How to knit a seamless jumper

… that is: based on a standard knitting pattern instructing you to knit four flat pieces and to sew them together.

A few months back, I decided to knit my first ‘real’ jumper. Before that, I had avoided anything that came with too many seams and particularly with sleeves that had to be sewn to the body. I really dreaded seams. And, to be honest, I don’t get why most patterns for jumpers instruct you to knit four flat pieces which need to be pieced together. True, some stitches are more easily done flat – going back and forth might save you a lot of purling. On the other hand, doing simple stockinette stitch in the round also spares you all the purling…

To cut a long story short, I ended up finding a way to ‘cheat away’ every single seam in my pattern!

This week, a friend asked me to explain the method to her. As it would be hard to explain without pictures, I took a couple for her (sorry, they’re not work-in-progress shots, because I finished the jumper months ago). So now that I have the pictures and need to find a way to put my logic into words, I thought I might as well write it up so that more people can try it out.

Pattern Rebecca 55This is the pattern I used, taken from Rebecca knitting magazine No.55.

And this is my finished jumper.

Purlrika Seamless JumperI used needles with a 4mm diameter and Wolle Rödel Merino Plus yarn (yardage: 125m/50g). My gauge wasn’t quite the same as in the pattern, so I had to do a lot of calculating and I may have ended up with a different number of stripes. (At the time, I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish the jumper, so I bought this yarn which was on special offer – I only had to spend 30€ for the entire jumper! But I already regret using cheap material because it quickly began to pill at the undersides of the sleeves.)

Seamless Jumper –  Tutorial

First of all, most sleeves are basically knit in six stages, as indicated by the arrows in the drawing.

Purlrika_SleevePatternA – cast-on

B – (optional) ribbing

C – increases

D – bind-off stage 1

E – decreases

F – bind-off stage 2

Step 1 – Sleeves

Stage A

Cast on as many stitches as your pattern tells you to, only use double-pointed needles as if knitting socks or a hat. You will proceed to work the sleeve in the round.

Tips and tricks

  • If you are not used to knitting with double-pointed needles, you could probably also use a very short circular needle.
  • Make sure your needles are long enough! I initially used a 15cm (6”) set and that quickly got too short, so I had to buy a 20cm (8”) set.
  • If you tie a knot with both of your ends after cast-on, you can avoid expanding the first stitch once you start knitting. A single knot will do and no-one will notice.
  • When knitting in the round, it sometimes happens that for a few rows after cast-on the stitch at the end of each row (where your two ends meet) gets pulled rather big, looking almost like the beginning stages of a ladder. You can avoid this by casting on one stitch too many and knitting this final stitch together with the first one (they will then together make the first stitch in the first row).
  • Theoretically, you could cast on two or even four stitches less than required by the pattern because you won’t be ‘wasting’ stitches for a seam. I figured, though, that I would have so many counts to keep track of later on that I decided it would be easier to leave numbers just as they are in the pattern (plus: if you cast on fewer stitches here, you will also have to cast on fewer for the body and put fewer ‘aside’ for the armpits, so a little change here means a lot of changes later on…)

Stages B + C

If you are knitting on a circular needle, put a marker in between your first and last stitch. If you are knitting on double-pointed needles, a marker would just fall off, but you will know from the yarn hanging down at the end where your rounds begin. (Don’t weave in that end just yet!) Then work the sleeve in the round.

The stitches after the marker will be the beginning of a row, the stitches before the marker will be the end of a row. Now simply follow your pattern for both the ribbing and increase stages. If your pattern tells you, for example, to make increases after the edge stitch, you make them one stitch after your marker.

Remember that you no longer have ‘real’ back rows, because you are knitting in the round. So wherever your back row requires you to knit, you have to purl and vice versa.

Stage D

At some point, your pattern will tell you to bind off a certain number of stitches at the left and right edges of the sleeve – you have reached the first bind-off stage. Only you won’t bind off those stitches.

  • First, you cut your yarn and securely tie it or weave it in so that no stitches can come undone.
  • Then, you put the stitches you were supposed to cast off on either the cord of another separate circular needle, or you just use a stretch of yarn and put the stitches on the yarn. They will ‘rest’ there to be dealt with at the very last stage.

