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The cuffs

When your sleeves are long enough, it’s time for the cuffs. But first, a word about how wide your sleeve should be at its narrowest point, before you start the cuffs. I reckon the narrowest the sleeve should be is about 6 inches, or it’s in danger of being too tight – so I advise you to check as you decrease down the sleeve, and if you’re in danger of making it narrower than 6 inches, just stop decreasing, and carry on straight to the cuff.

But of course it looks neater if you have a steady rate of decrease all the way down the sleeve, from the end of the gusset to the start of the cuff. Generally speaking, a decrease rate of 2 stitches (i.e., one either side of the seam) every 6 rows works about right.

The rule of thumb is to decrease 10% of the sleeve stitches for the cuff, and this typically gives me 108 stitches for the cuff (or 27 x 4 stitch (knit 2/purl 2) ribs – it being important to operate in multiples of 4 in order to get a whole number of ribs, as usual). Fewer stitches than that, and it can be a tight fit around the wrist.

When you have made the cuffs the correct length for your pattern – typically 3 inches – then cast off in the usual way, in pattern (casting off knit stitches with a knit stitch and purl stitches with a purl stitch) so the ribbing stays nicely pleated along the wrist.

(As with the collar, some of the books call for a couple of rows of purl stitches at the very end of the cuff, before you cast off. But I really don’t like this effect – it makes the cuff balloon out loosely just where it should be tight – and it doesn’t look right.)

When I’m knitting a gansey that’s patterned all the way down the sleeve and body, I usually make the cuffs 6 inches long, so they can be folded over to make a double-thickness cuff of 3 inches. I do this because I like the look of it – though it doesn’t look as well with a half-patterned gansey with plain lower sleeves – and because it makes for a slightly firmer grasp around the wrist. (If I’m knitting a gansey for somebody else, I usually do this anyway, because it gives them some flexibility in how long they want their sleeves, too.) But I have to say it gets pretty boring by the end – and on the final cuff, when that’s all that’s preventing you from jumping up in triumph declaring the whole thing finished, it really tries the patience.

6 comments to The cuffs

  • Eveline

    Hello Gordon – I’m very much enjoying knitting my gansey, and following your excellent instructions for the shoulder strap and sleeves. Now I am approaching the end of the sleeve, do you have any advice on how to cast off?
    On the internet I have seen various ways to cast-off: the “tubular cast off” the “russian” cast off etc. Some of these claim to be “stretchy”, which is obviously important for a cuff.
    Since we are in 2×2 rib at this stage, do you have a special technique for cast-off that you recommend? Any tips to make the cuff end neat and stretchy?
    Thank you very much.

    • Gordon

      Hi Eveline,

      By the time you get to the end of a sleeve you can see the finishing line in sight, which is always a cause for celebration!

      I don’t have any particularly special techniques for the cuff. When I started knitting ganseys I followed the recommendations in the books I’d read, and ended the cuff in two purl rows, and then casting off in plain knit. But I found this made a trumpet shape, causing the cuff to resemble an old fashioned wind-up gramophone horn, the kind of thing you’d expect to see in an old illustration with a small dog looking in the end, and it just didn’t work for me.

      So now I just cast off in plain and purl, following the k2, p2 of the rib, and that seems to work fine. My cuffs are naturally a little on the loose side, though the ribbing, combined with the 6-inches folded over, give it a nice gentle grip that I find works well. I like to be able to push my sleeves up my arm if I get hot—not that that’s much of a risk in the far north of Scotland, even in summer—so I don’t want it to grip too tight.

      Whichever method you opt for, there’s nothing so satisfying as casting off the last stitch on a cuff, I find—until you remember there’s still another sleeve to go…

      Good luck!

  • Eveline

    Thank you Gordon! That’s very helpful. I shall follow your lead and cast off in K2P2.

  • Jo

    Hi Gordon,
    Do you mean 6″ all the way round or 2 x 6?
    I’m just thinking of ripping out the sleeve I’d almost finished (using Beth Brown-Reinsel’s calculations) because it looks weird. It seems really wide at the top and narrow at the cuff, but I think it’s an optical illusion because the decreases are so sharp – every 3 rows.
    But then I don’t want it too baggy at the cuff either 🙁
    One of the perils of short arms I guess!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jo,

      It all depends how wide your wrist is—6 inches is probably way too tight, but it was just an example (when I wrote that I’d knit a gansey for a lady with very slender wrists).

      My wrist is about 8 inches around, so I tend to add an extra inch or so for comfort (my Thurso gansey that I recently completed was 72 stitches in the round at the ribbing, which at a stitch gauge of 8 stitches to the inch gives you 9 inches. But I could happily have made it 10 inches round and it would have worked fine.

      I’ve got long arms, so it’s relatively easy for me. So my ganseys have 18-inch armholes, and are about 18.5 inches long to the start of the cuff ribbing. That way the sleeve doesn’t look too baggy and I can decrease nice and evenly all the way down.

      If I’m knitting for a smaller person with shorter arms, it’s trickier—I tend to make the armholes smaller, maybe 16 inches in the round or so, so the top of the arms don’t look too baggy. But sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error—and sometimes you can’t really tell until it’s washed and blocked and finished. Best of luck!

      • Jo

        Hi Gordon,
        Yes, with hindsight maybe I could have reduced the armhole even more (already less than suggested) but I measured one of his existing jumpers and I’m really not sure I could have got away with it. I only have 14″ to play with before the cuff so have to lose a lot quite quickly.
        I’m hoping that 1 in 4 rather than 1 in 3, and a bit more ease above the cuff, will make all the difference.
        I’ll send a photo when (if ever) I finish, though it’s not looking so good for his November birthday any more.

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