I’m really enjoying banging out a Daytripper Cardigan. Tuesday’s mid-knitalong Zoom party was so fun. We covered a lot of ground, including my loose ways with gauge (I feel seen! and judged!)—but we mostly kept the focus on the moment in the Daytripper Cardigan where we are instructed to to “divide for sleeves and body.” (The recording of Tuesday’s Zoom is here.)
If you’ve never done it before, “divide for sleeves and body” can sound kind of ominous, like a sort of thing the grownup knitters know how to do.
In reality, though, it’s a simple matter of doing exactly as the pattern instructs, step by step, taking care not to get in your own way by overthinking or looking too far ahead.
How to Divide for Sleeves and Body
First, let’s orient ourselves. Where are we?
The instruction to divide for sleeves and body comes after we’ve completed something major: the colorwork yoke. Milestone achieved: pat yourself on the back!
After an increase round or two, and a few short rows to make the back fit nicely, the shoulders of the cardigan are complete, and it’s time to divide the 175–279 stitches on your needles into separate sections for the sleeves and the body.
This makes sense: if you just kept going without dividing for sleeves and body, you’d end up with a poncho instead of a cardigan.
The steps are simple. Just follow the pattern, step by step.
Tip: If you haven’t done it already, go through the instructions and circle the numbers that correspond to the size you are making—I will refer to each of those numbers as X in this tutorial. The X numbers for your size are critical to getting the two cardigan fronts, the two sleeves, and the back of the cardigan to be the right size. Mary Jane Mucklestone figured this all out for us, so listen up!
Now follow the pattern. It will go like this.
Step 1: After knitting the three steek stitches that start each round, knit X stitches for the left front.
Step 2: Place the next X stitches on waste yarn for the left sleeve. Tip: I usually use a smooth cotton yarn for holding stitches, and I believe I should get extra credit for how nicely I color-coordinated waste yarn with the cardigan here.
Step 3: Using the backwards loop method, cast on X stitches onto the right needle for the underarm.
Step 4: Knit X stitches for the back of the cardigan.
You just carry on knitting on the back stitches, without missing a beat.
Step 5: Place the next X stitches on waste yarn for the right sleeve. Tip: Make sure this is the same number you put on waste yarn for the left sleeve. I do a lot of repeat counting, out of an abundance of caution and a desire to make all the numbers come out the first time.
Step 6: Using the backwards loop method, cast on X stitches onto the right needle for the underarm. Tip: Make sure this is the same number you cast on for the left sleeve. Yes I’m paranoid!
Step 7: Knit to the marker that precedes the steek stitches, for the right front. Tip: Make sure the number of stitches is the same as for the left front.
That’s it! You’ve arrived back at the steek, and you’ve separated for sleeves and body.
By magic, or seeming magic, the sleeves are now sitting idle on waste yarn, waiting until you’re ready to knit them, and the needles are holding only the body stitches of the cardigan.
Off you go, on the race to the bottom of the body! Hey!
Why This Is Cool
My first sweaters were knit in flat pieces that were seamed together. I still like knitting sweaters that way, but the knit-flat-in-pieces method doesn’t require three-dimensional thinking—the sweater doesn’t come together into three dimensions until you seam it.
The first time I divided a top-down sweater for sleeves and body, and cast on those underarm stitches, it hit me right between the eyes: wow! This is how we make a flat sleeve into a tube that can accommodate a human arm.
It’s pretty cool, and I’m proud of myself every time I do it.