So if the pattern tells you, for instance, to bind off six stitches at each the right and left side of the sleeve, you simply put the six stitches to the left and right of your marker on the extra needle or yarn, ending with a total of twelve stitches ‘put aside’.

Now, put the first sleeve aside and work the second sleeve in the same way.

Step 2 – The Front and Back

You will also knit the front and the back together as one round piece. You basically proceed in the same way as you did with the sleeves:

  • You cast on on a circular needle, only this time, you need two markers, one to mark each side ‘seam’. (Don’t forget to cast on for the front and the back at the same time! If your pattern tells you to cast on 90 stitches for each the front and the back, then you cast on 90, add a marker and cast on another 90!)
  • Then you simply work in the round following the front and the back pattern at the same time. If they involve irregular increases/decreases/cables, you may have to create a combined pattern. For example, if you had to do something every five rows at the front and something else every three rows at the back, it might drive you crazy if you didn’t have a combined pattern which tells you for every row what you have to do and where.

The picture shows one of the side ‘seams’. It’s the side where I changed colours for the stripes and even that is hardly visible.

Purlrika Seamless Side

Work your way up until you reach the first bind-off stage. When you’re there, proceed in the same way you did at the sleeves:

  • Cut the yarn and secure it.
  • Instead of binding off stitches, put them on yet another circular needle or a string.

After this step, you will have a front piece, followed by a number of stitches on a separate needle/string, then a back piece and again a number of stitches on a separate string.

Step 3 – Putting it all together

You will now put all of your pieces on  a circular needle to continue knitting in the round. The dormant stitches on the strings will stay on the strings and be ignored for the time being. When you put the pieces together, each of the two patches of dormant stitches on the body should face a set of dormant stitches on a sleeve. You proceed as follows:

  • Lay the body out in front of you with the back facing up .
  • Starting with the first stitch on the right edge of the back (the first stitch which is not on the separate string), slip all of the stitches of the back on a circular needle.
  • Add a stitch marker.
  • Now, add the left sleeve. Again starting with the first stitch which is not on the separate string, slip all stitches of the sleeve onto the circular needle.
  • Add a stitch marker.
  • Put the stitches of the front on the needle.
  • Add a stitch marker.
  • Add the right sleeve.
  • Add a stitch marker.

Now, you have all of your pieces on a single needle and can knit them in the round. Your rows will begin and end at the back of the right shoulder. You could also start and end at the back of the left shoulder. I just advise starting at the back, because if you have to change colours, like I did, the row end will be slightly visible.

Purlrika Transition between the body and the sleeve

Step 4 – Knit it all

From now on, you knit all pieces together in the round. The green arrow in the picture indicates where you are now – it shows the height at which I put my pieces together. I think this stage is the trickiest because you are following four patterns at once. First the back pattern, then the left sleeve, the front and finally the right sleeve. At this point, you should definitely rewrite your pattern, so that you know what to do in each row. I actually made a table with columns for the back, the left sleeve and so on, so that I wouldn’t have to jump back and forth in my pattern. The pink arrow in the picture shows the point where my front piece (on the left) meets the left sleeve (on the right).

You work in this way for the entire stage E. So for as long as your pattern tells you to decrease stitches on the sleeves, you keep knitting in the round.

Tips and tricks

  • For a few rows after putting all pieces together, it might be a little difficult to ‘knit around the corner’, i.e. when you reach a sleeve, stitches might be a little difficult to pull onto the needle. This is normal and it will get better after a few rows.
  • The stitches at the markers, i.e. where the sleeves and the body meet, might pull quite wide, so that they almost look like a ladder/run. Don’t worry about that, there are ways to fix this. (The purple arrow in the picture points at the result of my fixing trick. I’ll explain that later.)
  • Depending on how low your neckline hits, you might not be so lucky to be able to knit in the round all the way up – and you will have to include another set of increases in your table. In most cases, only the neckline at the front will be low enough to be considered at this step. Once you have bound off stitches for the neckline (or put them aside on another string), you will knit back and forth, but you can still work across all pieces.

