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Prep: A Love Letter to Raglans

March 4th, 2010

New cable thing

Often when I cast on for a new design, it’s after hours of prep work. Swatching, re-swatching, changing stitch patterns, taking measurements, doing math, making notes. If you’ve taken one of my classes, you know I’m a huge fan of gauge swatching. Taking that half hour to work up a good square of sample fabric – and then blocking it properly before measuring – is time well spent. In addition to just making sure that you’re knitting at the right tension, it’s an opportunity to break the ice with your new yarn, to learn how it feels under your finger tips, to see how the texture unfolds with every stitch.

But, I won’t lie to you. I did not swatch for this design. I simply pulled out my 4mm addi clicks and cast on.


Sometimes an idea is too captivating to wait. I had this cable in my mind, and I wanted to design a raglan around it, with the cable panels coming down on either side of the yoke, then continuing through the body on a background of reverse stockinette. Because the cable panels are quite wide, my neckline cast on was more or less set, without swatching or multiplication.

The yarn is Plymouth Galway, close enough to Cascade 220 that I could predict my gauge within a fraction of a stitch.

So, I took that leap and cast on.

Raglans in the round are popular for this very reason; spontaneity.

They are forgiving. Because you start with a square (or a circle) for the neckline, if it’s a wee bit large, it won’t matter; just pick up stitches and knit on that neckband a little deeper than planned. (Of course, if it’s too small to fit over your head, that’s a massive problem that can only be remedied by cutting or frogging back to the beginning.)

Raglans are easy to fit. If the body gets a bit large before your yoke is deep enough, Raglans look even classier when working a few inches even at the end of the yoke. Because you can try on as you work, you can make sure the size is right, and the shaping is bang-on, long before you’ve finished the garment.

They are the ultimate blank canvas. Working in the round affords unique design opportunities that seams and set in sleeves can’t fathom. And for designers, with the yoke in a single piece, it’s easy to see the big picture early on in the project, early enough to shift direction, or add in some feature you hadn’t planned.

New cable thing

However, raglans aren’t the be-all and end-all of knitting pattern design.

There’s nothing like a proper set in sleeve to make you feel elegant and classy. And seams ARE often important in knitting. Seams lend structure to garments, helping them stay in shape over the years, or keeping a potentially unruly stitch pattern in check. For example, on my Slow Curve pattern, seams play an important role both in terms of structure and design. Circular yokes are beautiful to work, and allow for seemingly magical colourwork that grows and changes organically. And so on.

But I love the Raglan. And I love it for designs like this one, where the structure fits my idea so very perfectly.

I’m designing more and more this way right now. Brief flash of an idea turns into the beginnings of a garment. Some math, some planning, some design details fleshed out on the needles. I find it exciting and rewarding, if not exactly low risk.

I may need to rip this beautiful blue thing back to the beginning. I know this, and I’m prepared, just in case. But maybe not. Maybe it will all continue to come together, the right shape, the right size. With little advanced prep work and one solid idea.