Knitting sleeves and shoulders has never been my favorite part of sweater knitting. The sleeves from my very first knitted sweater are wonky and weird, with seams that don’t exactly match up.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about knitting sleeves and shoulders. (Dolman-sleeve sweaters never look good with my wide-leg pants, for one thing.) It’s not just the style you have to think about. You also want to keep in mind your knitting skills to find sleeves and shoulders that won’t send you into a stressful knitting frenzy! But, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed by the number of shoulder and sleeve styles…
Check out this guide to find out which sleeve or shoulder design is best for your style — and for your knitting!
Photo via Bluprint instructor Amy Ross
A raglan sleeve is usually associated with a sporty style . (Think baseball t-shirts.) The edge of the sleeve goes from under the arm all the way to the neckline, creating a nice little diagonal. Check out the pullover from Amy Ross’s My First Sweater class above. Notice how the sleeve even helps form the neckline.
Raglan sleeves aren’t limited to pullovers. You can also knit raglan sleeves into a cardigan. Want to know more? Check out the details of My First Sweater and enroll to let Amy Ross guide you in shaping the perfect raglan sleeves.
Great for: knitting from the top down, casual and sporty styles
Photo via Bluprint member Vogue Knitting
When you think of a dolman sleeve, think about a sweater that’s knit from one cuff to the other. The dolman sleeve usually results in a loose-fitting sweater like the Fair Isle Dolman pictured above. Check out how that Fair Isle pattern is totally seamless, from the cuff all the way to the button placket of this cardigan. Because of this, dolman-style sweaters usually just have seaming below the underarms on each side.
Dolman sleeves can be pullovers or cardigans. The defining characteristic is that the sleeves and body are knit in the same piece.
Great for: Knitters who loathe seaming, casual styles, quick knitting
Photo via Bluprint member Vogue Knitting
Set-in sleeves are probably the most common type of sweater sleeve. The Short Sleeve Cardigan above is one example of set-in sleeves. See how the sleeves are knit in stockinette stitch, while the diagonal eyelet stitch makes up the body of the sweater? The sleeves are knit flat separately from the body. Once the front and back of the sweater are joined at the shoulders, the knitter seams the sleeve to the body.
This can be a bit of a challenge sometimes, since the sleeve doesn’t always fit perfectly into the arm. But with a bit of patience and experience, it’s no problem.
Great for: Knitters who are pros — or want to become pros — at seaming
Photo via Bluprint member XandY
If you were around in the 1980s, you might remember those slouchy, drop shoulder sweaters that were in style. But don’t diss the drop shoulder just because of its bad rep from the 80s. As evidenced in the Drop Top above, drop shoulders can be as modern and flattering as any other shoulder.
The body of a drop shoulder sweater is knit in the shape of a rectangle without much shaping — or sometimes any shaping at all. Unlike a set-in sleeve or raglan, the drop shoulder sleeve doesn’t actually begin at the shoulder; instead, it begins at the top of the arm. If you look closely at the Drop Top above, you can see the seam line where the shoulders and sleeves meet.
Great for: Knitters who loathe shaping, beginner knitters, quick knitting
The yoke-style sweater is similar to the raglan sleeve sweater, except that the diagonal is not quite as obvious in the yoke. This yoke is usually knit in the round, with the shaping distributed evenly throughout the chest and in the shoulders.
Yoke styles almost always include some kind of colorwork or textured stitches to make it more interesting. For more examples, check out the sweaters Eunny Jang designed for her Choose Your Own Sweater Adventure class.
Great for: Stranded colorwork, textured stitches, knitters who loathe seaming