A month or so ago I finished knitting three red jumpers and two striped cardigans for the child actors starring in a feature film that has just finished shooting in Melbourne. At start of the last week of shooting, I received an anxious message from the wardrobe girls: The sleeves of the little cardigans are too long for the rest of the actor’s wardrobe, could I shorten them this afternoon? Well, a little bit of warning would have been nice, but never one to shy away from challenge I said it would be possible. Great, she said, be over in half an hour or so. As I didn’t know how much I was going to be removing from the sleeve, I couldn’t really prepare other than clear the table, get out my knitting needles, scissors, markers and pins, and sit down to wait.
In my mind I had three options for shortening the sleeves. The best option would be to unpick the armhole seam, un-pull the sleeve head shaping and sleeve to the required length, re-knit sleeve head and sew the sleeves back in. There was no way I had enough time to do this. The next best option would be to graft the top of the sleeve cuff to a point up the sleeve as long as this was before the first sleeve increase, eliminating the excess length. This option would be relatively quick and would give a seamless finish. However I doubted that would take out enough length.
As it turned out, the sleeves needed to be a whopping 7cm shorter! The original pattern, ‘Venezia’ from Louisa Harding’s The Magical World according to Miss Millie does have fashionably long sleeves, thumb length rather than wrist length, but that’s not the only reason why the sleeves needed to be adjusted. It turns out that the gorgeous yellow coat which the little actor was to wear over my cardigan had rather narrow sleeves which pushed the cardigan down the actor’s arms. This extra length needed to come off. Therefore I was left with my third option; I had a thought that I might be able to take of some length from the cuff and re-knit the four row moss stitch band down the sleeve. This was far and away going to be the fastest was of radically shortening the sleeves, and only had a small element of danger. So, here’s how I did it:
Step 1: Mark out the length on both sleeves
Sounds obvious, and working with a striped garment makes it much easier, but the sleeves should be the same length, so mark out both sleeves by counting rows up from the cuff. Remember to allow for the length of the cuff in your measurement. In this case my cuff measures 1.5 cm, so my mark is 8.5 cm from the cast on edge for a finished sleeve length of 7 cm.
Figure 1: Mark out the length you need to remove
Step 2: Unpick the sleeve seam
Unpick the sleeve seam well past your markers as you need to flatten out the sleeve in the next step. I always sew up my sleeves with mattress stitch which is a really easy stitch to unpick.
Figure 2: Unpick the sleeve seam
Step 3: Pick up stitches
Pick up the stitches of the row you have marked. If you pick up the loop between the stitches on the wrong side of your work, knitting down the sleeve will appear seamless on the right side. I find it easier to pick up stitches in a straight line on the purl side and of course the stripes made it even easier! Pick up the stitches from right to left using a circular or double pointed needle. If you go through the stitch from above right towards lower left, the stitch will be on the needle the right way when you turn the work around to purl the next row.
Figure 3: Picking up stitches on the wrong side
Figure 4: Picking up a stitch on the wrong side from right to left
Figure 5: The entire row on a circular needle
Step 4: Cutting away the excess sleeve
Yes, I said cutting. You may remember I seem to be developing a habit of cutting my knitted fabric, but this is not as scary as my previous experience. Before you cut, however, have a think about what you are going to do next to make sure you have enough yarn to safely join in your new yarn. In my case it didn’t matter where I cut my yarn as I was knitting stripes carrying the yarn up the side of my work. If you are working in one colour, it would be better to cut your yarn in the middle of the row to make sure you have a decent yarn end. So find the row below, decide where is best to start and prepare to cut.
Figure 6: Finding the loops in the row below
Figure 7: Decide where you are going to cut the loop, at one end or in the middle of the row. In my case, at the end of the row.
Figure 8: Cutting the loop
Step 5: Unravel the row
Once you have cut one loop you can start unravelling. I prefer that to cutting every stitch. If you have made a mistake picking up across the row, pulling the yarn through the stitches will give you an opportunity to stop and pick up the correct stitches. If you cut each loop, your mistake will be irreversible. Besides, it makes an enormous mess!
Figure 9: Unravelling the row below
Figure 10: We have separation
Step 6: Knit a new cuff
Now you are ready to start knitting. Because I had washed and blocked these cardigans the yarn was very kinked and would not knit up well. If you have time you could quickly unravel the discarded fabric and either wash or steam out the kinks before reusing the yarn. Luckily I had a good quantity of leftover yarn, so I joined in new yarn and started purling on the wrong side as my first row. And because I picked up the loop between the
stitches, changing the direction of my knitting is seamless. I knitted four rows in moss stitch pattern and cast off.
Figure 11: Purling the first row and a seamless join
Figure 12: The difference between cast on and cast off edges.
Figure 13: One finished sleeve
Et voilà! I can’t say I’m entirely happy about the difference between the cable cast on and the standard cast off edges, but it’s not bad for less than 15 minutes work. Better get cracking, as I still have three sleeves to go!
Ms Jane is Melbourne-based artist who earns her living taking photographs and only to spend it all on knitting yarn and sewing material. You can see her knitting and sewing projects here or find her as msjane on Ravelry.