Friday, February 13, 2009

Adventures in One-Piece Raglans & Contrariness

Any knitter who knows me well, or has attended one of my project classes knows that I have very mixed feelings about raglan designs, particularly those constructed in one piece, whether top-down or bottom-up.

I appreciate the cleverness of the construction, absolutely. But the fit just plain doesn't work for me. I've said this before, but a standard raglan fit absolutely doesn't work for me. Either they fit around my shoulders, or around my bustline, but never both.

And, if truth be told, I think I'm coming to resent the propagation of this construction as the One True Way, the panacea, the Grand Unified Theory of sweater construction.

Yes, it's nice to not to have to do much (or indeed any) sewing. And yes, it's a fun and satisfying way to see a sweater emerge from your needles. And yes, I like that you can make modifications on the fly, especially if you're working top-down. Running out of yarn? Just make it shorter! Making it for a taller person? Make it longer! And so forth.

But (gasp!) one-piece raglans do have their drawbacks.

The standard raglan fit does not work for everyone. Let me say this again: THE FIT DOES NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE. I have a narrow-shouldered curvy figure, and to get a standard raglan to fit me nicely around the shoulders means that it's stretched across my bustline like something Jayne Mansfield would wear. Or if it fits me comfortably around the bust, it droops horribly around my shoulders. And they often don't work for the broad-shouldered but thin - tall skinny men in particular. Me, I care about fit and tailoring of my sweaters. If I'm going to the trouble of knitting something, it damn well better look good on me.

And if you're using a particularly heavy (weighty, as in lots of mass) sort of yarn, then having a seam where the sleeve joins the body is actually helpful, to stabilize the garment, and reduce stretching.

(Update: take a look at this design... in particular, the picture of the back, where the model's arm is bent. Seems to me that the seam where the sleeve meets the back would serve this design better with a bit of reinforcement. If it was reinforced, you wouldn't see the sagging. Not a criticism of the designer or the concept -- it's terrific overall.)

And, I've found, that one-piece raglans aren't necessarily the best project for a newer knitter, either. This isn't necessarily due to the construction, but due to the way the patterns are written.

A one-piece raglan pattern is very customizable, in many ways. You can tweak the lengths of the body and sleeves. You can add shaping to the body and sleeves. You can adjust the raglan length. You can change the position of the increases to change the fit of the sleeves, or to adjust the style of the yoke (viz old-style circular Lopi Fair Isle sweaters vs. a simpler "rectangular" yoke with 4 distinct increase points).

And the patterns are often written fairly generally, to allow a confident knitter to make these adjustments. And this is where a newer knitter runs into problems.

I encountered an example this week, a woman working a top down one piece raglan for her swimmer son -- tall, mostly skinny, but with broad shoulders. A helpful LYS employee had made a couple of adjustments and some notes on the pattern, and said that when she gets to the sleeve division, she should have her son try it on to check the raglan length. All well and good, but she confessed to me that she had no idea how to know if the raglan length was good -- and worse, what to do if it wasn't.

So, in the spirit of being a better teacher and pattern-writer myself -- and more to the point, hoping to be better able to guide a knitter who is struggling with such a pattern -- I decided to get more educated about this design.

So with the help of Barbara Walker's "Knitting from the Top" book, and loosely inspired by Amy's "Mr. Greenjeans", I cast on.

I'm using that SWTC Karaoke that I decided not to use for my Must-Have Cardigan. The first modification I made was changing the yarn over increases to EZ's backwards loop make 1. It might just be me, but I find that yarnover increases are rather at odds with the rest of a design for a dark-coloured cabled design.

I like the deep v of Amy's design, since I really don't have to worry about fit around the bustline. I'll likely not do a buttonhole, but rather use a pin.

It's going well so far. I've just divided for the sleeves, and it does fit. So that's nice. Updates as they become available...

1 comment:

Sel and Poivre said...

I've never done a top down sweater or a toe up sock - what a old school conformist! I'm planning to undertake knitting all of EZ's seamless hybrids (bottom up) to try to come to just the kind of understanding of contruction and modifications as you speak about so I very much enjoyed reading this post - thank you!