Focus on Fit: How to Refine Sweater Fit with Compound Raglan Shaping

Throughout this Interweave series on raglan fit and construction, all contributors have proclaimed their love for top-down raglans and raglans in general. Lily Chin said it first, and since her expert advice inspired and enhanced the series, she must be right! Sara Dudek similarly acknowledged her appreciation of such sweaters when she dove deeply into design considerations for knitters and crocheters. Then I admitted to making several top-down raglans as I explained how I’d adapt a knitting pattern for yet another one.

Yet not all crocheters and knitters embrace the raglan as we have done. If you’re not a raglan-lover, decide whether your lack of affection stems from this sweater’s armhole shaping and how it works for your unique figure, or if you simply need to tweak fit as you make your raglans. We’ve already covered many fitting tips and techniques in this series, and here’s our final suggestion: compound raglan shaping can also refine fit. Compound raglans literally bend the curve, adding small arcs along the raglan line that help sweater fabric lay more smoothly on the upper body’s curves.

Backstory: More Raglan Fit Problems

Why don’t traditional raglans always fit women’s figures perfectly, even when designers, crocheters, and knitters have achieved the perfect armhole depth? In a word, geometry. I’d like to repeat my basic rules of fit from an earlier post:

1) The fashion industry assumes that all human bodies follow all of the same geometrical principles at all times.

2) Each human body follows some geometrical principles and ignores others.

3) Each human body follows or ignores a different set of geometrical principles: no two bodies are the same.

4) Boobs change everything.

As we’ve already seen, raglan sweaters too employ geometry rules—whether they’re constructed from the top down or the bottom up, the neck opening is essentially a rectangle that grows at its 4 corners into trapezoids or cones. The 2 wider cones become the garment’s front and back, while the narrower cones form sleeves. Change the width of the front and back cones, and you affect the sleeve width too. Add or subtract armhole depth, and those diagonal lines between body and sleeves (the raglan lines) change their slope. If you’ve been reading this series, all of this information should sound familiar.

compound raglan shaping

Now compare the raglan sweater’s geometry to the body’s geometry. Even when you adjust armhole depth on a sweater pattern and recalculate the raglan increases or decreases, you’re going to see a smooth(ish) diagonal line between body and sleeves.

compound raglan shaping

Women’s upper bodies, however, don’t necessarily curve in a smooth line: our curves pick up speed and then slow down, so to speak. In the fashion illustration below, the side view reveals a curve just below the neck (between shoulder and high bust), then another curve where high bust becomes full bust. The front and back views show how shoulders slope downwards quickly near the neck, then more gently until they reach their full width. I added red lines to make these changes easier to see (and to make Euclid cry).

Credit: AnnaRassadnikova, iStock/Getty Images Plus.

The relatively smooth raglan lines on a sweater have to hang over these spots where curves get steeper and shallower. Add in my Rules 3 and 4 from above, and the problem grows. Now we see why the sweater might poof out just above the breasts or right at the armpit. For many women, these are unfortunate places for excess fabric.

Compound Raglan Shaping: A Flexible Fit Solution

Fortunately, we crocheters and knitters have control over our own garments, and there’s no rule demanding a smooth, straight raglan line. Compound shaping bends the raglan line into gentle arcs. As Jennifer Wood explains in Refined Knits (and further explicated in a helpful email—thanks, Jennifer!), compound raglans can work better than traditional raglans on all body types; she uses compound shaping for all her raglan sweaters. Why?

The compound raglan allows for a more flattering fit because the rate of increase varies to more accurately follow the shape of the body. It increases more rapidly between the neck and shoulders and at the end to curve around the underarm, [with] more gradual [increasing] in the section in between. This takes care of the extra fabric in the armhole area that can arise from the traditional raglan. And it addresses the difference between the stitch gauge and the row gauge which very rarely are equal.

When I made my first sweater from Jennifer’s book, I’d never heard of compound raglans before. My FO demonstrates the wisdom of her advice (as well as her eye for a stunning cable motif). The raglan line curves more at top than in the middle on this garment, shown most clearly when I laid an improvised straightedge next to the line. In contrast, the raglan line on Lily Chin’s Floret Crochet Crop Top, with traditional shaping, forms a straight line.

Slight arcs can make a big difference in fit, especially for a body-hugging design such as Jennifer Wood’s Corinne. Lily Chin’s boxy Floret Crochet Crop Top isn’t meant to cling in the same way, so traditional shaping isn’t necessary.

 

Jennifer’s Corinne pattern (left) became a beloved sweater in my wardrobe (right)

Several other designers, following Maggie Righetti’s advice from Sweater Design in Plain English, similarly praise compound shaping and its endless flexibility.

• Ysolda Teague explains how she calculated her compound raglan yoke for Stripy, a multi-part tutorial on fit.

• Karen Templer of Fringe Association notes that when she employs compound shaping, she can use top-down raglan methods to produce a sweater with sleeves akin to saddle shoulder styles.

• Amy Herzog combines compound shaping with a seamed yoke, so that sleeves and body can be shaped independently of each other—she simply eases the pieces together as she seams, no matter how differently they curve.

In the final analysis, you may never come to love raglans, and that’s okay. When Lisa Shroyer discussed armholes that do and don’t work for knitters, she noted the figure attributes that can get in the way of raglan love. Personally I’ve never seen a sweater design that suits everybody and that every crocheter or knitter adores wholeheartedly, without reservations. But if you want to love raglans, or have already lost your heart to them, compound shaping (and all the other tips from this series) can help you produce the best garments possible.

Happy knitting and crocheting!

—Deb


Compound Raglan Shaping in Knit & Crochet

 

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