How to set in sleeves perfectly

Today I am going to combine WIP-Wednesday with a tutorial. If you are following me on facebook, you know that I have started knitting my first garment on my knitting machine. I decided to knit a light cardigan with set-in sleeves. If you are a passionate "one piece"-knitter, I would like to invite you to have a look at this post to see how easy set in sleeves are.

I prefer knits that are feminine, shaped well and fit beautifully. I still love to knit in one piece to skip seaming. But there's just something about the shape and fit of seamed garments that often make me love them a little bit more. A big part of that feeling comes with set-in sleeves.

They give the right amount of precise fitting for the shoulders. Also, when a garment is seamed, it gains great form and structure. When you knit a one-piece sweater it never gets that kind of shape in my opinion. Seames add stability to a rather loose fabric that knitting often is. So, I think seaming is absolutely worth it when done well.

And because I am making a cardigan that is knitted in pieces and then seamed, I thought I'll make a nice tutorial on how to set in sleeves becasue this is the trickiest part.

First, a short WIP update:
I have finally finished all the five pieces of my cardigan. I designed it myself. It's going to be a waterfall/wrap kind of cardigan. I want a flowing and light cardigan to wear on early summer days or summer evenings to cover potential goose bumps :)
So, I am going for a classic and elegant look, and therefore I used a lot of stockinette stich. Also, the yarn itself is so beautiful, it just pops on its own without adding any pattern. It's a 70% merino 30% silk yarn. Oh it's so so heavenly soft!! :)
The stockinette also allowed me to concentrate on getting some more practice and experience operating the knitting machine. So it was really a pleasure to knit this one! I definately learned a lot from it! I think it's safe to say, I'm over a lot of the beginners mistakes, like the importance of yarn tension in the machine, or adding the right weights, how to increase and decrease in a good-looking way and so on.

So, now that all pieces are ready, the first thing to do is seam the shoulders and then to set in the sleeves. The following steps show how I do a set-in sleeve. 

After blocking all the single finished pieces, seam the shoulders. I like to use the graft method, a kitchener like seam to connect two bound off edges.  

Then lay the shoulder seam and the sleeve in front of you to get an overview.
(I like to work on the floor because it always provides all the space I need. But if you have a big table, that's even better! :) )

Set-in sleeves are designed that the length around the armhole is the same as the way along the sleeve cap.
Of course they will not exactly match (that's not possible because you can only knit full stiches, which only allows a certain accuracy) but the difference shouldn't be that much noticable.

Here comes the importance of the right gauge and knitting tension in. If you're knitting tighter or looser for the sleeve cap, it will be noticable. Also, if you're for example changing the upper arm circumference from the one written in the pattern, the sleeve cap will probably become wrong and therefore won't fit well. So, if you're intending to mod something at the sleeve, make sure to have the same number of stiches as intendeded in the pattern before starting the sleeve cap or consider re-calculating the sleeve cap and as well as the armhole shaping. 

The next step is pinning the sleeve against the armhole before you can start seaming.
Put the first marker in the middle of the sleeve cap and connect it to the shoulder seam.

Pinning the sleeve cap gives you several advantages.
By adding some markers
- you divide the edge you want to seam in smaller sections, so you will always see directly when something is going wrong.
- you assure the right fitting of the sleeve cap in the armhole from the beginning.
- you make it easier for yourself holding everything together while seaming.

So, pinning carefully is the most important step of setting in a sleeve.

Place the next markers after the initial bind off of the sleeve cap and connect to the same point at the armhole.
You can seam these stiches one by one later.

Then place markers where the straight edge of the sleeve cap stops on both sides. To do so, just hold the sleeve cap and the shoulder up and together, then pin.

Now you have pinned the fix points.

 This is what your sleeve cap looks like now.
Next you will pin the curved part of the sleeve cap to the straight part of the armhole.
In order to match the distances I highlighted with white arrows in the third picture in the beginning, the sleeve cap has less height and more shape than the armhole.

But if you hold them together with the right sides outwards, you'll (hopefully) see that they match each other. The length of the edges are quite the same.
Holding them together like in this picture makes your last pinning very easy. 


I like to place two more pins on this edge to get nice sections for seaming. You can also put three if you prefer. 


Now there are nine markers that mark the important points and hold everything together.

To check if everythings is working just fine, fold your sleeve and the sweater or cardigan into its final form and see for yourself. Now you can re-pin or change things if anything is not nice and flat.

Worst case: If nothing is working here, your only fix would be re-knitting the sleeve caps.

But if everything looks good, grab your tapestry needle and start seaming! :)

A few words on seaming:
For the initial bind off part I am using again "kitchener stich" to seam stich by stich for this short part.
For the rest I use mattress stich. It's invisible and strong and makes a flat and very clean seam.
Really take your time when seaming around the sleeve cap. You will be much more happy with the result!
Paying attention to the markers while seaming is very important. You should reach a marker at the same time with both sides (armhole and sleeve cap edge). If you do not, rip out a few stiches of the seam and re-seam.

Now I've got a lot of seaming to do (a gauge of 30 sts from machine knitting ;) ).
After seaming I intend to add a collar to the cardigan. So, it's not quite finished yet. :)

I hope you like the tutorial and it takes a little bit of the scariness of setting in a sleeve. Maybe it'll help you to get even prettier results for your next projects.

Happy knitting!

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