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Set in Sleeve Pattern...


In this area I will try to explain how to calculate a set in sleeve for a sweater pattern, but off course you can have a set in sleeve with anything you want to knit up.  It is different from a drop shoulder sweater pattern as you have a cap to the sleeve and it must be able to fit properly into the armhole area of the sweater.  Some of the calculations are constants, which mean they do not change, while other calculation you have to figure out.  I usually do all the easy math first and then the more difficult math.  It is more complicated than a drop sleeve, but for a perfect fit, worth the work not only figuring it out but also the extra time it takes to knit it up and join it.  You can also use some of the steps when creating a sleeveless top or vest.

To help things along, I have put together some sleeve templates that you can download to use while you are reading this section.  Just click on the template of your choice and you can print it out as a PDF file.

1.  Set in Sleeve Template - Sleeve Body

2A.  Set in Sleeve Template - Sleeve Cap
2B.  Set in Sleeve Template - Sleeve Cap, easy

                                                                                           So, let us begin...

          Below is a typical example of what a set in sleeve schematic looks like


First, there are a few constants to look at and a few terms to know.  With any pattern, the sleeve is  always broken down into 2 sections:

1.  The "Body" of the sleeve is the most of the length from the cuff (wrist) to the top of the sleeve body.  This is after any band has been knitted and then the row counter reset.  Remember to deduct the rows from total rows in the body otherwise the sleeve will be too long.

2.  The cap of the sleeve is the top part that fits into the armhole where it starts to slant inwards after the sleeve body. The most difficult calculation is the cap, so we will leave it for last.

The cap itself is also divided into sections:
A.  The armhole bind off match at the edges
B.  The final bind off
C.  The top slope
D.  The center cap, you will always calculate this last


Most, if not ALL, calculations when creating a sleeve pattern, or any knitting pattern is done with long division, which we probably learned in the 6th grade.  I do not know about you, but I had dig deep to remember it, so below is a review of long division.  Also, for knitting patterns, there are a few steps specific to knitting patterns, other than what is reviewed below.


Long Division Math Review:

We will be using long division as a means to calculate how to knit up the sleeve body and the sleeve cap.

1.  DIVISOR -   The number you use to divide by
2.  DIVIDEND - The number to be divided, the number you are dividing
                       8 can go into 24, 3 times, 3 is the QUOTIENT

3.  QUOTIENT - The number of times the DIVISOR fits into the DIVIDEND (it should be a whole number, if it is not use the Magic Formula)

                        8 can go into 30, 3 times (3 x 8 = 24) with 6 left over, so 6 is the REMAINDER

4.  REMAINDER - The number that is left over after the DIVISOR is divided into the DIVIDEND.

Below is an example of this equation, but for a different calculation.  What is important is that you understand what each number is.


This is a must for me otherwise I get totally lost.  As I go along, I jot down notes and calculations that I will use and then once I am done with all the calculations, I can write up the instructions.  It does not have to be fancy or actual size, just as long as it looks like a sleeve.  Mine are usually long, much too long for it to be an actual pattern piece, but this is because I divide it up into the sections I mentioned above, to make things a little easier when calculating a set in sleeve with a cap.

ASSUMPTIONS: (pattern is complete except for the sleeves)
    1.  You know your stitch and row gauge by the inch
    2.  You know your sleeve length, by measuring someones arm length and by your sweater pattern, which is complete except for the sleeves.

SIDE NOTE:  When measuring for the "Set In Sleeve", you measure from the top of the shoulder to the wrist with a bent arm. 

    3.  You will reset your counter to 0 (zero) once a cuff or ribbing is knitted at the beginning of the sleeve.
              ......which you will also deduct from the total length of the sleeve
                          Others include it, it is easier for me to reset to 0 (zero)
    4.  You know your armhole depth from your sweater pattern
      5.  You know from your pattern that you bound off X number of stitches on each side of the front and back pieces at the beginning of the armhole(s).

So, here is what we know so far...
5 Stitches and 8 - rows is 1", that is our gauge.
-  You want your sleeve to be 21 inches long and the wrist width is 5", as measured on the body.
-  You will have a ribbed band of 2", which means that you will have a total length of 19" to shape the sleeve including the cap,
or (for me 19½"**)

**I usually find that if I take the actual 2" of ribbing off, my sleeves come out a little short, so when I add ribbing I reduce by the inches of ribbing, less ½".  So, if there is 2" of ribbing, I actually only deduct 1½.  I will use the original 2" for this example, you can decide what you want to do.  We will use 19" for this exercise.
-  You bound off 5 stitches on each side for the armhole, so you need to bind off 5 stitches each side at the beginning of the cap slope.

