Monday, March 08, 2010

More On Raglans/Unpopular Opinion Alert/"Easy to Alter"/Solving the Wrong Problem?

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.


Dr. Steph said...

Yes! I love ragland because they fit me well but I also like seams because they give sweaters stability.

While we're on the whole decision making thing can we talk about ease? People are knitting their sweaters too small.

Shannon Okey (knitgrrl) said...

Funny, that, I tend to make my sweaters too big. ;)

I might be one of the only designers who gets all crazy wordy with her tdr patterns, but it's specifically BECAUSE I want to arm the knitter with as much info as possible so she can make intelligent, informed decisions -- or skip over my talky talky talkiness because She Knows, Already, My God, Enough With The Talky -- but yes, it's not a one size fits all solution and it's frustrating when people think it is.

FriendlyFossil said...

I, too, am a bit perturbed with knitters who think that knitting a top-down raglan is the panacea for all their knitting aversions. I have made top-down raglans, but they do not look good on my body. I do not have any problems with sewing seams, and I've come to understand that in some garments and with some yarns (alpaca in particular), seams are most desirable. I currently have an alpaca/wool blend garment that I will rip out because the fiber and the construction are not compatible. Partly, it was my poor judgment because I purposely eliminated most of the seams by doing provisional cast-ons, three-needled bind-offs, etc. The garment stretches and sags in every direction. But, I've learned several lessons from the mistakes I made, and the yarn can be used again, so I lost nothing but knitting time.

Alexandra V. said...

The problem isn't the top-down raglan, it's the way it's applied. They can be made to fit almost anyone, truly, but it's more work than "increase 8 sts every other row until it fits"--more work than most people are willing to put in. A TDR is easy to design but amazingly difficult to design well, and a real pain in the ass to write competently in multiple sizes.

Anonymous said...

I have narrow sloping shoulders - and raglan seams are really unflattering on me. Seamless construction can also give the effect of a sausage skin being worn by the wearer.
Very glad to see other shapes being put forward, and I love a set-in sleeve!

Elaine said...

Oh, I am sooo glad someone has finally posted about TDRs! I made one for myself a few years ago ( I mostly make bottom-up sweaters with set-in sleeves) because I was seriously ill and thought a TDR would be easier to knit. Which, indeed, it was. But I am quite short from my neck to my bust, so it ended up being much too bulky on top. That's when I learned my lesson: unless I want to get all fiddly with pattern adjustments, this simply isn't an appropriate style for me. The advantage of being knitters is that we have choices: we can select styles that suit us. One size (and style) does NOT fit all, and that's for sure the case with the TDR. Thanks for bringing this up for discussion.

TracyKM said...

Amen to everything you said!
I think the top-down raglan became popular for all the reasons you write, but also, it was a timing thing. New knitters were tired of furry garter stitch scarves. Knitting in the round, they could stick with knit sts still. They could 'easily alter' the length, they wouldn't have to learn how to seam yet.
I am a knitter first, sewer second. I had a HARD time readjusting my mind about sewing, LOL. But, a LOT of what I learned about fit with sewing can easily apply to knitting. Well, 'easily' if you want to do that work, LOL.

V said...

I think it would be helpful if people really understood math and garment design, and weren't just following a pattern. I would love to really understand how to insert short rows for bust shaping so that I stop getting gapes and tugging on things. What is the point of knitting a garment if you can't make it fit you like a (figurative) second skin?

Oh, the wips that I've frogged. TDRs do not work for me as-is. For that to happen, I'm going to need to get out a calculator and figure out how and where to insert short rows.

V said...

PS: Vogue Knitting is the best knitting reference book, ever. It should be required reading.

Marjorie said...

I've spent most of my knitting life (which began in around 1965) knitting bottom-up sweaters with set-in sleeves and seams, and I have watched with amazement the fascination for TDR sweaters. Just for fun, I thought I'd try a bottom-up raglan using EZ's percentages, with the thought in mind that if I hated how it looked, I'd frog it and do set-in sleeves.

But I have never had problems with seaming. My grandmother taught me to assemble sweaters using a single crochet seam, and this does work well for most sweaters. It is easy to do, and extremely easy to use when easing in sleeves. I'm wondering when seaming gotten such bad press. And for the small percentage of sweaters that don't lend themselves to crocheted seams (if they're heavy), the mattress stitch works quite well--but I thought my opinion arose simply because I also sew.