The raglan sleeve, like many unique clothing designs, has its origins etched in history. The raglan sleeve was designed for Lord Raglan by his tailor when the sword-fighting lord needed more movement in the jacket he wore. Raglan sleeves, cut and inserted at a slant, gave far more flexibility than the standard set-in sleeve.
The raglan sleeve is made in one piece from the armhole to the collar. The seam is cut in a diagonal fashion and sewn from the underarm to the neckline. Raglan sleeves are often found on sport’s wear and men’s jackets. The raglan sleeve dates back to 1815 and the Battle of Waterloo when Lord Raglan lost his right arm. Now we have a sleeve that makes all sorts of sports and outdoor activity clothing more comfortable and practical.
Qualities of Raglan Sleeves
- The cut of the sleeve gives a wider arm area.
- More freedom of movement allows your arms to move up and down and from side to side or to rotate for throwing and catching actions.
- Baseball players love a raglan sleeve because it gives the players the ability to bat and pivot and lift their arms.
- The raglan sleeve does not have a shoulder seam. Shoulders are more easily defined through the cut of a raglan sleeve.
- The raglan sleeve has a casual quality about the way it is cut and sewn.
- The raglan sleeve is a straight forward sleeve to sew with no difficult set in procedures.
- Raglan sleeves are especially effective on stretch t shirts and fleece stretch pullovers.
Raglan Sleeves vs Set in Sleeves
The raglan sleeve definitely has a sporty edge on the set-in sleeve. The raglan gives the ease of movement and the diagonal cut that makes the difference to the finished sleeve style.
- The raglan sleeve is not set into the armhole area like a set-in sleeve.
- There is no specific round armhole for a raglan sleeve.
- The set in sleeve is more economical in terms of the amount of fabric required for the sleeve.
- Set-in sleeves are considered to be more formal and offers a tailored look to the finished garment. The set in sleeve fits comfortably with a jacket made with the same style of sleeve.
Basically, the difference is in the cut of the sleeve. A raglan sleeve is cut at an angle and does not fit into an armhole, while a set-in sleeve is cut to measure and fits into an armhole area of the garment.
How to Sew a Raglan Sleeve Step by Step
Here are the steps to sewing a raglan sleeve. Also, see my full tutorial on how to sew a sleeve.
Step 1 - Cutting
Cut out your pattern pieces for the raglan top using your chosen pattern and correct size. Cut out a front and a back and two raglan sleeve pieces. If you decide on a contrast fabric for the top and the sleeves make sure the quality and thickness of the fabrics is compatible.
Step 2 - Sew the Sleeves
- Match the front side of the raglan sleeve to the front side of the top. Look for seam markings and fit accordingly.
- Pin in the matching seams.
- Use a serger if you would like to, but a normal sewing machine can sew stretch fabrics using a zig-zag stitch. If you are using your regular sewing machine, use a stretch or knit fabric needle.
- Repeat the process for the second side front with the sleeve piece.
- Match and sew in the back seams.
- Press all the seams towards the main body of the top.
Step 3 - Sew the Side Seams
- Fold the top to fit with right sides together matching the underarm seams.
- Stitch the side seam from the bottom all the way through to the end of the sleeve.
- Repeat on both sides of the garment.
Step 4 - Sew the Sleeve Hems
- Press the sleeve hems. Choose the hem width you like best, or use a 1 ¼” width as a standard hem width on a top.
- Stitch the sleeve hems. If you are using your regular machine for stretch fabric, you can use a zig-zag stitch catching in the raw edge.
Step 5 - Add the Neckband
It is now time to add the neckband. If you are making a t-shirt, the neckband is typically folded in half lengthwise and then matched to the raw edge of the neck. The neckband will be slightly smaller so you will need to stretch it to fit.
That is the raglan sleeve sewn to look neat - A masterpiece in comfort and style. This style is highlighted by the use of contrasting fabrics and is particularly popular for sports teams to show off their colors.
How To Knit A Raglan Sleeve
Raglan sleeves are used to make and knit raglan cardigans or pullovers. A crochet variety is an option and both the knitted or crochet designs need further explanation. Created out of wool or cott6on yarn they add value to the range of raglan designs.
When creating a raglan sleeve with yarn, you can’t just cut out the correct shape, you have to knit or crochet that diagonal edge into your pattern. This is done by shaping the sleeves and body of the garment 2-4 stitches from the edge of your work. This creates a definite, neat border to the raglan shape.
