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Knitting a raglan sweater so it fits

Knitting a raglan sweater so it fits

To knit a raglan sweater so it fits, there are several body measurements we need, including the upper torso circumference, raglan depth, bicep circumference, and various length measurements: sweater length, sleeve length, and armpit to hem length. Read on to see how to use this information to knit a raglan sweater so it will fit you. 

Knitting sweaters from Laine 21

This summer, we’re getting together and knitting some of the designs in Laine 21 in June Cashmere. Two of the sweaters in the issue especially appealed to our knitters: Lucienne by Audrey Borrego and Facette by Faïza Mebazaa.


Facette by Faïza Mebazaa, image from Laine 21

Lucienne by Audrey Borrego; photo from Laine 21

Both sweaters are top-down raglan construction so it is fitting (pun intended!) that we talk about getting a good fit in your raglan.

First off, did you know that the raglan sleeve is a design resulting from a disability? It’s an example of adaptive clothing! It’s supposedly named after FitzRoy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan, who lost his dominant arm during the Battle of Waterloo. He needed a sleeve that would be less restrictive than the set-in sleeve inherent in the garments of the day, including his military uniform. He worked with his tailor to create the raglan shaped sleeve that provided more room at the underarm to allow a larger range of motion as he relearned to do everything with his non dominant remaining arm. Hence, the raglan was born.*

The raglan construction can take a few different forms (seamed or unseamed; straight line or s-curve shaping). We’ll focus here on the raglan construction featured in Lucienne and Facette. Both sweaters are top-down seamless raglan shapes with shallow, wider neck openings (boat neck). This means that the sleeve shape is constructed with a straight line of increases from the edge of the neck opening to the bottom of the arm hole in the same manner for the front and back of the sweater.

Which sweater size do I knit?

I laud the work of Kim McBrien Evans on helping us make sweaters that fit. If ever you have a chance to take a class from Kim, do it! She offers virtual classes through her website, often at Vogue Knitting Live Virtual, and at various in-person events. In her classes, Kim will help you go beyond simply choosing the correct pattern size to understanding how to alter patterns in the areas where a pattern doesn’t work for you.

Kim’s series of articles for Interweave are a great place to start on understanding sweater fit. Kim also has some articles specifically on fitting raglans published in Digits & Thread, an online textile arts magazine. To get beyond the paywall for these articles, it’s worth the $9 CAD/$6.60 USD trial membership to have access to them for the next 90 days (with renewed monthly membership that you can keep or cancel).

The first article gives a good overview of the raglan and fit:

The second article gives specifics on where and how to alter a raglan pattern so it will fit you:

Sweater fit with the upper bust measurement

Having said that, Kim guides us to choose a pattern size based on our upper bust measurement, not our full bust measurement. We take our upper bust measurement by measuring the circumference of our body at the underarm. We then add pattern ease to this measurement. Why? We simply get a better fit for our sweater. If you are larger busted, you may have to add extra fabric for the full breast area but overall, your shoulder, upper torso, and sweater fit will be better if you choose your pattern size based on the upper torso measurement and then add ease.

Let’s look at Facette and Lucienne sweater separately to see what we mean.

Facette has recommended a sweater ease of 2.5 – 6.5”. This means that if you like your sweater to fit looser, you opt for sizing that offers the 6.5” of ease. For a less loose fit, opt for the lower end of the ease. Here’s a concrete example of how I would choose my size for this sweater. My upper bust measurement is 38”. I like a not-too-snug, not-too-loose fit so I’m going to choose ease somewhere in the middle of the recommended ease numbers. If I choose the size 42.5” finished bust measurement (minus my upper bust – 38”), I’ll have a sweater ease of 4.5” - just what I am looking for.

Another strategy for getting a good fit is to find a sweater that fits you just how you want it to (in this case, pick a raglan sweater) and take its finished measurements. How much ease does the fit have (compare your body measurements to the finished measurements of the sweater)? How do the finished garment measurements compare to the method of adding ease to your upper bust measurement for size choice? Do you land on the same pattern size?

To repeat the process for Lucienne, the recommended ease is 2-4”. Again, the finished measurement I’m likely to choose is the 42” size for my upper torso measurement of 38”, giving me 4” of ease.

Raglan depth

We measure raglan depth from where the edge of the collar/neck meets the sleeve to the armhole vertically, as can be seen in my rough sketch. Lucienne gives you this finished measurement, but Facette does not. This means that as you make Facette, you’ll want to watch your raglan shaping as you knit to be sure that when you separate the body from the sleeve, you try on your sweater to ensure the underarm will land where you want it to. Another approach is to go back to that raglan sweater that fits you like you want and measure vertically the raglan depth. This also will tell you the depth you want. (By the way, if you don’t own a raglan you love, take a quick trip to a store with your flexible tape measure and try some on, measuring the one that fits how you want it to).

Bicep and raglan sleeve

Bicep circumference is a necessary body measurement to ensure the sweater sleeve circumference will fit your arm. Lucienne gives this finished measurement for its straighter, more fitted ¾ length sleeve. Facette does not give the bicep measurement, and the sleeve construction is a bit different: it gradually increases from the underarm to flair out before it decreases back in again for the cuff. What kind of ease do you want here? Usually about 1” ease for the bicep and 2-4” of ease for the cuff (so that your hand fits through the hole).  

Sweater lengths

Length of sweater, length of sleeve, length from underarm to hem – all these measurements aid in fit. Take your measurements in these places and compare to the finished garment measurements of the pattern. 

Other fit considerations for the raglan are the raglan sleeve cap (top of the sleeve) and full bust fit. We can treat these individually if issues arrive. 

Overwhelmed? Don’t be! Every time we read the same information; it gets more solidified. When we go further and put the information into actual making, we understand even more clearly. What are the clear take-aways for getting fit with a raglan?

  • Base your size choice on upper bust measurement + ease.
  • Compare this with taking the finished measurements of a raglan sweater that fits you like you want it to. If you don’t have one, go to the store with your measuring tape and try some on, taking and writing down the measurements of the fit you want. 
  • Top-down sweater construction allows you to try on as you go, thus alerting you to needed alterations in specific areas. If that happens, we can work together to determine what you need to do.

Here are our kits for making Lucienne and Facette in June Cashmere yarn. Join us at Knitting Together on the 1st and 3rdSundays of each month for questions, visiting, and making together. All are welcome!

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As always, find joy in making with our yarn!  -Amy

 *Learn more on the history of the raglan

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