Next are the constants:
-  There should be ½" to 1" of plain knitting at the top of the sleeve cap right before your final bind off row.  These rows are all the same length.
-  Approximately 1/5th of the sleeve width at it's widest is the width of the  sleeve cap final bind off, the number of stitches for the final bind off.
-  You use the same amount of ease that you used for the back and front of the sweater to the Wrist, Armhole and Upper Arm.
-  You bind off at the beginning of the cap the same amount of stitches that you bound off at the beginning of the armhole shaping on the garment pieces. (2 rows and ?? stitches)


I first do all the basic (easy) math you can for your sleeve first, knowing that 5 stitches and 8 rows = 1 inch.  You then add this info onto your sleeve drawing in the correct areas.  I have done this in no particular order.

A.  Sleeve wrist is 5" and you used 2" of ease in the sweater body = 7"
7 X 5 stitches = 35 stitches at the bottom of the sleeve (cuff) 

B.  Sleeve ribbing is 2"
2 x 8 rows = 16 rows of ribbing and then reset the row counter

C.  Sleeve length 21"                 (168)                                                                       (16)
(21 inches in length x 8 rows per inch) - (2" x 8 rows of ribbing) = 152 rows total for shaping including the cap

D.  The top of the sleeve body is 16" wide (from your pattern)
16" x 5 stitches = 80 stitches wide at the top of the sleeve body

E.  Top of sleeve body - the cuff = total stitches to increase in the body:
80 - 35 = 45 stitches to increase in the body of the sleeve, before the cap, evenly over the rows

F.  You know from your pattern that the cap is 6" tall.  Since your cap is 6" tall, you times it by rows per inch, 6" x 8 rows = 48 rows for the cap.

G. You minus rows for the cap from total rows for the sleeve and you get the rows you have for increases in the body of the sleeve.
152 - 48 = 104 rows for the body sleeve increases

H.  You know that the Final Bind Off is around 1/5th, or 20% of the top of the sleeve body, that we know has 80 stitches.  20% of 80 = 16 stitches for the Final Bind Off

I.  We know that we will have ½ - 1" of rows, all the same width knitted up right before the Final Bind Off Row.  Since 1" of rows = 8, we will have 4 to 8 rows.  For me this is a preference, and with thicker yarn I use the lower number and with finer yarns I use the higher number, which is my preference and I rarely go above 5 rows, regardless.  Since this gauge is for a thicker yarn, I am going to use 4 rows before the Final Bind Off.

J.  You then divide the stitches that you have for increasing by 2 as you have 2 sides to a sleeve, so 2 stitches will be used at one time on one row for increasing.  45 ÷ 2 = 22.5, I would just round this down to 22 stitches.

       *** You can also use the MF for one sided increases, just an FYI

K.  We bind off 5 stitches each side at the beginning of the cap, because we bound off 5 stitches making the armhole.  Total 2 rows and 10 stitches.

See what I mean by you HAVE TO draw a sleeve and start jotting this down?

Here is what my notes look like at this point..    

Click on this link to download the above body sleeve information

So, now you have all the numbers you need to figure out the shaping of the
"body" of the sleeve, we will calculate the cap next.

Stitches to Increase:
  80 - 35 = 45 ÷ 2 sides = 22.5, rounded down to 22 stitches total for increases
  168 - (16 ribbing + 48 cap) = 104 total rows I can use for increasing 22 stitches (actually 44 as I increase 1 (one) stitch each side).

Magic Formula:
   22 can go into 104, 4 times with 16 stitches left over
   You add a 1 to the 4 = 5 (just something you always do)
   You minus 16 left over stitches from 22 = 6

Instructions:  You increase 1 stitch each side 16 times every 5th row
                         You then increase 1 stitch each side 6 times every 4th row


1 x 16 x 2 = 32 stitches
1 x   6 x 2 = 12 stitches

                                        32 + 12 = 44 stitches ÷ 2 = 22

16 x 5 = 80 rows
  6 x 4 = 24 rows
                                        80 + 24 = 104 rows


Believe it or not that was the easy part!  Now for the second half of the instructions, the cap of the sleeve...

SIDE NOTE:  The measurement at the top of the sleeve body is ??".  This calculation comes when you are creating the pattern for the body of the sweater, the front and back, and is based on the chest measurement, minus the back measurement and the total measurement of the sweater height, among other numbers.  You also will need to know the measurement of a person's arm at the bicep and you add the ease amount in order to get the sleeve's top body measurement.  So, if you have an upper arm measurement of 17" and you had used 2" of ease = 19".

At this point, all I am doing is a set in sleeve calculation, so I am assuming you already have the instructions for knitting up and back and the front body of the sweater, as there is a constant when you start knitting the sleeve cap.  The first 2 rows of decreases on the cap are the same as the armhole shaping on the front and back pieces.  So, if you bound off 5 stitches each side for the armhole, you do the same for the beginning of the sleeve cap.