If you want to have this defined border, it is advisable not to use raglan sleeves with a complicated, textured pattern, as the shaping will not stand out clearly. It will be obscured by the pattern.
- K: knit
- P: purl
- st(s): stitch(es)
- sl: slip
- psso: pass slip stitch over
- tog: together
The simplest way to create raglan sleeves when knitting, is to work the garment from the bottom up. This means you will work the garment in flat pieces which are then stitched together. You will start by casting on at the bottom rib of each piece.
When you have worked the body of the piece, you will cast off some stitches at the beginning of the ‘armhole’ to create a roomy armpit section. Usually, 2-5 sts, depending on the size of the garment.
Then you will shape the raglan as follows:
- Row 1: k2, sl1, k1, psso, k to last 4 sts, k 2 tog, k2.
- Row 2: Purl.
- Repeat these 2 rows until the armhole section is long enough to reach from the armpit to the neckline. You should still have some stitches left on your needle, which you will leave on a stitch holder to form your neckline later.
The sleeves will be made in the same way, and the same length so that they can be stitched together later.
If you want a more defined border, you can increase the stitches before and after your decrease. So instead of k2, you can k 3 or 4 before the psso (pass the slipped stitch over) and at the end of the row after the k2 tog.
How To Crochet A Raglan Sleeve
As with knitting, the diagonal shape of the raglan has to be worked into the crochet fabric.
With crochet, the raglan shaping of the garment is usually worked from the top down. This means that you will start at the neckline and work your way down the garment, working it in one piece initially. In this case, you will be increasing in each row to get the diagonal edge.
This working from the top down may seem advanced and intimidating, but in fact, it is just as simple as working bottom-up, and it saves you a whole lot of stitching seams together!
All instructions are written in US terminology.
You can use any crochet stitch you wish, but I will be using hdc in my explanation.
You will work the raglan part of the garment all in one, as a rectangle. The corner stitches to shape the raglan are made by making 1 hdc, 1 ch, 1 hdc all into one st. This increases your work every round by 4 stitches in total, as you work 2 stitches into each corner st from the previous round.
Your front and back sections must have more sts than your sleeve sections. It must make a rectangle, not a square!
Raglan Sleeve Crochet Instructions
Start with a foundation chain long enough to fit over your head as the neck hole. If you are making a cardigan-style garment, it must fit comfortably around your neck. In this example, we will make a cardigan style. The beauty of crocheting top down is that you can adjust your stitches as you go to ensure the garment fits you.
- So you would start with, say 68 ch.
- Turn and crochet 2 ch (acts as 1 hdc)
- Hdc into next 10sts. (Right front Section)
- 1hdc, 1 ch, 1 hdc all into next st. This makes a v-stitch corner.
- Hdc into next 9 sts.(Sleeve section)
- 1hdc, 1 ch, 1 hdc into next st.(Corner)
- Hdc into next 24 sts. (Back section)
- 1 hdc, 1 ch, 1 hdc into next st, (Corner)
- Hdc into next 9 sts. (Sleeve section)
- 1 hdc, 1 ch, 1 hdc into next st. (corner)
- Hdc into next 10 sts. (Left front section)
- You will now have a rectangle shape. Open at the front, with 4 corners.
- Turn, 2ch as 1st hdc.
- Continue in this way, increasing 1 st for each section, and working a V-st into each corner.
Keep working in this way until your yoke is large enough to fit under the arms and around the body.
When it is large enough, you need to connect the front to the back while leaving space for the sleeves.
- Crochet to 1st corner st.
- Make 1 hdc in corner st.
- Ch 4-6 sts. Enough for armpit space.
- Skip sleeve section.
- 1 hdc in next corner st.
- Hdc into each st of back section.
- ch 4-6 sts.
- Skip sleeve section. Hdc in next corner st.
- crochet to end of row.
- Crochet until the body of the garment is the required length.
To crochet the sleeves, attach the yarn to the center of those armpit chain stitches. Spread the sleeve stitches around the opening created when you skip the sleeves.
Continue working the sleeves in the round until they are the required length.
Your garment is complete! You may want to work some border stitches up the front sides and on the edge of the sleeves.
Raglan Sleeve - In Conclusion
There is no doubt Lord Raglan would be proud to see how his practical invention became a style sleeve cut to be part of everyone’s wardrobe. The raglan sleeve is perfect for any garment and is even used with a crochet or knitted pattern.