Long-sleeve Picovoli tutorial

My thoughts on adding sleeves to a garment designed to be sleeveless

Dear Knitter,

I have decided to put together a long-sleeve Picovoli tutorial because in addition to the number one Tivoli/Picovoli question, “how do I stop the rolling?” (answer: blocking), I am very frequently asked about how to add long sleeves to this t-shirt. I don’t have any interest in working out the actual instructions for adding long sleeves because I have been engrossed in the Picovoli pattern since early May and would really like to spend some time designing new things!

I think this tutorial is written for experienced knitters or for adventurous beginners. It is focused on garment construction rather than techniques like picking up stitches at the edge to join two pieces of fabric as one is being knit. There are many, many (too many?) technique-oriented books out there, and I suggest you consult them if you would like to learn some of the methods I mention here.

And with that, I wish you the best of luck!

Happy knitting,

Kathy, grumperina@gmail.com


Let me start by revealing to you a little bit about how I constructed the Picovoli sleeves. One of my biggest pet peeves is sleeveless tops designed to have the same armhole depth as sleeved ones. A sleeveless garment needs smaller armholes than one with sleeves in order to conceal undergarments, and that’s what I had in mind when I planned the Picovoli. With so many sloppy patterns out there, you may not have even realized that there should be a difference in armhole depth between the two styles! In general, care must be taken and adjustments must be made when omitting sleeves from a sweater or adding sleeves to a top like the Picovoli.

So, will adding sleeves to the small Picovoli armholes lead to disaster? Not necessarily. As long as the intended wearer likes snugness in the armpit and upper arm region, sleeves should be okay. Some bodies have small shoulders but the circumference around their biceps is proportionally large. Those wearers may need to take careful measurements to make sure the snug Picovoli armholes will lead to wide enough sleeves. Alternatively, they can make the armholes wider when knitting the yoke section of the pattern, but more about that later.

Let’s look at a standard long raglan sleeve (as applicable in this case):



Do you see the width of “the strap” as specified in the Picovoli pattern? That’s how much of the raglan sleeve cap will be knit as a consequence of the pattern as it’s currently written. For my size, the strap is 4” wide, but the depth of the raglan sleeve cap (considering the wide neckline) would need to be about 6-7” (M. Righetti, 1990). Therefore, after completing the pattern I have already knit about two-thirds of the sleeve cap (colored in blue).

Your biggest point of concern is the part of the sleeve highlighted in green. You need to complete the raglan sleeve cap before proceeding to the actual sleeve*. First, instead of binding off the stitches when you’re making the armhole, put them on a holder. Complete your Picovoli as planned, and come back to those stitches. Run a lifeline through them so you can frog with wild abandon without dropping any stitches.

Now, I think there are two ways to proceed. I don’t know which way gives the better-looking, better-fitted sleeve because I haven’t tried out either, so these are only my best guesses.

Option #1: you can continue with the raglan sleeve cap as schematized. Your Picovoli armhole will look something like this:

Place the armhole stitches on a needle, join a new ball of yarn at one end, and start knitting rows, at the end of each picking up and joining a stitch from the armpit section. You can either leave the overall number of stitches the same during the process, or increase/decrease. You’ll be working in the green portion of the sleeve, and if you following classic raglan construction, you’ll want to have 1 more stitches at the completion of each row. Will this be appropriate for Picovoli’s long sleeves? I don’t know; you’ll have to give it a try.

After several rows, once you’re close to the middle of the armpit, you may need to pick up more than 1 stitch for every row you knit, to reflect the fold of the armpit. This is similar to how we typically bind off an inch or so at each side while transitioning from the sleeve to the sleeve cap. Since I haven’t tried adding long sleeves to a Picovoli, I do not know if this step is necessary and if it is, the length over which it should be done. In any case, once you’ve finished picking up stitches along the entire length of the armpit, you can join in the round and continue knitting the sleeve from the top down.

Option #2: I’m concerned that option #1 may not produce enough fabric lengthwise to follow the curve of your shoulder, leading to unsightly stretching. So, I think adding some short rows before picking up stitches at the armpit may be a good idea. Again, I have not added long sleeves to a Picovoli or even swatched for such an operation, so it’s only a hypothesis.

Find the center of the armhole stitches, and mark about 1.5” worth of stitches in both directions (3” total) (M. Righetti, 1990). Place the remaining stitches on holders or needles such that you have quick access to them. Join a new ball of yarn at one end, and start knitting rows, at the end of each picking up and joining a stitch from the stitches held at the sides. Now, I have not worked out the geometry of this (nor intend to in the future). It may be that you need to pick up two stitches or more from each side on every row. Or pick up a stitch every two rows (you’ll need to work wrapped short rows if you do). This is where my “I’d rather be designing something new” laziness kicks in :). Once you’ve used up all the held stitches, you’ll need to pick up some stitches from the armpit section as described in the first option, then join and work in the round for the rest of the sleeve.

*I must mention that a third option exists, but it requires changing the Picovoli pattern entirely and knitting a top-down, long-sleeved raglan sweater. There are many patterns out there (at the library, at the LYS, on the internet) for this type of sweater that you can use as examples. The difference between those patterns and the Picovoli is that more rounds are worked in the yoke portion, so the “blue” portion of the Picovoli sleeve encompasses the entire “green” portion, too. As a result, the entire raglan sleeve cap is completed while the yoke is knitted, the armhole is longer and wider, fewer stitches are cast on at the armpit, and the knitter can immediately start at the “yellow” portion of the raglan sleeve. If you chose to follow this path, be aware that the length between the hem and the shoulder partially depends on yoke length, and that working more increase rounds in order to entirely complete raglan sleeve caps during the yoke portion of the pattern will result in a wider bust, unless further adjustments are made. One such adjustment can be casting on fewer stitches at the armpit, but perhaps other adjustments also need to be made. Math, it’s a wonderful thing :).

The part of the sleeve highlighted in yellow is everything from the armpit down. As far as I’m concerned, the easiest way for you to figure out how to knit that section is to pick a sleeve style (3/4 length, bell-shaped, slim shape with ribbing, etc.), find a pattern which uses that sleeve style, and reverse the directions for knitting from the top-down and in the round. I think this will not be a huge hurdle for most knitters. Most likely you’ll need to knit this section as a sock – small circular, two longer circulars, Magic Loop, or dpns will be your friends. At first, you may need to adjust the number of stitches to match the circumference around the wearer’s bicep. Then you can knit the sleeves down in the style you have chosen.


Bibliography and links


Righetti, M. Sweater Design in Plain English. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

My e-mail: grumperina@gmail.com

My knitting blog: http://www.grumperina.com/knitblog/

Picovoli pattern:  http://www.knotions.com/patterns/magknits/picovoli/directions.aspx

Using a “lifeline”: http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/basic_techniques/misc.php

Knitting a small circumference (such as a sleeve) in the round: http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/advanced_techniques/

Short rows: http://www.knittinghelp.com/knitting/advanced_techniques/