Top-Down Raglan vs. Top-Down Set-in-Sleeve

In the knitting world, one doesn’t need to travel far in order to stumble upon the virtues of top-down sweaters. They are quick to knit, can be done all in one piece, and are relatively easy to troubleshoot. Since top-down sweaters are knit from the top down, you can try it on as you go, and make any adjustments to fit, shaping, and length as needed. Though it can become cumbersome to carry around a top-down sweater towards the end of the work, the fact that it is knit in one piece eliminates the seaming process. Sweaters with a top-down construction are excellent for knitters who are just starting out on sweater making and want to knit something easy, and for more advanced sweater knitters who want to knit something quick, with lots of fit control. However, after deciding to knit a top-down sweater, the question then becomes will you knit a top-down raglan or a top-down set-in-sleeve? In my experience, both methods of construction have some pluses and minuses that are good to be aware of.

set-in-sleeve (left), raglan (right)

For the most part, top-down sweaters are made with a raglan construction. It is easy to see why, when you consider that they are simple to knit, require little shaping, and figuring out how to set one up is easy enough to calculate at home. Because of these benefits, I typically turn to raglan construction when I need to churn out a sweater fast or if I’m making a sweater for someone else and I’m not going to be getting super precise fit. That is where the minuses come in. Though there are so people who look fantastic in raglan construction, there are those, like myself, who don’t find it as flattering. I have a large chest, and if I want to knit a more fitted sweater, raglan construction just won’t do. Since a raglan sleeve is a straight line, it has a harder time conforming to the natural curvature of the body. Therefore, when I try to make a fitted raglan, I find that the raglan line tends to pull and stretch out of place. While raglan sweaters are easy to set up, they don’t always fit well on every body.

Set-in-sleeve top-down sweaters tend to fit much better than raglans. Because a set-in-sleeve follows a curved line, they can be easily adjusted to fit the particular sculpture of the intended wearer. For this reason, I have started knitting almost all my top-down sweaters with set-in-sleeves. They just happen to fit better on my shoulders without tugging at my breasts. However, they simply are not as simple to put together as raglans. I have yet to find a “plug-and-chug” method for top-down set-in-sleeve construction. Though I have found multiple raglan methods where all you have to do is plug in your gauge and measurements into an easy equation in order to figure out how many stitches to cast on, and which stitches will be your front, back, and sleeves. Set-in-sleeve construction is just not (as least at the moment!) quite so approachable. It also happens to require casting the back on first, shaping the shoulders, and then placing the back on hold until the front is constructed and ready to be joined with the back at the underarms. In contrast, a raglan can be cast on and knit straight through from top to bottom.

What about you all? Any preferences when it comes to raglan vs. set-in-sleeve? Anyone found a great set-in-sleeve “plug-and-chug” that they’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

For anyone looking to try out either a top-down raglan, I highly recommend checking out Hannah Fettig’s Lesley or looking at Karen Templer’s series on Fringe Association about how to improvise a top-down raglan.

And for anyone interested in trying out some top-down set-in-sleeves, I suggest checking out Elizabeth Doherty’s Clarendon (really her whole book on the method), and Andi Satterlund’s Plain Jane.


2 thoughts on “Top-Down Raglan vs. Top-Down Set-in-Sleeve

    • I was pretty surprised too, since I had always been told how universal they are! I figured I was always making them wrong since they tend to sit funny on me, and bunch at my armpits. That’s the amazing thing about knitting, though, you get to see what works best on your body. So glad that raglans fit you well!

      Liked by 1 person

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