Lily Chin’s Raglan Secrets: Gauge & Graph Paper

If you love making top-down raglans, Lily Chin’s secrets to fit will help you create great-fitting sweaters. Here, she explains how graph paper can help you map out measurements for a sweater and how gauge translates these measurements into stitches and rows. We’ll demonstrate with examples from her Floret Crop Top in Interweave Crochet Spring 2017. (Knitters, you’ll find at least half a dozen top-down raglans in recent issues of Interweave Knits, knitscene, and Love of Knitting.)

Designers and knitters adore raglans for good reason: this silhouette flatters many figures and the top-down construction allows plenty of opportunity to customize.

But there are also pitfalls in crocheting or knitting these sweaters—row gauge becomes as important as stitch gauge. Mapping out your measurements and comparing them to the garment schematic can help you stay out of trouble.

Start by making sure you have all your essential measurements for a raglan sweater. (If you’re working from a pattern, rather than designing your own garment, you’ll need head/neck opening, armhole depth, bust or high bust, and upper arm circumference. Include raglan measurement if you’re inventing your own pattern.)

Then draw these numbers out on square graph paper where each box equals 1 inch. As Lily explains, “The use of the graph paper is, in essence, your created schematic drawing, very much like those found in almost all patterns.”

Here, Lily has sketched out the front, back, and both sleeves. In a seamless raglan, the body pieces and the sleeve pieces are worked in the round at the same time for the length of the armhole depth. Once you reach the high bust, the sleeves and the body pieces are worked separately.

• For this example, the total circumference around the neck is 22″. It’s distributed around the top of the raglan, giving 9″ for the front, 2″ for the first sleeve, 9″ for the back, and then 2″ for the second sleeve (9 + 2 + 9 + 2 = 22″ for total neck circumference).

• The total circumference for the high bust is 40″. Again, it’s distributed evenly: 20″ for the front and 20″ for the back (20 + 20 = 40″ for the total high bust circumference).

• The armhole depth in this example is 7″; there is a difference of 7 squares between the neck and the high bust.

• Finally, the upper arm circumference is 13″; the widest part of each sleeve spans 13 squares.

Work out a similar graph for your own measurements, so you can evaluate a garment’s fit even before you swatch. Graph the sweater’s measurements for easier comparison to the schematic in an existing pattern.

Using the Floret Crop Top with a 40″ finished bust circumference as an example, measurements break down as follows:

• The neck opening on front and back is 8¾” wide, for a total of 17½”. (This measurement does not include the sleeves.)

• Bust circumference is 40″.

• Armhole depth equals 7¼”.

• Upper arm circumference is 12½”.

These measurements suggest that the Floret Crop Top will fit snugly around bust and upper arm.

(Should you worry about the neck opening? Probably not, if the pattern includes a good photo. If the model can’t get a sweater over her head, that sweater won’t be photographed. If the model has a blue face, the neck is too tight. In either case, choose a different pattern.)

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix if your actual high bust measurement is 40″: go up a size, and the top will include some wearing ease for comfort.

If you want to understand raglan fit the way designers do, you cannot ignore Lily’s next tip: “Once you firm up all the measurements, translate them into stitches and rows using the given gauge.”

Here, we’ll use a swatch in which 23 sts and 18 rows = 5″. (Calculations stay the same for crochet and knitting.)

• Begin by figuring out how many stitches you’ll need for the neck opening. If 23 stitches equals 5″, that works out to approximately 4.6 stitches per inch (23 / 5 = 4.6). We know that the front and back should each be 9″; 9 × 4.6 = 41.4, rounded up to 42 stitches. We know that each sleeve should be 2″ at the neckline; 2 × 4.6 = 9.2, rounding down to 9 stitches. So this garment would start with 102 stitches at the neckline (42 stitches across the front + 9 stitches across the first sleeve + 42 stitches across the back + 9 stitches across the second sleeve).

• Now for the high bust. To reach a bust circumference of 40″ (20″ for the front + 20″ for the back), we’ll need 184 stitches (20 × 4.6 = 92; 92 stitches across the front + 92 stitches across the back).

• Do the same for the upper arm circumference of 13″ (13 × 4.6 = 59.8, rounding up to 60 stitches total).

• The armhole depth will be slightly different because it’s measured vertically. Instead of calculating stitches, calculate the number of rows. If 18 rows = 5″, that’s about 3.6 rows per inch. Our armhole depth measurement is 7″, so 7 × 3.6 = 25.2. You will have about 25 increase rows between your neck opening and your high bust.

While there’s a lot of calculation involved, it’s easy math—and working through it for even a single top-down raglan will help you see how everything fits together. In the next post, Lily demonstrates how to adjust these numbers for raglan increases and how to make those increases line up.

Happy stitching!

-Sara Dudek
Associate Editor, Interweave Crochet

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