How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping

How to knit the neck shaping for a top-down sweater

As of our last installment, you’ve got your stitches cast on and raglan markers placed, so it’s time to get busy! If you’re taking the Reversible approach, you’ve joined for working in the round and knit however many rows of ribbing your heart desires. (Remember we’re using “ribbing” for shorthand when discussing the edge treatment; you may be doing garter or rolled stockinette or whatever.) And you’ve placed your raglan markers during the final round of your ribbing. Because you’re not doing any neck shaping, and you’re already knitting in the round, you’ll only be increasing at the raglans.

If you are taking the Shaped approach, we’ll get to the neck shaping after this little bit about …

RAGLAN INCREASES

Standard operating procedure is: You increase TWO STITCHES at each raglan seam, EVERY OTHER ROW. As I mentioned in Part 1, you have all the liberty in the world where the size and style of your “seams” is concerned. For this demo, I’ve marked off two stitches for the center of each raglan, and I’m doing simple kfb increases on either side of those. You might do m1′s, left and right, or yarnovers, or any increase you like. (Barbara Walker’s book contains a great photo comparison of 10 or 12 different options.) But bottom line is that each increase round involves an increase on each side of four seams, for a total of 8 stitches increased.

If you’re working the Reversible method, go ahead and start working those raglan increase rounds, alternating with straight rounds. For the neck shapers among us, we need to talk about …

NECK INCREASES

In order to shape our front neck, we’ll be working back and forth for the first couple of inches, increasing at the raglans as described above (increasing on every right side row), and also at each end, the front neck stitches. As we add to these stitches, we create a crescent shape, with those front/end stitches reaching gradually toward each other, as seen in the tippy-top pair of photos up there.

There are varying opinions on frequency for this, and it’s part personal taste and part what neck shape you’re after. For a standard crewneck, increase at the neck every other row, same as your raglan increases. For a more sloping neck, you might choose to increase every fourth row. For a V-neck, the frequency will depend on how deep you want the V to be. A faster rate of increase will mean they’ll meet in the middle in fewer rows, for a shallower V. A slower rate of increase will mean they take more rows to meet, for a deeper V. This is relevant, too, if you’re knitting a cardigan — the rate of the neck increase will determine the shape of the neck and front of the cardigan in exactly the same way, from a crewneck to a jewel neck to a shallow V or more of a deep “boyfriend” V. For this crewneck, I’m increasing the neck stitches every other row, same as the raglans.

For a V-neck, you keep increasing until the front stitches meet when you lay it around your neck, plain and simple. But for a crewneck, there comes a point where you cast on additional stitches so you can join for working in the round. Again, when you do that is up to you. As your crescent grows, lay it around your neck — being mindful of where the raglans are sitting on your shoulders — and see what you think.* Mine, in the photo up top, is two inches of knitting (measured down the center of the back) and I’m happy with the dip at that point, ready to connect the ends. If you want a bigger differential between the back and the front, keep knitting and trying it on until you’re happy with it.

JOINING THE NECK

The only functional difference between a cardigan and a pullover is that the cardigan is never joined for working in the round — you just stop increasing at the ends and continue knitting back and forth for the whole sweater body. For a V-neck pullover, as noted, just join your stitches once your endpoints meet. For a crewneck, however, once you’ve got your desired neck shape, you need to cast on stitches to bridge the gap. How do you know how many? You count. Traditionally, we make pullovers with the same number of front and back stitches. So count your back stitches, then count your two bits of front stitches, add those together, and cast on the difference. Me, I’ve got 36 back stitches and 10 stitches on each side of the front, for a total of 20 front stitches. So I need 16 more. That’s my cast-on number.

Using backwards loop or whatever you like, cast on those additional stitches at the end of a right-side row — which will have been an increase row; remember that. Using a 24-inch circular, join for working in the round. But there’s the question of where your new BOR (beginning of round) is. Some patterns tell you, when you get to your first stitch marker, to switch it out for a contrasting marker, and this is your new BOR. Others will tell you to put a marker in the middle of your new cast-on stitches and that‘s your BOR. Either will work, but the latter is the more meticulous choice, as it will keep your increases at that front-left raglan more properly paired within the round.

Once you’ve joined and knit a few rounds, put it on again and make sure you’re happy with the size and shape of your neck. You’ve done very little knitting so far — just a few small inches. It’s no big deal at this point to rip it out, make whatever adjustments and knit it again.

