Raglan Construction – A Look at Top-Down Knitting Techniques

Dovestone Knits

In August 2015 I released the book, Dovestone Hills, which coincided with the release of baa ram ewe’s Dovestone DK yarn. Up until now, these patterns have only been available as part of the book, but over the coming weeks, I’ll be releasing the individual patterns one at a time!

As an extra special bonus from baa ram ewe, you’ll also get a discount code for 10% off their Dovestone DK yarn for the same time period. That code will be available when you purchase the patterns or digital book.

So watch out for all the patterns, there will be a new one added every couple of days!

(And the code works for all of them…..)

Top-Down Raglan Construction

This seemed like a perfect opportunity to talk a bit about different types of seamless construction as there are 4 different seamless methods used in Dovestone Hills. The first that I want to talk about is top-down seamless raglan.

This was traditionally the most common method of top-down knitting as it’s very easy to knit. It doesn’t always create perfect results, but with a little bit of knowledge, you can easily adjust patterns to suit your body and taste.


Caelius is the sweater in Dovestone Hills that uses this shoulder construction method. It starts with a cowl neck, uses short rows to shape the back of the neck and then uses raglan increases on either side of a decorative seam. This decorative seam continues down into the a-line body and forms the focus of interest for the sweater.

Top-Down Raglan Techniques


A ‘raglan’ is a shoulder construction where the sleeves come all the way up to the neck. For a raglan to fit correctly, you would typically increase/decrease on each side of the body (and at the front and back) and on each side of the sleeve on every right-side row or every other round if working in the round.

This gives you 8 increases (or decreases). If you are knitting from the top down the raglan seams are all increases, but if you were knitting bottom-up, they would be decreases.

Increase Types

When you are creating your raglan seam, you can use any type of increase that you wish. The most basic would be a kfb (knit into the front and back of the stitch).

For a bit more refinement you could have a mirrored M1R and M1L, and if you were working on a lace cardigan, you might opt to use a yo (yarnover) increase as it would fit with the lace.

Adrift uses kfb increases:

Vivido used M1L, and M1R increases:

You can change the way increases look by adjusting the number of knit stitches between them. This creates a wider or narrower ‘seam’ along the raglan.

While it looks like Caelius uses yarnovers as the increases, it’s actually got a centred decrease with a yarnover, and then the increases are outside this. The reason for this is so that the pattern can be continued down the body when you no longer need raglan increases.

Rate of Increase

In a traditional raglan, you start with the neck size you want, increase the body and sleeves every second row or round until you get close to the body stitches you want. The final stitches are then cast-on across the underarm.

For some body shapes, this works just fine, BUT on the smaller and larger end of the spectrum, you can have problems. Most body shapes don’t increase the size of their upper arms as fast as the bust size increases.

This means that for larger bust sizes using traditional construction, the sleeves will be too large.

To correct this, I write my patterns with two rates of increases. You start with full raglan increases and then move on to alternating body only rows with full raglan increases so that everything fits right at the bottom of the yoke.

If you do a few calculations, you can adjust for yourself, in the same way, to fit a pattern exactly to your body shape.

Short Row Back of Neck

If you work your raglan straight down from the neck, you will have the front of the neck the same height as the back. However, generally, a neckline is more comfortable to wear if the front is a little lower than the back.

You can do this by adding short rows across the back of the neck. If you’ve got pattern work near the neck, you can even put those short rows lower down the back as well.


Underarm Cast-on

When you have finished the raglan yoke increases, you still need to join the body together.

You do this by knitting to the sleeve, using a tapestry needle threaded with waste yarn and slipping all of the sleeve stitches onto the thread (tie it together, so you don’t lose the stitches!!)

Now you need to join the underarm.

To do this neatly, you cast-on the underarm stitches and then join up the back of your body and work on to the other side.

Typically patterns suggest a Backwards Loop Cast-On. This is because you can keep working in the same direction as that type of cast-on. However, it doesn’t really give the most stable underarm area. I prefer to turn to the wrong side of the work and using a Cable Cast-On, which is lovely and firm.



I’ve designed an awful lot of top-down raglan sweaters and cardigans. You can find them here.
Dusty Road and Santa Rosa Plum are both from last summer, and I’m still in love with them both :-)

Santa Rosa Plum
Santa Rosa Plum
Dusty Road
Dusty Road

Knit with Me

If all of this is still sounding a bit much to take on by yourself, I’m always adding patterns to my Teachable Workshops. These workshops are designed to be there every step of the way as you work on your chosen project.