You will learn about necklines and armholes on another page, for now I just want you to learn the Magic Formula.

Now that we have the instructions for the sleeve body, we will move on to the sleeve cap.  As discussed before, the cap is also divided into sections.  We also know that we bound off 5 stitches for the armholes, we do the same for the beginning of the cap, on each side for a total of 10 stitches.

Here is what we know about the cap:

1.  We bind off 5 stitches on the first 2 rows for a total of 10 stitches.
2.  We know the cap is 6" tall which is 48 rows, by our calculations above.
3.  We know that the last ½" to 1" of the top of the sleeve cap are even rows, as in they are all the same length. ½ - 1" of rows is 4 to 8 rows.  I usually use no more than 5, but this is a preference.
4.  The top of the cap width is always around1/5th of the width of the top of the sleeve body width, in this case it was 16".  Which means...

Final Bind Off is the Upper Arm Width of 16" ÷ 20% (1/5) = 3.2" 

Then figure out width in stitches.
 3.2" x 5 stitches = 16 stitches for Final Bind Off, we were lucky and got a whole number.  Always round up to the nearest whole if you do not get a whole number.

7.  The center of the cap is roughly shaped "UP TO" the last ½ - 1" of cap height and this calculation is done last.
8.  The top slope of the cap is roughly binding off 2" in width (stitches), over a ½ - 1" of rows. Figure this out before the center cap area.

So we know the following stitches and rows are accounted for:
- 2 rows and 10 stitches    Initial Bind Off
- 4 rows                            Top of sleeve cap, just prior to final bind off
- 16 stitches                       Final Bind Off

Now, what I do next is figure out the "Top Slope" which is the last ½" to 1" of rows and we are decreasing 2" of stitches over these rows.

2" x 5 = 10 stitches and then divide by 2 as you will decrease on each side at the same time.  Final number is 5 stitches.

1" of rows is 8 and ½" is 4

5 stitches cannot go into 4 rows, which is ½", but 5 stitches can go into 8 rows, so we will use 1",  You can off course use 5, 6 or 7 rows, but I just use either - or.  It is just a rule of thumb to make things easier.

Now we also know:
-  We will be using another 8 rows and another 10 stitches - 5 each side

Now for the actual instructions....

5 stitches goes INTO 8 rows once
-  There is a remainder of 3 stitches
-  You add 1 to the number that 5 stitches goes into 8 rows which is 1, so 1 + 1 = 2
-  You then minus the leftover number of 3 stitches from the number 5 stitches, so 5 - 3 = 2 stitches

Decrease 1 stitch each side, every 2nd row, 3 times
Decrease 1 stitch each side, every row, twice

MATH CHECK: 2 x 3 = 6 rows
                  1 x 2 = 2 rows

            1 x 3 = 3 stitches
            1 x 2 = 2 stitches
                                       TOTAL 5 stitches (each side = 10)



-  We know that for the Top Slope we used 8 rows and 10 stitches
-  We know that there will be a 16 stitch Bind Off and 1 row
We know that there are 4 rows of even stitches just before Final Bind Off
-  We know that we will bind off 5 stitches on each side at the beginning of the cap, for 10 stitches and 2 rows

Total cap height is 48 rows, minus 15 rows already used = 33 rows left
Total stitches is 10 + 16 + 10 = 36 stitches used,  80 - 36 = 44 stitches and we divide by 2 since we decrease each side = 22 stitches for decreases

Now we need to use the Magic Formula:
22 stitches can go into 33 rows once with 11 stitches left over
-  We add a 1 to the once (1) = 2
-  We minus the remainder of 11 stitches from 22 stitches = 11 stitches

So, we decrease each side 1 stitch, every other row, 11 times and then decrease 1 stitch every side, every row, 11 times

2 x 11 = 22
1 x 11 = 11
                      TOTAL 33 rows

1 x 11 = 11
1 x 11 = 11
                       TOTAL 22 stitches x 2 sides = 44 stitches


Like Magic

Now that you are done with the cap you can write up your instructions.  I have not done this here just to save some space. You can upload the final instructions that you see above, and probably cannot read and check it against yours with this link:  Set In Sleeve Final Instructions


The above calculation is very detailed, and usually not necessary in my opinion, unless I use a fine yarn and knit up a top that is not very forgiving, and by that I mean it is a tight fit and/or it needs to fit well.  When I knit up sweaters, they usually have a more forgiving fit, or bulkier fit, as it usually sits on top of a blouse or camisole, or is just a bulkier top.  In this case I use a shortcut version, a simpler method, for set in sleeve shaping or just apply a drop sleeve instead.  While Set In Sleeves look really good, they are a royal pain in the tuckus. 
Here is an average chart for the cap top that ALLES came up with
 ARMHOLE                     CAP
  5" - 6"                           4"
  6.5" - 7.5"                     5"
  8" - 9"                           6"
  9.5" - 10.5"                   7"
  11"≤                             7.5"