Purlrika Shoulder

Step 5 – The Shoulders

At some point, the pattern for the sleeves will tell you to bind off the remaining stitches – you have reached the final stage F (the second bind-off stage). At this point, the sleeve pieces end, but the front and back pieces continue in order to form flaps which fold over the shoulders. The pink arrow in the picture indicates where this stage starts.

To avoid seams, you don’t bind off the stitches on the shoulders, but connect them to the front and the back row by row. It’s probably easiest to start with a front part of one of the shoulders because, at the front, you only work back and forth between one shoulder and the neckline.

  • Count the number of stitches that remain of the sleeve. Put a stitch marker after half of them. You still have your stitch marker between the front piece and the sleeve? Good.

Purlrika Shoulder

There are two ways to connect the sleeves, depending on whether you reach the sleeve at the beginning or the end of a knit row. (You will need both methods for the back anyway).

Method one – knit from neckline to sleeve

  1. Knit one row until you reach the last front stitch. Slip this last stitch onto the other needle as if to knit, knit the first of the sleeve stitches, pull the slipped stitch over the knit stitch. Turn your work around.
  2. For the back row, slip the first stitch onto the other needle as if to purl, purl the rest of the row.

Repeat these two steps until you have worked in half of the sleeve stitches. The remaining half will be worked in from the back.

Method two – purl from neckline to sleeve

  1. Purl one row until you reach the last front stitch. Purl the last front stitch and the first sleeve stitch together. Turn your work around.
  2. Slip the first stitch on the other needle as if to purl, knit the rest of the row.

Repeat these two steps until you have worked in half of the sleeve stitches. The remaining half will be worked in from the back.

(I adapted these patterns from a baby bonnet I once made.)

Tips and tricks

  • According to this pattern, you knit two rows for every stitch on the sleeve. This may not fit your gauge. In my case, the height of three rows was about equal to the width of two stitches. So, for every two stitches, I should have only knit three rows, not four.  Therefore, I adapted the first step: Twice, I would repeat exactly what it says above, but the third time I had to repeat step one, I would knit two of the sleeve stitches together before slipping over the front stitch, or I would purl together three stitches, one from the front and two from the sleeve. In this way, I ‘consumed’ four sleeve stitches every six rows, which is exactly the ratio I needed.
  • If you find it difficult to picture what you’re supposed to do at this step, imagine you are knitting a cube: the front, the back and the two sleeves, up to this point, made the walls going up, now we want to knit a flat roof. We are using the stitches from the front and back pieces and want to cover the entire top (so it won’t rain in at the shoulders).

At the back, your neckline will be a lot higher up and you will work in both sleeves at the same time (at least until the point where you have to also separate the back piece into a neckline and stretches to the left and right of it).

In the end, you should have no shoulder stitches left. They should all be worked into the front and back pieces. On each side, you should now have two rows of stitches facing each other.

Purlrika Oooops

Step 6 – Closing the last gaps

You now sew together the shoulder seams and the under-arm seams using this stitch. I know, I promised no seams, but this one won’t look or feel like a seam! It just looks like another row. I suggest, you start by closing the seams in the armpits because mistakes aren’t as noticeable there (you can see my initial mistakes in the picture above, where I ended up with a few purled stitches). It will be much easier to work with these stitches if you slip them back onto needles. (You get better and faster very quickly – I promise! In the pictures below you can see that I managed the rest mistake-free.)

Purlrika Much BetterPurlrika Shoulder Seam

Step 7 – Final touches

  • Finish the neckline and any other details as instructed by your pattern.
  • At this point, I was extremely disappointed by the large ‘ladders’ to the left and the right of the underarm seams. And that’s where the purple arrow comes into play: I figured if it looks like a ladder, I can mend it like a ladder! So, using a crocheting hook, I pulled that run as if raising fallen stitches. And it worked! In the picture, you can see that all that remains is a kind of strangely curved row.

Purlrika Transition between the body and the sleeve

Congratulations! You are done. You now have a perfect, seamless jumper!

Purlrika Seamless Stripy Jumper