Knitting a Raglan Sweater Pattern the Simple Way

Learn how to knit the Banstead Pullover by Lisa Shroyer, which uses raglan sweater techniques.

The Banstead Pullover by Lisa Shroyer, from her book, Knitting Plus

I just finished a raglan sweater, and I’m really enjoying wearing it. It’s comfy and the style is flattering, if I do say so myself.

Being a word person, I got to wondering about the origin of the word “raglan,” so I did a little research.

The raglan sleeve got its name from Englishman FitzRoy James Henry Somerset, the 1st Baron Raglan, who lost his arm in the Battle of Waterloo. His tailor developed this style of sleeve to be more comfortable for him after the loss of his arm.

Interestingly, in the Crimean War Baron Raglan fought alongside British Army General James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, after whom the cardigan sweater is named!

Isn’t that cool? I just love this sort of historical stuff.

Here’s Interweave Knits Editor and Knitting Plus author, Lisa Shroyer, to tell you more about raglan construction and how it works for plus-size knitting.

Learn how to knit the Sigma Tee by Melissa Wherle.

Sigma Tee by Melissa Wherle, from the eBook, Easy Seamless Sweaters to Knit

Ah, the raglan. A sporty bit of knitwear that can take on many personalities—feminine and lacey, structured and austere, simple and chunky, or refined and fitted.

The raglan sweater is characterized by diagonal shaping along the join between the sleeve cap and upper body. These diagonal seams are created by regular decreases that gradually taper the yoke from the underarm width to the neck width. Both sleeve cap and yoke are truncated triangles. The sleeve cap extends all the way to the neck edge.

A raglan has a true yoke, often worked in one piece, and is particularly suited to working in the round. The casual, sporty look of raglans gives them a somewhat youthful look that has long made them a favorite in knitwear.

Learn how to knit the Audubon Shrug by Lisa Shroyer.

The Audubon Shrug by Lisa Shroyer, from her book, Knitting Plus.

Raglan sweaters can be attractive on plus-size women, but it’s an issue of individual shape. Because the raglan lines draw the eye in from the curves of the bust, they’re quite flattering on curvy women—emphasizing the bust while creating a look of feminine narrowness across the shoulders. On small-busted women, especially those with large upper arms or lower bodies, these same lines can serve to emphasize that disproportion.

The extended sleeve cap, which matches the yoke in depth and number of rows, has a diagonal tension (a line of stress in the fabric) that cuts across the outer arm and shoulder and can be uncomfortable for women with larger upper arms or broad shoulders. The sleeve cap has to stretch over the outer joint of the shoulder and across the top of the shoulder to the neckline, requiring a flat plane of fabric to curve over an angled area.

For some women, the knitted sweater construction can result in sleeves appearing too short and too tight, and can create discomfort at the underarm and armhole. If a raglan is worked with plenty of positive ease, however, these problems are alleviated.

Knitted Raglan Sweater Construction

When working a raglan sweater pattern, each piece can be worked bottom-up or top-down. The body and sleeves can be worked separately in pieces that are seamed together or the body and sleeves can be worked in the round to the armholes, then joined and worked in a single piece to the neck. The sleeve cap is a triangle that mirrors the shape of the armhole, with the top of the sleeve (the neck edge) measuring 0″ to 4″ (0 to 10 cm); plus sizes fit best with at least 1″ (2.5 cm) remaining at the top of the sleeve.

Because the top of the sleeve forms the neck edge, the front neck shaping can be included in the final rows of the sleeves—angle the top of the cap by working more shaping on the side that will correspond with the front of the body. The sleeve cap and body can be shaped at different rates or at the same rate; just remember that in most cases, the sleeve and body need to have the same number of rows or rounds between the armhole and the neck. In raglans worked from the bottom up, the raglan shaping is achieved with decreases.

To work a raglan from the top down, you would begin at the neck edge and achieve the raglan shaping with increases. This is a useful construction that allows you to try on the sweater as you go.

—Lisa Shroyer, from Knitting Plus

The raglan sweater style is fun to knit, and I love how the shaping becomes a design element. In Melissa Wherle’s Sigma Tee, she uses dropped stitches along the raglan sleeve shaping. So cute for a summer tee, don’t you think?

Lisa’s designs from Knitting Plus are lovely. I have the Banstead Pullover in my queue; the slightly ruched slip-stitch panel at the center front is such a neat element, and so flattering. I love the neckline, too. The Audubon Shrug is truly special. Its deep back covers any unsightly lumps we may have, and the tailored style is classic.

I enjoy raglan sweater knitting, and I know you will, too. Download Knitting Plus or Easy Seamless Sweaters to Knit!


P.S. What’s your favorite sweater style to knit—raglan, set-in sleeves, dolman? Tell us, in the comments!

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