One way to lengthen a sleeve is to simply knit a longer cuff. By the same token, knitting a shorter cuff, or omitting the cuff altogether, is an easy way to shorten a sleeve.
To add length to a sleeve above the cuff, you use your row gauge to determine how many additional rows are needed to reach the desired length and then work those additional rows, evenly spaced, between increase rows. To subtract length above the cuff, you use your row gauge to determine how many rows need to be eliminated to reach the desired length and then omit those rows periodically between increase rows.
For substantially shorter sleeves, such as three-quarter-length sleeves, you need to cast on more stitches at the cuff to accommodate the larger circumference of the forearm. An easy way to work a three-quarter sleeve from the master pattern is to subtract the length you want from the master pattern's sleeve length and then begin at that point in the pattern, casting on the number of stitches that are expressed at that point in the instructions. (For example, if the original sleeve begins with a cast-on number of 44 at the cuff, and after working and shaping for 4 or 5 inches—which is about where three-quarter-length sleeves would begin—the stitch count is 50, you would begin your three-quarter sleeves by casting on 50 stitches.) That way, you don't have to rewrite the shaping instructions.
Adjusting Sleeve Shape
The sweater master pattern sleeves are shaped traditionally, gradually widening from the cuff up to the cap. You can change this in a number of ways, such as by creating fashionable kimono or bell-shaped sleeves.
One easy way to alter both the length and the shape of a sleeve is to make a straight sleeve like the one shown here. This produces a very full, kimono-like sleeve, which can be attractive on a women's coat or casual weekend sweater.
To make this adjustment, you go to the sleeve instructions in the master pattern and find the number of stitches you're supposed to end up with after performing all the increases before the sleeve cap begins. You cast on that number and work straight to where the cap shaping should begin, for the length desired, and shape the cap as written. It's easy to adjust the length of a kimono sleeve because there is no shaping in that section of the sleeve.
You can alter a sleeve's shape to create bell sleeves. The key is to not disrupt the length too much and to maintain the sleeve cap's width and shaping so that it will still fit in the armhole. Bell sleeves are often a little longer than standard sleeves, so that they cover the wrist and a portion of the back of the hand.
The best way to calculate the adjustments for a bell sleeve is to draw out the sleeve on graph paper and calculate stitch and row counts, decreases, and increases based on size, stitch gauge, and row gauge. There is no rule or formula because sizes, gauges, and style preferences vary greatly. A very easy way to create a bell sleeve look is to work the kimono sleeve as instructed above, adding a 2-inch ribbing, or an eyelet row and tie, that gathers the sleeve about 2 to 3 inches above the cast-on row for a baby or child or 4 to 6 inches above the cast-on row for an older child or woman.
Another approach to making a nice bell sleeve is to cast on twice as many stitches as the master pattern indicates to cast on. You work a nongathering edging for 1 inch and then decrease gradually—over about 2 to 5 inches of length— back to the cast-on number specified in the master pattern. From here, you make the sleeve as written in the master pattern, except that you decrease the number of rows between increase rows, to compensate for the added length of the bell. For a less pronounced bell, you do the same thing but decrease to a stitch count greater than the cast-on number indicated in the master pattern.
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