate how many inches this is. Remember that the neck opening counts as part of the top, non-adjustable section.

Knit the armholes — you now know how many inches of “knit even” to do.

My grandmother would be ignoring me by now. She always followed patterns exactly, even if minor modifications would make them easier or fit better. Only highly-trained designers can modify printed patterns.

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