Focus on Fit: Plan Your Own Top-Down Raglan

Many yarn-lovers enjoy creating top-down raglan garments, because these sweaters flatter so many body types and offer so many design options. Fortunately, knit and crochet designer Lily Chin has joined us again to explain the process —you too can design a top-down raglan following her system. Read on even if you don’t intend to take up knit or crochet design; Lily’s process will help you understand the anatomy of raglan sweaters.

By now, you should have taken your essential body measurements for a top-down raglan. You may have even transferred those measurements to graph paper to make a schematic and calculated how many stitches you’ll need to increase over how many rows. Now let’s explore increasing for top-down raglans more specifically.

Design Considerations

Every top-down raglan begins as a rectangle, where the long sides become the front and back of your sweater and short sides become sleeves. As you increase at the 4 corners, that rectangle will slowly grow and become wide enough to fit around the shoulders. These corner increases enlarge the garment’s circumference from a head/neck measurement (22″ and 102 stitches in our last post) to a high bust circumference (40″ and 184 stitches in our last post) and shoulder circumference (composed of each of the sleeves at 13″ and 60 stitches each). The body pieces and sleeve pieces are eventually worked separately, but worked as one until you reach these points. The increases also form the garment’s raglan line—the diagonal line between sleeve section and body section.

You can work increase stitches in a number of ways. Lily’s advice for crocheters also applies to knitters:

Whether you work 2 side-by-side increases or work 3 stitches into 1 is a matter of preference or appearance. One type might look better than the other. It may be the yarn or the type of stitch. In my Floret Crop Top, I had a single stitch as a raglan point and the increases occur before and after this lone stitch. This being the case, when it comes time to join the body and separate the sleeves, make the decision on which piece these stitches belong to. Do you add it to the body or to the sleeves? This would also be the case with a 3-in-1 double increase. There is a center stitch that has to choose sides. Two side-by-side increases keeps the pieces segregated with no odd stitch to deal with.

Easy Math for Top-Down Raglan

Some simple math will help you calculate how many increases you’ll need to achieve the high bust circumference. (Lily calls them “double increases” because they’re done in pairs.) No matter what stitch(es) you use, these double increases form diagonal lines between body sections and sleeve sections. Once you’ve determined your row gauge and stitch gauge, you can figure out the slope of that diagonal line, like the rise over run math you practiced in school. In this case, rise equals the number of rows while run equals the number of stitches.

With the armhole depth of 7 inches, we have about 25 rows to increase (visit our post on gauge and graph paper for a refresher on how we got that number). For our body pieces, we need to increase from 42 stitches at the neckline to 92 stitches on the front high bust: 92 – 42 = 50 total stitches on the front and on the back . Since these increases happen on each edge of the body section, we divide 50 stitches by 2 = 25 stitches on each side. We have 25 rows to increase 25 stitches on each side—in other words, the rate of increase equals 1. That math worked out perfectly!

This rate of increase also works for the sleeves. In the example from the previous post, we allotted 2″ and 9 stitches for the sleeves at the neckline. Again, we have 25 rows available for increasing, so that the resulting fabric measures 13″ or 60 stitches for the upper arm circumference: 60 – 9 = 51 / 2 = 25.5. We have 25 rows to increase approximately 25 stitches on each edge of the sleeve—again, the rate of increase equals 1. (One stitch won’t affect fit too much, so we’ll just increase to 50 stitches instead of 51.) Perfect math once again!

Unfortunately, the perfect math given above is also unusual: the moment you substitute your own gauge and desired garment measurements into these formulas, things can get more complicated. The rate of increase on the sleeves has to match the rate of increase on the front and back if you’re going to increase in pairs. You can recalculate starting numbers of stitches at the neckline, and/or ending numbers for the high bust and upper arm circumference, but then you’ll end up with different measurements at those spots. Lily warns:

Change one measurement and it affects all others! This is also why the use of square graph paper is invaluable. You can see all the measurements and the moving parts. You can see the relationship of each piece. You may go through several incarnations and versions of your sweater before everything falls into place. A bit of trial and error is involved.

For example, imagine that you want an armhole depth of 7″ (just as above), but at a different row gauge, say 42 rows (instead of the 25 rows used above). That math doesn’t work out as perfectly. Double increases on every row would add 84 stitches (42 × 2 = 84) to the front, back, and each sleeve, which could be far too big. But double increases every other row would add only 42 stitches (21 × 2 = 42), which might not be enough.

Lily recommends two ways to simplify the math while still making a sweater that fits. First, you can mix up the frequency of double increases, working them every 2nd row, then every 3rd row, then every 2nd row, then every 3rd row, and so on. Even “uneven” increases such as these will form a smooth raglan line on the finished garment.

Crocheters who want to work “uneven” increases should take a page from knitters, who routinely use graph paper to map out increases. Crochet stitches, unlike knitting stitches, have different heights, so your drawing will not be to scale. Luckily, you don’t need exact scale—graph paper simply helps you figure out the initial stitch count, final stitch count, and rate of increase in between. Do you need to increase every row? Every other row? Every third row? Work it out in a stitch chart. Best of all, once you’ve finalized the graph, it can keep you on track while you stitch. Lily recommends you highlight each row after you complete it, and you’ll always know what to do next.

What happens if you just can’t get that rate of increase to work? Lily calls her second option the “cheat.” Crocheters and knitters can add a flat area at the base of the armhole on both body and sleeve. Generally, this cheat is no more than 1–2″ long. After completing the garment, seam the underarm and you’re ready to go. Just remember Lily’s earlier warning: “Be aware that the same number added to body is also added to sleeve. Again, these measurements are interlinked and one will influence the other.”

To work out how much cheat you’ll need, begin with your starting number of stitches at the neckline and a rate of increase. Calculate (or sketch on graph paper) how many stitches you’ll end with at that rate of increase, and subtract that new number from your bust circumference number. If your “cheat line” comes out longer than 2″, try different rates of increase until you can shorten it.

Top Down vs Bottom Up

In the first post, we discussed how easily you can try on and adjust a top-down garment. Here we’ve seen that the raglan line adds a highly versatile design element to sweaters. Play with that versatility and explore your options. When I discussed raglans with my colleague Deb Gerish, editor of Love of Knitting, she said she prefers bottom-up raglans because she likes the look of her decrease knit stitches more than her increase knit stitches. As a crocheter, I think top-down is much preferred. Increasing is SO easy in crochet—far easier than decreasing. So what do you think, stitchers? Which is better? Top-down or bottom-up? Let us know in the comments!

-Sara Dudek
Associate Editor, Interweave Crochet

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