Top-Down Raglan Sweaters: Secret to Fit

We love top-down raglan sweaters, but they pose some challenges for construction and fit. So for a series of posts on this beloved type of sweater, we called in an expert to share her advice: crochet and knitting designer Lily Chin. She loves top-down raglan sweaters—minimal finishing, plus you can try on as you go. (Later in this series, Lily will explain more advanced techniques specific to crocheters, such as using gauge and graph paper, adapting existing patterns, and planning a top-down raglan. Some of our knitting gurus will jump in occasionally with craft-neutral tips.)

In this post, we want to discuss measurements, which affect all top-down raglans, whether they’re crocheted or knitted.

Essential Measurements for a Raglan

What makes a top-down raglan different from other kinds of sweaters? Both crocheters and knitters can construct a garment in pieces (front, back, sleeves) and then seam these pieces. However, sewing a sleeve into an armhole can get really frustrating—you face the possibility of puckers or weird stretching, and you’ll definitely add more bulk to the garment.

A top-down raglan can eliminate all these problems, due to the shape of its sleeves and the way it’s constructed. By definition, a raglan garment’s sleeves continue all the way up to the neck, creating a diagonal line from the neckline to the underarm. When you crochet or knit from the top down, you can make a faux seam with stitch increases. No seaming problems. No additional bulk around the shoulders. Where and how often you make these increases determines how the raglan will fit you. An accurate set of body measurements will help you decide where and how often increase.

Measure Your Body from the Top Down

Lily advises: Measure your head first. This should be the absolute minimum size of the neck opening. Any smaller and you won’t be able to get the garment over your head. It can be larger than this, but not so large that the garment starts to fall off the shoulders. How big should this be then? The answer is: it depends. How big will the body ultimately be? How wide will the sleeves be? The answers to these questions will help to determine how wide the neck should be.

Collect a Complete Set of Essential Measurements

Knitting expert Laura shows how to measure in Focus on Fit: Measuring for Accuracy. For top-down raglans, make sure you’ve got all these numbers:

1. Head/Neck Opening

To get this measurement, circle a tape measure around the widest part of your head and add 1–2″ (for ease)—this number is your minimum for the neck opening.

2. Armhole Depth

Your armhole depth is the distance straight down from the top of your shoulder on the outer edge to the horizontal line that runs under your arms (see photo). It’s really hard to get this number off your body even if you have a helper; instead, grab a non-raglan sweater that fits you well and lay it flat. Measure straight down from the point where the top of the sleeve meets the shoulder seam to the bottom of the armhole. The tape measure must form a vertical line, not a diagonal one, to give an accurate number.

top-down raglan

3. Raglan

The raglan measurement starts from the point where shoulder seam and neck opening meet, then runs diagonally down to where the sleeve meets the base of the armhole. In other words, when you make a top-down raglan, it’s the line along which you’ll increase. As with the preceding measurement, it’s much easier to get the number from an existing sweater—this time, use a raglan.

4. Bust (or high bust)

High bust equals the torso’s circumference just below the underarms. The circumference of your sweater should always be more than the circumference of your body (to avoid skin-tight clothing), so add 2″ inches or more of positive ease to your high bust number. This will allow for ease of movement. Check out Laura’s article on accurate body measurements for instructions on how to measure both and which number is most important for good fit.

5. Upper Arm Circumference

Measure the circumference of your upper arm just below the armpit or at its widest part. Again, it’s always good to add an inch or two of positive ease—you may not be able to move your arms in skin-tight sleeves! Reference Laura and Deb’s article for this one too.

For even more precision in your sweater’s fit, also measure waist circumference, hip circumference, sleeve length, and wrist circumference. Laura explains and demonstrates all of these additional measurements in her article.

Next time, Lily will walk us through the necessary math that turns these measurements into a perfect top-down raglan, so grab your graph paper and get ready!

Get Ready to Learn More!


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