Adjusting Summer Sweaters

Several months ago we asked for your questions and bit by bit we have been answering them. Today’s answer is in response to two related questions that are a bit more complex.

Both questions involve adjusting knitted sweaters for a custom fit. Cindy asks: “How do you raise the neckline so it’s not such a deep scoop on summer tops? Can you add sleeves to a pattern that is sleeveless? If so, how?” With a similar question, Lynne asks: “One thing I would love to know is what are the rules and regulations for adding sleeves to a sleeveless shirt or making short/cap sleeves a little longer. Would a cap sleeve made just a little longer look bad? What do I need to change or be aware of in the arm hole to add sleeves? What am I not realizing that I need to know when adding sleeves or making existing sleeves longer?”


We will start with necklines because generally they are an easier adjustment, particularly for the scoop style discussed. Most scooped or curved necklines have a similar formula which begins with binding off some number of center front stitches followed by a series of decreases along each neck edge. In most cases, unless the curve is very shallow, there is also a section that is worked straight.

To make an adjustment to the depth of the neckline, in most cases all you need to do is start the shaping earlier to make it deeper or later to make is shallower. The only thing to be aware of is a change of an inch may be more significant than you think! A 5″ neck drop may seem like a lot, but even a high crew neck usually has a 2″ – 3″ drop. Too much adjustment either way and you will probably be disappointed with the results. Also realize that if you are starting the shaping later, you may have to make additional adjustments to get all of the decreases in before reaching the shoulder. And don’t forget, any edging used to finished the neckline will also add some amount of fabric.

If we are talking a v-neck shaped garment, all bets are off! Although you can make the adjustment, everything needs to be recalculated since the decrease rate is calculated based on the number of rows used in the neckline. Increasing the depth slightly probably won’t be a problem, just work a few extra rows even. But shortening it means fewer rows which results in working through all the calculations. It is probably just easier to make the edging a bit wider to reduce some of the depth.

Sleeve Shaping

Changing the shape of sleeves is a bit like recalculating a v-neck. It is completely doable, but you really have to start the calculations from scratch. However, small adjustments in length rarely require that sort of adjustment. If the sleeve length is staying above the elbow, a straight, non-fitted sleeve will usually do the trick.

Depending on the cap sleeve, adding some length could work fine or be a complete disaster. Unfortunately, there are not any sure-fire guidelines outsides of some detailed knowledge and experience that answer that question. On the other hand, adding some length to a short sleeve is usually a no-brainer!

The best answer, if the sleeve is not what you want, is to either find a different design that better suits your vision or recalculate the sleeve from scratch.

Adding a Sleeve

To add a sleeve to a tank top you probably want to start from scratch. A curved armhole, designed for a sleeve, is your best option. Unfortunately that may mean that your tank top is too wide at the shoulders (right for a tank, wrong for a sleeved garment). To do this requires some measurements and a willingness to work through a series of calculations.

It is more than makes sense to post, so if you are interested, click here to get a walk-through sent directly to your inbox. The document will walk you through a sample calculation for creating an armhole and a fitted sleeve that will fit in the hole perfectly. It is the formula I use for my own designs and it has never failed me yet.

So the short answer is – there is no easy answer when you’re adjusting knitted sweaters! But adding a sleeve to a tank top is totally doable. Just remember, you are going to need more yarn too!