The set-in sleeve is often the style we think of when we consider knitting our first sweater.
It is the sleeve type most often seen in garments and is more tailored-looking than other styles. They are often found on coats, shirts, blouses and jackets, along with sweaters. Set-in sleeves allow garments to fit closely to the body with very little extra fabric at or under the arm. They are easily identified by the seam at the shoulder of the garment that continues around the arm. They look good on most body shapes, though people with larger upper arms/biceps may find they can be tight or restrict their movement.
In knitting, set-in sleeves are traditionally knit as separate pieces and are attached onto the arm-hole opening while finishing a sweater. The sewn seam provides strength and stability to the shoulder.
The process of sewing in sleeves can also, from my experience, be one of the biggest barriers between a knitter and their first sweater. Fortunately, there’s an alternative! Instead of knitting individual pieces that must be seamed together, the entire sweater can be knit from top-down, beginning at the neckline. The shoulders are created – either contiguously or in pieces that are threaded back onto the needles - and flow into the rest of the garment. The sleeve holes are created by separating the body stitches from the sleeve stitches and setting the sleeve stitches aside on stitch holders to be knit later. Various techniques can be used to strengthen the shoulder and create the visual element of a seam that travels around the arm of the garment. Voila! A set-in sleeve with no piecing or sewing!
The Ziggurats method of knitting sweaters is a contiguous, top-down method. You can learn more about it in Åsa Tricosa’s book, complete with a robust tutorial section, or when we visit her on our tour of Denmark from 18-28 April 2023.