Armhole Shaping: Style and Fit

If you’re an enthusiastic knitter like me, you might also be the kind of knitter who can’t get enough of sweaters. If I haven’t got at least one sweater on the needles, then chances are I’m thinking about knitting one. In fact, even if I am knitting a sweater, I’m probably thinking about other sweaters I’d like to knit next! One of the great things about knitting world is how many different choices we have of projects and yarns.

Sweater patterns include not only a variety of stitch patterns, textures, and yarns, but also a variety of construction styles. These may also result in aesthetic differences and practical considerations for how the sweater will fit. In this post I’ll describe three popular styles of sweater sleeves, and how they are different from each other.

armhole shaping - drop shoulder

The drop shoulder or “dropped shoulder” is a classic sweater style that many of us have collected in our wardrobe over the years, either through our own knitting pursuits or as gifts from others. The classic ganseys and cabled ‘fisherman’s sweaters’ also typically use this style. It is one of the easiest to knit since it tends to involve knitting two square-shaped pieces for the body (or three, if the front is a cardigan), and two angular, flat-ended pieces for the sleeves. It is easy to seam together since the sleeves can be neatly attached to the sides of the body. The reason it is referred to as a drop shoulder is because the edge of the shoulder seam tends to be wider than the actual shoulder of the person wearing it – the shoulder ‘drops’ off of the edge as a result. This is a popular style for men, since it is flattering on broad shoulders. For women, a loose drop-shoulder sweater can be worn in a ‘slouchy’ style for a comfortable, layered fit.

armholeshaping - raglan shoulder

The raglan sleeve (named for the Earl of Raglan who popularized the style in the 19th Century) is a versatile style that accomplishes a closer fit around the shoulders – one of the failings of the drop shoulder style. This makes it appealing for both men and women to wear, since women’s narrow shoulders are less flattered by a drop shoulder sweater. The raglan can also be constructed in pieces or seamlessly, from the top down or bottom up, which makes it a popular choice for many knitters. On a raglan sweater, the sleeve caps and top of the body are angled in the same manner, to fit exactly alongside one another on diagonal edge. This makes for a sporty and comfortable look.

armhole shaping - se-in sleeves

The set-in sleeve and armhole refine the sweater yet further, especially for women’s sweaters. Women’s bodies often have narrow shoulders that can be accommodated more precisely than the angled raglan shape can account for, but still need a wider shape around to fit over their curves at the bust. The set-in sleeve style allows the width at the top of the shoulder to be customized exactly to the width of the wearer’s actual shoulders. The accompanying sleeve is then curved around the top of the cap to mimic the actual curve of the upper arm where it meets the shoulder. All in all, this creates a nicely fitted silhouette and it is no secret why this is a popular style for women’s sweater patterns!

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