ONWARD, YOKE

OK, so that was the hardest part! From this point forward, there’s no difference between the Reversible and Shaped methods. Assuming we’re doing a pullover, we’re all joined in the round, working only from the right side of the fabric, and continuing to work our raglan increases on every other round. What we’re creating now is our yoke. Carry on, but don’t knit more than about 4 inches of your yoke before the next installment, in which we’ll talk about how to know when you’re done increasing.

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* A note about trying on your sweater: You should do it a lot — that’s the whole point of knitting in this fashion. To do so, you’ll need to be able to spread out your stitches to really see what you’ve got. You can always slip them all onto waste yarn, then back onto the needles, but that’s tedious. The best bet is to either knit or slip half the stitches onto a second needle. Both needles will need a cable that’s half the circumference of the sweater. Pull all four needle ends free (as seen in the last photo above), so the stitches rest loosely on the cables, and then you can easily pull the sweater on and off over your head. My habit is to pretty much do this on the last round each night. I put it on before I put it away, see how I’m doing, and note what I need to do next. Be sure to keep good notes for yourself throughout this entire process!

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POSTS IN THIS SERIES: [Favorite it on Ravelry]
Introduction / Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans / Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping / Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke / Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body / Part 5: The art of sweater shaping / Prologue: The possibilities are endless

19 thoughts on “How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping

  1. I am LOVING this series and bookmarking each entry for future reference…although if you feel the urge to pull them altogether into a PDF, I’ll happily pay for a copy of that too! ;-)

  2. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater: Introduction | Fringe Association

  3. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans | Fringe Association

  4. This is so helpful to have as reference!

    I find trying on is made easier by my Addi Turbos as I can just pop the needle off one side, add the connector and another cord and pull it through to lengthen and try on. (This is a nice plus of the spring-loaded catch…counteracts the con of the yarn catching on the smallest 3.5mm needle in the kit!)

    I need to do it more often though! End of every night sounds about right.

  5. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body | Fringe Association

  6. I have a quick question – After joining in the round and knitting a few rows I’ve noticed that my increases look a little different at the markers – is this normal? I am increasing in exactly the same way as before (two at each marker), but I’m wondering if knitting in the round has somehow changed the way that the increases look? It’s a bit off-putting because now they look somehow uneven.

  7. Great blog – I bought some beautiful chunky yarn at the weekend with a hope of finding a suitable raglan crew neck pattern with stripes; I’ve not yet found a pattern with quite the right neckline, so I love the idea of making it up as i go along according to these instructions! However, i have a concern about the stripes; if i knit a round in a different colour, will the ends of that stripe end up offset from one another? If so, where is the best place to mark the beginning of round and change colour? I’ve not yet decided whether to do narrow or wide stripes – I suppose wide will better disguise any offset? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi, Lois. There are a few different theories and approaches for dealing with that unfortunate jog in the stripes when knitting in the round. If you Google “knitting jogless stripes” or equiv and poke around, you’ll see what I mean and can decide what method you want to try. Whichever you choose, I’d suggest doing the color changes at your side seam marker. And make sure you’re really careful about keeping notes about exactly where and how often you changed colors, assuming you want to match them up on both sleeves. Good luck with your sweater!

  8. Hi Karen, thanks so much for this series of posts. I’m just getting the courage up to improvise a top-down sweater for myself using sport-weight merino, and I’ll be following your thoughts and notes closely – thank you for being my enabler!

    Also, I wanted to ask: do you have any preference for the neck increases you use? I notice for the raglans you use kfb (which is my preference as well) but I’m wondering if I should do the same for the neck increases?

    Thanks for your time!

  9. I am in the process of knitting my very first sweater, Jane Richmond’s ladies raglan top down sweater and I thought I would take a gamble and ask you a question about the pattern.

    For the first row of raglan increasing, pattern says to knit to one stitch before marker, kfb, sm, kfb.
    I noticed in the pattern under the neck shaping section, she has added to kfb and then knit to one st before the marker. Since there is only one stitch for the neck, should I be kfb on the first stitch (neck stitch) right from the first row of increasing?

    • Hi, Jessica. I’m guessing yes, but I would have to look at the pattern, and I honestly don’t feel comfortable doing pattern support for someone else’s pattern — hope you understand. I’m sure Jane would be happy to answer your question!

  10. in counting stitches for joining the front,do I count just the back stitches then subtract the front & raglan stitches and cast on the difference?

    • Hi, Penny. If you’re doing a crewneck, the standard approach is to have the same number of front and back stitches. So count your back stitches. Then count your front stitches. (Add the two sets of front stitches together for your total number of front stitches.) And cast on however many you need to make the front equal the back.

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