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Picking up the sleeves

When back in the mists of time I stopped knitting in the round and divided for the armholes, I left the gusset stitches on a holder (1). I find that old gansey 5-ply yarn makes a pretty good stitch holder, so I just knit a piece of old yarn through the gusset stitches and forget about them for a few months. (One advantage of using old yarn is that it’s very flexible, and hasn’t got any pointy bits to jab me in unfortunate places when I sneeze.)

I always start the armholes by picking up a few stitches of the gusset first. This has a couple of real advantages. You see, if I start picking up the armhole stitches straight away, I tend to end up with a larger, looser first stitch (I assume this is a failing in my technique, but every time I start to pick up stitches without a run-in like this I can’t keep the tension as taut as I’d like and the result after a couple of rows is a very noticeable hole. This way I can start knitting with a new ball of yarn for several stitches of plain knitting, and for some reason the tension is much easier to maintain.) The other advantage is that I’m starting the gusset in the middle – which means that every time I decrease from hereon in, the decrease is happening on the same row on both sides of the gusset; otherwise the left side decrease would be out of sync with the right side by a row.

Anyway, you now have to get the stitches off the holding yarn and onto a double-pointed needle. Thread a needle (hereinafter “Needle 1″) through half a dozen or so stitches on the left side of the gusset (2), slide the yarn out from those stitches (3) and re-tie the yarn to prevent any stitches dropping off when you’re not looking (4).

Drop a good length of the end of the new ball of yarn you’re going to knit with into the armhole (5). (I tend to go for long ends of 4-6 inches to keep them out of the way, but that’s a bit excessive, I know – so long as you’ve got enough to darn them in at the end, that’s all you really need.) When you’re happy with the length of your yarn end, hold it in position by anchoring it between thumb and finger (6) to ensure a good tension on your first stitch – otherwise it will be too loose and you’ll end up with the dreaded hole, as mentioned above. Insert another double-pointed needle (hereinafter “Needle 2″) through the first stitch (7), and knit a plain stitch in the usual way (8-10).

Knit the rest of the stitches on Needle 1, until you have 2 gusset stitches left plus the purl seam stitch (11). Make a decrease by knitting the last 2 gusset stitches together (12-15). This helps to make a sharp diamond shape for the gusset, and also helps with your counting as you progress down the sleeve: because the first row is going to be your pick-up row, it won’t be part of the pattern – the pattern will start on the next row, which will be the first “real” row; so, by making a decrease on this row, you can keep the gusset and the pattern in sync as you progress down the sleeve. (Obviously you also have to remember to decrease when you reach the other side of the gusset too.)

And after all that, you’re ready to start actually picking up stitches – but at least you don’t have to worry about flabby yarn tension at the same time!

Insert Needle 1 through the first of the edge stitches, making sure you get all of it (16). It should look like an ear of wheat on the needle. (Usually the edge stitches are curled inwards a bit and are almost at right angles anyway, so they’re not that hard to see.) To pick up the stitch, just knit a plain stitch in the usual way (17-20) by inserting Needle 2 through the opening you’ve created, looping the yarn over it, pulling it back through and slipping the stitch from Needle 1 to Needle 2.

Repeat up the armhole for as many stitches as your stitch gauge demands (21). This is why it’s important to add an extra stitch on the edge of your armhole, because the row on the very end of each side is sacrificed as you pick up your new stitches – so always make your yoke 2 stitches wider than your pattern demands. You will notice the row next to them becomes very clearly delineated as you progress up the armhole (22 and 23), which is another way of telling you that you’re doing it right.

One point to remember is that your (horizontal) stitch gauge will be a smaller number than your (vertical) row gauge. In my case, I knit about 9.25 stitches to the inch, but get about 12 rows to the inch. So you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of picking up every edge stitch, or you’ll have about a quarter more stitches than you need, all too close together. I try to use landmarks on the yoke pattern to help me get the spacing about right – in this case, the ladder on each side of the yoke pattern makes a helpful marker. There are 16 steps on each ladder, so if I pick up some 9 stitches for every 2 steps I should be about right (78 divided by 16 equals 4.5).

