I let my frustration show in a tweet last week... I said something along the lines of "Dear Top-Down-One-Piece Raglan people: Please stop."
I was teaching a class last week, and I had a long discussion with a woman about the sweater she was working on.
It was a top-down one-piece raglan, and she was partway through the yoke. It was a fairly plain garment, and a relaxed style. She had a million questions. She was looking to alter it.
We wanted to change the length of the garment. Easily done - and indeed, one of the excellent benefits of a top-down sweater. She was considering altering the sleeve length - also easily done.
But then she explained to me that she wanted it to fit differently in the top, and to make it more fitted.
At that point, I lost my patience.
Not with the knitter - but with us.
With the community.
This woman was a reasonably skilled knitter, with a clear idea of what she was looking to create.
She'd gone into a shop, looking for a pattern to create a particular garment - and she'd been directed to a top-down one-piece raglan. "They are easy to alter."
I really wish we'd stop presenting the top-down one-piece raglans like they are the solution to every knitting problem.
Elements like body and sleeve length are very easy to alter - sure. But not necessarily the whole thing.
And no matter how skilled you are at knitting and altering, there are limits to what a raglan can do and how they can fit. And they simply don't work on every body type.
Here's the unpopular bit: go look at the hundreds of February Lady Sweater projects on Ravelry. It's a design that looks terrific on some people, but looks truly awful on others. (In particular, check out the armholes.) And despite this particular sweater being a favourite of the Harlot, it's got issues in the armhole area, too.
And one-piece construction is great if the yarn isn't too heavy - but a yarn like alpaca or cotton can get very heavy, and really benefits from seams to retain some structure.
I feel like we're really misleading knitters if we keep pushing them towards only one style of garment. I cannot get a raglan to fit me, it's true, but I'd have the same rant if they did fit me well. I like set-in sleeves, but I don't push everyone to that style, either. Everyone is shaped differently, and everyone needs to know what works for them.
And how do you know what works for you? Experiment! Go spend an hour in the Gap and try on every sweater they have. Try raglans, try set-in sleeves, try circular yokes, try drop shoulders. Try garments with waist shaping. Try garments that hang straight. Try different lengths. Take a good honest look at yourself. And take notes!
I know, I know. I've grumbled about this before.
I just feel that far too often something is missing from the decision process when you choose a pattern to knit: the understanding that this is a garment you are going to wear, and that you should like the look and fit of.
Now, I do understand why both designers and knitters like the top-down. Amy presents a nicely articulated discussion of why she likes to design raglans here. And I agree with everything she says.
And I know one of the big reasons why knitters like them: people don't like seaming.
But I think we're solving that particular problem the wrong way. I know that people don't like seaming because they don't know how. The patterns glibly throw out instructions like "set in sleeves" in the finishing, but never explain precisely what they mean.
And if you don't have a reference book like my beloved Vogue Knitting, you're going to be at sea.
(The people who struggle the most sewing up knitting are those who are most familiar with sewing fabric. It's entirely different. A proper seam is really not hard, and the result is truly amazing. I love teaching my finishing class, because of the amazed reactions I get.)
So people don't like seaming, so they like a one-piece sweater. Makes sense to me. But you're going to be limited on styles and fits if that's all you have in your knitting toolkit. I'm on a one-woman crusade to banish fear of finishing.
And of course, top-down sweaters are worked in the round - also great. I'm a big fan of this - but in many cases, that can actually be done with all sorts of different styles. There's no reason why a set-in sleeve can't be worked in the round to the armholes, whether bottom up or top-down - assuming it's an appropriate yarn and style.
So yeah - people think I'm a raglan hater. I'm not, really. I'm a hater of narrow thinking and of limiting possibilities.