This post started as a comment on Marsha's blog, in which she mentions having the same exact problem with Top-Down Raglans that I do, and it got long, so here it is. (HA, Karl and any other non-knitters out there, feel free to avert your eyes.)
Most of the links below are Ravelry links.
The top down raglan has been a thorn in my side for years. Always too big. Going down one size still gets me a sweater that's too big. The larger the size, the more out of whack the raglan increase instructions are, or something like that. I also think that the armholes can seem like the right size when you've just gotten to that point and tried the thing on, but once you add a few inches of the body, the extra weight pulls down and reveals a lot more roominess in the arms and body than previously suspected.
So even though it's a magic sweater that you can knit in one piece and try on as you go and not have to seam, it can also be the cause of frustration.
I've made 2 top down raglans designed by Wendy Bernard (Something Red and Somewhat Cowl--I knit them both twice after the first attempt was huge and they were still a bit baggy, but wearable, as you can see here (I cant find the picture on my Flickr stream, but it's still showing up on Ravelry, so there ya go). This is certainly not Wendy's fault, though I'm not sure sure she's even aware of the issue, since she wears and knits one of the smaller sizes and wouldn't stumble upon the issue herself. They were the first top-downs I did and I blindly followed her directions without realizing that danger could be lurking. (Again, I'm not blaming Wendy--I assume she followed some standard math for sizing the pattern and it's the standard math that doesn't take the issue into account.)
Here's a few ways to approach the issue:
- Ignore the directions about when to stop the raglan increases and separate the arms. Instead, measure your your arm at the widest spot to see how big around the sleeve needs to be. Make the separation when your sleeve stitches are about in inch less (you'll be adding about an inch when you pick up underarm stitches). Or you can lay the sleeve section over your shoulder to see if it's big enough. (I got that second bit from a guest on Knitty Gritty, but I don't remember who. Since we all knit in front of the TV, and hate getting up to try stuff on, etc., I thought up the measuring tape bit.)
- Knit Unwrapped by Jody Pirello. The pattern addresses the increases in a way that mitigates the issue. The one I made is the top down raglan I'm happiest with (and is pictured above. Note: I stopped shot and skipped the belt because I prefer my tops to hit the top of my hips, so my version is a little drapy-er than intended, but still nice.). Presumably, you could modify other top down raglan patterns to use Jody's instructions for the raglan increases, creating a Frankenpattern that would work.
- Knit a Top Down with set in sleeves instead. Barbara Walker's Knitting from the Top includes directions and although it's slightly more complicated than the raglan, it's not that bad. You just need to do the math and go. My one attempt was turning out OK until I discovered I was allergic to the yarn I was using and had to give up. But it certainly seemed less likely to have the same sizing issues as the raglan.
- Use your google-fu and see what other advice you can find and how other people have modified top down raglans. Jody Pirello knit up the Somewhat Cowl more successfully than I did with quite a few modifications. If I had made more of her mods, my sweater would've had the snug fit that I'd intended.
Alas, I'm no expert on top-down sweaters. I'm currently trying to knit up my stash before I start buying more yarn and the only sweater amounts I have are things that I'm allergic too. (If you're in the market for some alpaca, have a look.) Hopefully, when I've gotten my stash small enough to fit in the closet and it stops looming over me like a massive To Do list, I can start knitting with specific patterns in mind again and figure out how to make the perfect top down sweater for me.
Any other helpful hints?