If you want to join me virtually for a 12-week knitting adventure as we master garment fit and modification, then my signature masterclass is waiting for you here.




18 thoughts on “Raglan Construction – A Look at Top-Down Knitting Techniques

  1. Very nice overview of techniques! Thank you!

    Am enjoying your Craftsy class on short rows. I’ve struggled with them for longer than I should have, and am learning a lot!

  2. Thank you soon much for the tutorial. Your continued efforts to share knowledge is a treasure and so encouraging to knitters of all experiences. Thanks again and do keep designing and sharing.

  3. Thanks for the tutorial. I am also happy to see Dusty Road, which I managed to miss last summer-gorgeous both in color and construction. I love the lace.

  4. I have fallen for more than a few of your designs but was intimidated because I am considered a new-ish knitter. These tutorials and the mention of your Craftsy course have given me more tools and confidence that I may actually make a decent go at making one of these designs! :)

  5. I am currently knitting your Traveler’s End pattern and I am loving the cable pattern. I debated changing the Raglan increases because I generally prefer to have the increase line extend all the way down below the armpit. When the raglan increases end early and there are many rows of straight knitting before getting to the point where the stitches are added for the underarm join, I have found that the finished sweater doesn’t always lay flat just in the upper chest and back. I decided not to make modifications to this extremely well written pattern and I haven’t finished knitting it yet. I was just wondering if you have any thoughts on this matter. ??? BTW…many of the Dovestone patterns are on my project list :)

  6. I wouldn’t increase all the way to the underarm as that will make your sleeve and body too large. What I frequently do instead is space the increases out so increase rows are every other row instead which correct both issues I find.

  7. Thanks for your advice Carol…I will experiment a little with spacing out my raglan increases. I just purchased Caelius to knit for my teen daughter…it will be my first A-line sweater and I think the Dovestone DK is the perfect yarn.

  8. I am narrower at the shoulder and wider in the body and hip area. How would I increase these areas to get about a 2inch increase?

  9. With Raglan top down you would need to start with the neck size you want. The shoulder width is less important as there is no set shoulder width. You probably then want to add a few more underarm increases to bring the bust size up to what you need. For the hips an a-line shape should work well.

  10. Hello Carol, This is so helpful. May I ask, when knitting a raglan top down and adding short rows to raise the back neck, do you do these once you are already knitting in the round, or do you do a few back and forth rows? Regards, Sarah

  11. It would be back and forth in rows although you can still do it after you join in the round and then resume working in the round once the short rows are complete.

  12. I have a difficult time picking up the neckline where the front increases have been. When I pick them up to begin my neck, those increase stitches look funny picked up and knitted. Any ideas for a neat front neck increase?

  13. If you make sure your neck increases are a few stitches in from the edge this will give you a clean line of stitches to pick up from.

  14. Thank you for the information it is very helpful. I am still wondering about when I am knitting a cardigan with raglan sleeves and I’m using an increase like a make one which leans right or left, which one would I do first, the M1R or M1L? When I get to the other side of the sleeve do I do it in the same order or do I reverse the way they lean? What about when I get to the next sleeve? When I think about it I think I’m just following and exaggerating the way the individual stitches lean so it wouldn’t matter- when I get to the next sleeve I would do them in the same order. However when I think about looking at the sweater as a whole it seems like on one side you would want stitches to lean left and on one side you would want stitches to lean right to make it symmetrical.

  15. For each raglan seam I do one increase before and a different one after it. Generally I use M1R before and M1L after but reversing it works fine if you keep it consistent.
    Every raglan seam should have the same 2 increases worked for each one as that way you are going to have the same seamline at each point.

  16. Hey, I just came across this while making a search on raglan. I’m about to start knitting a top-down raglan sweater in the round with short rows in the back. I’m familiar with the general concenpt, but unsure of how I’ll know where to start the raglan increases. How do I know where to put them, so that it will fit on me? I’m not using a pattern, but I guess there has to be some general rule for this.
    Thank you so much if you can help!

  17. It’s going to be a bit more involved for a raglan sweater. Might be easiest starting with a pattern?

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