Adapting Patterns for Better-Fitting Raglans

Our ongoing series about top-down raglans has covered a lot of ground already: taking essential body measurements, converting those measurements to stitches and rows using gauge and graph paper, and planning a top-down design. In this post, we want to cover the “why” as well as the “how” for raglan fit—why you might want to adapt a pattern, then how to do it. Yes, we’ve got ulterior motives: we’ve each recently added a top-down raglan to our project queues, and each of us anticipates making at least 1 basic adjustment to her chosen pattern. These modifications will flatter our body types, so that we feel beautiful in our new garments. That’s the “why”; for the “how,” we’ll apply suggestions from previous posts to existing patterns.

Raglans and Flattering Fit

Sara plans to crochet Lily Chin’s Floret Crop Top from Interweave Crochet Spring 2017; Deb will knit Kiyomi Burgin’s Biscotti Sweater from knitscene Winter 2016. Sara can’t wait to create her first top-down raglan, while Deb made 3 top-down raglans in 2016 and has knitted several other raglans from the bottom up. We love raglan sweaters for many of the reasons our boss, Lisa, described:

The set-in [sleeve] and the raglan are both useful to women because they narrow from bust to shoulder. Most women benefit from that narrowing, as we’re bigger in the bust than we are in the shoulders. . . . The basic effect [of a raglan] is a tailored fit with a sporty look. . . . I would not aim for a highly customized fit in a raglan, but you can certainly get a more body-conscious fit in a raglan than you would a drop-shoulder.

In addition to their comfy-yet-flattering fit, raglans draw the eye upward: those diagonal armhole lines point directly toward the wearer’s face. When a neckband uses two colors, as in our selected patterns, there’s even more face-framing.

Yet raglans have to fit well to flatter a woman’s body. Beyond fitting at bust, waist, and hips, these garments must have an appropriate armhole depth. The sweater will cut into the armpits if the armhole depth is too short—that’s uncomfortable and may actually cut off blood supply to the arms when taken to extremes. At the other end of the spectrum, few sweaters look great with the saggy armpits caused by a too-long armhole depth. A designer on Ravelry recently suggested that when people are unhappy with their handmade sweaters, it’s usually due to problems with armhole depth.

1 Big Trick: Measure Once, Stitch Once

Why do so many of us miss the mark on armhole depth? We don’t check our row gauge, or if it turns out differently from the pattern’s gauge, we don’t adjust the pattern. And that’s understandable: in many, many crochet or knitting situations, row gauge won’t make or break a garment. If we want to change a sweater’s overall length, we knit or crochet to a desired measurement rather than a specific number of rows. However, if we unthinkingly apply this approach to a raglan’s armhole depth, the project may end in disaster.

So here’s our 1 big trick for raglans you’ll love: Calculate your row gauge and adjust the pattern’s armhole depth if needed. Think about your body type and the rules of flattering fit as you plan.


1.     Identify your preferred armhole depth: Measure an existing sweater that flatters and feels comfortable on you, without constricting armholes or baggy armpits.

2.     Compare your preferred armhole depth to the pattern schematic. Do you need to shorten or lengthen? Even if your answer is no, go to step 3.

3.     Once you’ve achieved the correct stitch gauge, determine your row gauge. Does it match the pattern’s row gauge? If you don’t have to adjust armhole depth AND you’ve matched the pattern’s row gauge, you’re all set. If you do have to adjust armhole depth OR you didn’t match row gauge, calculate your rows/rounds per inch. Example: You get 12 stitches and 17 rounds over 4 inches; 17/4 = 4.25 rounds per inch.

4.     Calculate the number of rows/rounds per inch according to the pattern’s intended row gauge. Example: Pattern specifies 12 stitches and 18 rounds = 4 inches, 18/4 = 4.5 rounds per inch.

Now you’ve got all the numbers necessary to adjust armhole depth. There’s still some math ahead of you, but it’s easy.

Lengthen Armhole Depth

Sara loves the Floret Crop Top and wants it to fit loosely at the bust, since she’s got a triangle  body type (that is, her hips are wider than her shoulders). Extra fabric at the bust will visually balance her top half and bottom half.


Here’s her strategy for adjusting this pattern:

After looking at the schematic for this top, I plan to make the smallest size because the 37½” bust circumference allows for plenty of positive ease. Similarly, the sweater’s upper arm circumference of 11¼” allows for about 1″ of ease according to my measurements. I could decrease the number of stitches around the high bust for a tighter fit, but I love the loose look of this top, so I’m going to leave it.

My problem with this pattern is the armhole depth of 6½”, since my preferred measurement for armhole depth is 7″. While saggy armpits are no good, you also don’t want sweaters with sleeves cutting into your armpits—ouch.  That is my fear with the smallest size of this sweater, so I will need to do some adjusting.

