Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Miette 6: Top-Down Raglan Construction and Custom Sizing

Some of you are going to be lucky like me, and have your gauge and size fall within the numbers written in the pattern.  But others are going to have to do custom sizing, whether to size up or down.  To that end, I think it will be helpful to have a basic understanding of the construction of a top-down raglan sweater.  The information I'm giving here comes from Barbara G. Walker's book, Knitting from the Top, and is specific to a top-down raglan cardigan.

Let's pretend we're going to make up a top-down cardigan design from scratch.  You need to know two things to start with:  your stitch gauge and the width you want for the back of the neck.  For women, this measurement will usually be about 5.5 - 6 inches for a higher neck, 7 - 8 inches for a lower one, and even more for a very wide-necked cardigan.

Let's say we're designing a cardigan with a back neck width of 7 inches, using a yarn/needle combination that gives us 5 stitches to the inch.  We simply multiply these numbers to get the number of stitches required for the back neck:  35.  Easy, right?

From the stitch count for the back, we calculate the number of stitches we need for each sleeve.  In general, the sleeves start with 1/3 the number of stitches used for the back; 35 divided by 3 gives us 11.666667.  It doesn't matter if you round down or up:  one stitch won't make a big difference!  Let's go with 12 stitches for each sleeve.  So now we've got the back plus two sleeves:  35 + 12 + 12 = 59.

We also need stitches for the two fronts.  In order to "scoop out" the front neck, we start with only one stitch per front, and increase at the front edge every other row until the front neck is deep enough not to strangle the wearer!  So we're adding two more stitches to the above total for the fronts:  59 + 2 = 61.

And there you have it:  61 stitches is the number needed to cast on for our imaginary sweater.  As we knit the first row, we place markers between the sections to keep them separate - this makes doing the increases much easier.  Here we'll have the following sequence:

             1 - marker - 12 - marker - 35 - marker - 12 - marker - 1

Have you noticed that the two fronts are the same, and the two sleeves are the same?  And they should continue to be, throughout the whole process.

Once the markers are placed, we start increasing on every other row - usually a right side row.  There are 10 increases per row:

          one at either side of the front = 2
          one at either side of the first sleeve = 2
          one at either side of the back = 2
          one at either side of the second sleeve = 2
          one at either side of other front = 2

What this really means is that you're increasing at the beginning and end of the row, and on either side of each of the four markers.  After several rows, your work will look like this:

image taken from Knitting from the Top by Barbara G. Walker

The little dots along the diagonal lines represent the increases.  Everybody with me so far?

The Miette sweater more or less follows these guidelines, but there are a few differences, and it may be helpful to be aware of these.  First of all, the first 6 rows comprise the lace pattern, and while rows 2, 4 and 6 do increase the work by ten stitches each, they don't do it in the manner given above, but rather in a way that allows the lace to stay more or less intact.

From rows 6 to 24, the increases at the front edge occur only every fourth row, for a more gradual slope (i.e. a more scooped neckline).  At row 25, ten stitches are cast on at each front edge to form the bottom of the scoop neck;  if we kept on increasing gradually, we'd end up with a V-neck.  Here's what my piece looks like up to row 24:

Can you see the diagonal lines radiating out from the neck to form the fronts, sleeves and back?  Here's a closer look at the increases:

And here's a closer look at the lace pattern at the back:

This method of constructing a sweater is very versatile for both designing and sizing.  A lot of designers have capitalized on it in the last few years, so there are plenty of designs out there using these techniques!  A few who come to mind (in no particular order) are Hannah Fettig, Jane RichmondVeera Välimäki, Wendy Bernard, Stephanie JapelSweaterBabe and Zephyr Style.  Lots of inspiration out there!

In terms of sizing, this technique gives us the ability to try on as we go (I'll be doing a post on this when I get to that point!).  If we need to make the sweater bigger, we just keep increasing at the raglans!  And if we need it to be smaller, we rip back a few rows!  In general, most women will need a raglan depth of 10 - 11 inches, but trying your sweater on will let you know exactly how much you need.

Our sweater is a little more complicated because of the lace pattern, but there are ways we can work around that.  For instance, if we need to make the finished bust measurement 46" rather than 42", we can add a lace pattern repeat at the center back and add the same number of stitches at the center front (divided among the two fronts).  For a 29" sweater, we could do the reverse.  Another great way to make a sweater larger is to just add some stitches at each underarm.  Again, I'll talk about that later when we get to the point of removing the sleeve stitches from the body stitches.  But for any sizing adjustments we need to make, we'll have to get those two crucial numbers:  your stitch gauge and your chest measurement.

So let's get swatching!


  1. You dear Gail are amazing...great post!

  2. That's a great explanation! This is so interesting.
    I'm looking forward to figuring out sizing... guess what?? Got my yarn today!! Hooray! I can get swatching! :)

  3. Even though I don't think the Miette will suit my shape, I am almost inspired to make this for the awesome instructional value of the knit along.

    1. That's one of the reasons I linked to all those designers. If you're not crazy about this design, you could choose another one and knit along with us. Because you don't have enough on your plate right now.

    2. I think my head might explode if I try to fit one more thing into my creative lexicon. But I really want to!

  4. Gail,

    Hope you are well!

    I also am hoping you can help me get my head around this, as I am doing my first top down raglan with my Obsidian, but am not sure where it is supposed to stop on the shoulder and separate (and have modified again, so can't just follow the pattern like a sane person).


    How far down do you go with the example you have above before you separate back and front? Top of the shoulder or down to the armpit? I just can't visualise it!