1.  You will ALWAYS have a total of 4 stitches on each side at the top of the cap to bind off at the last 2 rows PRIOR to the FINAL BIND OFF ROW.  A total of 8 stitches over 2 rows.
2.  Your armhole measurement, will dictate how large the cap will be, and you add the same amount of ease to this number that was used in the body of the sweater.  So, if it is 2" you add 2" to this number.
SIDE NOTE:  If you have a sleeveless top and you will add a band of 1", you need to take this into account also.  I have more info on that on the page titled "How to - Sweater Pattern"
3.  The cap will never be more than 7½" tall.
4.  Your initial bind off for the armhole is the same amount of stitches as for the beginning of the cap.
5.  The bind off row will be around 1/5 of the width of the top body sleeve width.

FIRST:  All the easy stuff, stitches and rows accounted for...
Let's say that 4 stitches and 8 rows = 1 inch, that is our gauge

1.  8 stitches and 2 rows, from #1 above
2.  Let's say the armhole measurement is 6.5" and we used 2" of ease in the sweater body = 8.5", so the cap will be 6" tall, as per the table above.  6" x 8 rows = 48 rows for the cap
3.  We initially bound off 8 stitches at the beginning of the armhole, so we will bind off 8 stitches each side at the beginning of the cap = 8 + 8 = 16 stitches and 2 rows.
4.  The top body sleeve part is17" wide at the top so 17" x 4 stitches = 68 stitches.  68 ÷ 5 (1/5 or 20%) = 13.6 stitches.  Disregard any leftover past the dot, so 13 stitches for binding off.
5.  We know from our measurements that the sleeve is 21" long, and we will have a turned picot edge.  21 x 8 = 168 total rows for the sleeve.
6.  The wrist is 6", per our measurement, ease of 2" added = 8" x 4 = 32 stitches at the cuff.
7.  Take away 32 stitches at the wrist from 68 stitches at the top of the sleeve body means we have 36 stitches we use to increase the body of the sleeve.  Divide by 2, for an increase on each side = 18 stitches
8.  The cap is 48 rows minus from total rows of 168 = 120 rows that we use for the increases in the body of the sleeve.

Calculate the Sleeve Body:
-  We want to decrease 18 stitches (36 total) over 120 rows.
-  18 goes INTO 120, 6 times for 108
-  We add 1 to the 6 = 7
-  We subtract 108 from 120 = 12 remainder stitches
-  We minus 12 from 18 = 6
***As you should know by now this is the Magic Formula

Instructions for the sleeve body
Increase 1 stitch each side 12 times every 7th row and then every 6th row 6 times.

12 x 7 = 84
 6 x 6 = 36 rows
                          Total 120 rows

1 x 12 = 12
1 x   6 =  6
                           Total 18 stitches x 2 sides is 36

Calculate the cap and Final Bind Off
-  The Final Bind Off Row is 13 stitches
-  The two rows before this we bind off 4 stitches each side
-  The Cap is 48 rows
-  The beginning cap bind off is 8 stitches each side (over 2 rows)
-  The top sleeve body is 68 stitches wide

ROWS:        1 + 2 + 2 = 5 rows spoken for
STITCHES:  13 + 8 + 16 = 37 stitches spoken for

48 rows - 5 rows = 43 rows
68 stitches - 37 stitches = 31 stitches

I want to decrease 31 stitches over 43 rows, BUT I have 2 sides to a sleeve, so I half my stitches to 15.5, ignore the remainder so 15 stitches.

-  15 can go into 43, 2 times (30) with a remainder of 13
-  I add 1 to the 2 times = 3
-  I deduct 13 from 20 = 7

Instructions for the CAP:
Bind off 8 stitches over the next 2 rows   (16/2)
Decrease every 3rd row, 13 times, 1 stitch each side
Decrease every 2nd row, 2 times, 1 stitch each side
Bind off 4 stitches each side over the next two rows  (8/2)
Bind off Final 13 stitches (13/1)

     3 x 13 = 39 + (2 x 2) = 43 rows + 2 + 2 + 1 = 48 Total rows
     13 + 2 = (15) x 2 stitches
     68 stitches at the top of the sleeve body - 30 - 16 - 8 - 13 = 1 left over (because we had a fraction of 1/2 a stitch earlier), just bind off 14 stitches instead of 13.

CORRECT AND FINI!  Now you can write out the actual instructions.


     Recommended Texts:

"Charting by the Magic Formula", which you can buy from Country Knitting of Maine
                         or email her at: oth98@hotmail.com

"KNITWEAR designs WORKSHOP, A comprehensive guide to hand knits" by SHIRLEY PADEN
                              Buy it at AMAZON.COM

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