The only other thing to look out for is that it’s very easy to pick up just half a stitch – easier than picking up a whole stitch, in fact. In this case, instead of the “ear of wheat” effect referred to above, you just get a single loop on your needle (24), and if the stitch is completed it stands out from the rest of the row (25). This is a Bad Thing and is to be avoided unless you wish your name to be a hissing and a byword in knitting circles.

And there you are. No sewing involved at any stage.

12 comments to Picking up the sleeves

  • Sue Rees

    My pattern tells me to pick up 160 stitches around the armhole including the gusset. I’ve done this and the sleeve is massive – looks like a puff sleeve! The pattern band is over 92 stitches once the 20 stitches of the gusset is worked out. What am I doing wrong or is it the pattern? I am knitting a size 44 inch Staithes gansey.
    Thank you

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue,

      Sorry not to get back to you sooner—sometimes in the working week I just lapse into a coma on the sofa in the evenings from which I have to be shifted with a broom handle.

      Can you drop me an email at gordon@ganseys.com with as much information as you can (depth of armhole and stitch gauge would be most useful and we’ll see what we can advise). By which I mean I’ll get Margaret on the case!

      Look forward to hearing from you soon,
      Gordon

  • Sue Rees

    Not sure if I posted my question so will try again!

  • Sue Rees

    Many thanks for your help. Thanks particularly to Margaret – the sleeves now look like sleeves and the Gansey is now finished. Just the lose ends to darn in! Without your great website I would have been very ‘stuck’. I might even knit another one!
    Sue

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue,

      Glad we (ie, Margaret!) could be of help. Sorry not to reply sooner, but we were away and I’ve been knocked out with a cold this last week.

      I always think I could quit any time, but then I see another pattern I want to try. I should probably just accept I’m an addict…

      And remember, if you’d like to send us a picture of your gansey, we’d be happy to add it to the gallery.

      All the best,
      Gordon & Margaret

  • Tony

    Is the stitch that is knitted into when picking up for sleeves part of the 100% count of stitches (for the chest)? Or do you increase one stitch on either side of the front and back panels after half the gusset is created? I hope this isn’t a stupid question.

    • Godon

      Hi Tony, not a stupid question at all! I usually have one plain stitch either side of each of the fake “seam” stitches that run up the length of the body, which is extra to the stitches i need for the pattern, and when I come to pick up stitches around the armholes I use that one to knit into. In other words, yes, it’s part of the 100% count of stitches for the chest.

      But there’s no reason why you can’t increase a couple of stitches front & back when you divide for the yoke, it’s really up to you. I guess the important thing is to make sure that the stitches you knit into aren’t part of the pattern, so you’re not losing anything by it.

      Hope this helps,
      Gordon

  • Christine

    Like Sue Rees on the above comment, I had worked out that 160 stitches to be picked up for the sleeves would be about right, but I now think that is far too many and the sleeves would look wrong.. I,m knitting for a 40/42 inch chest with a tension of 9 stitches and twelve rows to the inch. I’m afraid that I need Margaret’s help here too.

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Christine

      The number of stitches will depend on the depth of your armhole. If it’s 9″ deep, then 160 is about right (18 x 9st/” = 162). This does not include the gusset stitches.

      If it’s 8″ deep, then this will be too many stitches.

      Hope this helps, get back in touch if you have further queries.

      Margaret

  • Christine

    Thanks again Margaret. Couldn’t fnish this gansey without your website.

  • Suzanne

    To pick up stitches for the sleeves for a jacket
    From where do u pick the stitches?
    From the front and back? Of the jacket?
    I picked up 45 stitches from the front only
    I think it is wrong
    Please help
    Thanks

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