The most essential step to ensure good armhole depth is to check your gauge! Many crocheters (myself included) check their stitch gauge but neglect to check their row gauge. Row gauge is essential for a good-fitting raglan. In this pattern, if I get gauge, I should have 23 stitches and 18 rows over 5″ in Tunisian simple stitch (the stitch pattern for the raglan shaping). Including the set-up round and increase rounds, the pattern works 23 rounds for the smallest size before separating for the body and sleeves. Given the gauge, we know that there are about 3½ rows per inch (18 rows/5″ = 3.6 rows per inch). This pattern calls for consistent increases on each round, and after 23 rounds of increasing, I’ll reach an armhole depth of 6½” (23 rnds/3.6 rnds per inch = 6.4″). To increase my armhole depth to the 7″ I want, I probably will only need to crochet 1–2 more rounds without shaping, and then I can separate for the body and sleeves. Easy as that.

If, however, I don’t match the pattern’s row/round gauge, I can easily recalculate. My stitches can be a bit short sometimes, so it is very likely I might fit 4 rounds in 1″ rather than the 3.6 rounds called for in the pattern. If I were to follow the pattern as written with my shorter gauge, the armhole depth would measure about 5¾” (23 rnds/4 rnds per inch = 5.75″). That’s much too tight for my desired measurement of 7″, which will require 28 rounds. I can fudge 1–2 extra rounds on my armhole depth after I’m done increasing (and that could happen depending on my row gauge), but not 5 extra rounds! That would look supremely awkward. If I need to add a lot of height, it’s better to strategically insert some non-increase rounds every so often. This is where Lily Chin’s graph paper tip from Planning Your Own Top-Down Raglan would come in handy. The graph paper will help me figure out where to add non-increase rounds: I can evenly space them along the entire armhole, or I can group them close to the armhole’s base where they’re less noticeable.


Shorten Armhole Depth

Deb has chosen a project that will use up some great stash yarn and flatter her rectangle body type (with shoulders, waist, and hips virtually equal in width). She may also add in waist shaping to create the illusion of a waist, but that’s a different topic.


Here’s her strategy for adjusting the Biscotti Sweater:

Like Sara, I’ll make this sweater in its smallest size. A 37¼” finished bust circumference provides adequate positive ease without widening my shoulder line and throwing my silhouette out of balance; the upper arm circumference of 14¾” and armhole depth of 8″ will also work for me, though that armhole depth is at the upper limit of my preferred fit. But I’m going to substitute yarn, and it’s highly unlikely that I can match stitch gauge and row gauge to the pattern’s specification of 12 stitches and 18 rounds over 4″ with my chosen yarn.

If I don’t match row gauge, I’ll need to double-check the armhole depth the way Sara did. And I’ll need to do it carefully, since bulky yarn makes big stitches—even a small deviation in gauge can cause huge differences in sizing. The pattern expects 4.5 rounds per inch, requiring 36 rounds to reach an armhole depth of 8″ (4.5 rnds per inch x 8″ = 36 rnds). If my substitute yarn gives me 4.25 rounds per inch instead, 36 rounds will produce an armhole depth of 8½” (36 rnds/4.25 rnds per inch = 8½”); if my yarn works up at 4 rounds per inch, creating an armhole depth of 9″ (36 rnds/4 rnds per inch = 9″), that sweater will look (and probably feel) like a saggy diaper at the underarms. So I’ll almost certainly have to shorten that measurement.

When you shorten the armhole depth on a raglan, you have to think about what happens to the bust circumference, too. Once it hits its raglan groove, the Biscotti Sweater pattern increases 8 stitches on every other round. At a stitch gauge of 3 stitches per inch (assuming I work at the pattern’s gauge), those 8 stitches equal just over 2½” for each increase round (8 sts/3 sts per inch = 2.66″). If I omit even 2 rounds (an increase round plus a non-increase round), the armhole depth will get shorter, but the 37¼” bust circumference will shrink to less than 35″. If I also want a closer fit in the bust, along with a shorter armhole depth, I can separate body from sleeves without working 2 rounds of the pattern.


If I don’t want to lose so much positive ease at the bust, I can borrow Lily Chin’s cheat: stop knitting when I reach the desired armhole depth, then add stitches to the base of the sleeve and the base of the armhole. These added-on stitches will have little effect on armhole depth, but they’ll add 1–2″ to bust circumference and sleeve circumference, thus preserving the schematic’s measurements.

You can see that both Sara and Deb will have to crunch some numbers before they start their sweaters, but they’ll save lots of time if they don’t have to guess at fit. Best of all, they’re more likely to love their sweaters when they’re done.

Stitchers, how have you adapted raglan patterns for better fit? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

Adjust Your Fit!