How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke

how to size and shape a top-down sweater yoke

Time to talk about yoke sizing, but first: You can see my sweater now has its neck ribbing. You can do this anytime, and most patterns tell you to do it at the end, but I like now. Now is good. As previously noted, if I am not completely in love with my neck, I want to know that while it’s not a big deal to rip it out and do it over. So after knitting about an inch past the join, I picked up stitches all the way around and ribbed k1/p1 for 1.5 inches. Do whatever rib multiple and depth you like, and bind off very loosely or you won’t be able to get it over your head! I might wind up redoing mine after I see how it blocks out. Should have used an even smaller needle than I did, but I’m content with the neck shaping so it’s safe to carry on.

(I’m not going to do a whole picking-up-stitches tutorial here, but I recommend this video. Pick up one stitch through the center of every cast-on stitch — both the original ones and the additionals at the front — and for figuring out where to pick up along the sloping sides of the front neck, this diagram might help. I like the one in Pam Allen’s Knitting for Dummies. Make sure your total stitch count is the correct multiple for your ribbing.)

how to measure sweater chest and arm ease


So back to the question of how long we carry on with our raglan increasing. Before we get too far into our yoke, we have to decide, generally, what shape our sweater is going to be. Will it be fitted and shapely? Wide and slouchy? Somewhere in between? The other thing I won’t go into detail about is taking measurements and calculating ease, but if you’re a seasoned sweater knitter or seamstress, you’ll know what you want your bust and upper arm dimensions to be. For everyone else, I recommend measuring a sweater (or shirt or sweatshirt) that fits like you want this sweater to fit. Lay it flat, measure across an upper arm, and double that to get the circumference. Same for the chest — measure where the arms meet the body, then double it. I have 10-inch upper arms and a 35-inch bust. For this sweater, I want 2 inches of ease, which means 12-inch sleeves and a 37-inch bust. NOTE: I’ve also paused here to retake gauge measurements from my actual sweater in progress — no need to assume parity with our swatch anymore, when we’ve got several inches of the real thing to measure from. At my actual working gauge of 3.5 stitches per inch, that means I’ll need 42 stitches for each arm (12 inches x 3.5 stitches per inch), and about 130 stitches (rounding from 129.5) for the body — front and back combined.

However, I’m not going to increase all the way to those numbers, because some of those stitches are going to be cast on at the underarm, just like we cast on stitches at the neck to form a circle. Elizabeth Zimmermann’s rule of thumb is that each underarm is 8% of your total body stitches, which in my equation would be about 10 stitches. I find 2 or 2.5 inches is a good underarm width for me. (Here’s an idea: Measure your armpit!) I’m going to cast on 8 stitches for each underarm.

Now we have to think a tiny bit. At the point where I stopped to do my calculations (indicated by the yellow lifeline in the top photo), I had 28 stitches in each sleeve section, and 48 each in the front and back. (Remember that I have 2 stitches trapped in the center of each raglan. When I go to divide up my stitches into sleeves and body, I’m going to opt to split those right down the middle. So I need to count 1 stitch from each seam as a sleeve stitch, and 1 stitch from each seam as a body stitch.) If I want 42 stitches in each arm, and 8 of them will be cast on, that means I’ll keep increasing until I have 34 stitches per arm. When we increase — 8 stitches per increase round, across 4 sections of the sweater — we add 2 stitches per section. I have 28 sleeve sts and want 34 — that’s 6 more sts — so I only need to increase the sleeves 3 more times! (Good thing I stopped to do my math when I did.) Likewise, if I take my target of 130 body sts, subtract the 16 that will be cast on (2 underarms at 8 sts each), and divide by two, that’s 57 sts each for the front and back. I began with an even number of front/back sts, and we increase in pairs, so I need to round that 57 to 58. I currently have 48, so I need 10 more, that means increasing the front and back sections 5 times more.

So I now know I’m going to increase all 4 sections 3 more times, then I’ll stop increasing in the sleeves and only increase the front and back 2 more times after that. At that point, I’ll have my desired 34 stitches in each sleeve, and 58 stitches each in the front and back.


But before we resume knitting, we need to think about armhole depth, which is also the finished depth of our yoke. You might very well want your sweater to have “zero ease” (meaning the sweater’s chest and yours are the exact same size) but you always want some ease in the armhole depth. Measure diagonally from neck to underarm — running your measuring tape from wherever the top of your raglan seam will hit you down to your underarm — and take that lower measurement from about an inch or two below your actual underarm. That’s how long you want your raglan seam to be. I’m aiming for around 9.5 or 10 inches. (I’ll try it on when I’m in the neighborhood and decide for sure.) For the sake of discussion, let’s say 9.5 inches, and I’m working at 5 rows per inch — that’s a total of 48 rounds of knitting. To increase my sleeves from the original 8 to 34, increasing at a rate of 2 stitches every other round, I’ll be done increasing in only 26 rounds — or about half my yoke depth. If you’re working at a finer gauge and/or making a smaller sweater, it’ll take you more of your yoke rounds to reach your target stitch counts. But regardless, if you’ll reach your counts at any point before your yoke is long enough to come down to your underarms, you’ll simply stop increasing and work even for the remainder of the yoke. But keep those raglan markers in place.

As for me, because I’m reaching my increase goals when I’m only about halfway to my armpit, I’ve spaced the last few out — working them, instead of every other round, after 3, then 4, then 5 rounds. So they sort of fade out rather than stopping abruptly. You can see my completed yoke below (and on Ravelry).

If anyone’s knitting along in real time, stop when your yoke reaches your desired armhole depth. Next week, we’ll talk about separating the sleeves and body. It’s all downhill from here!

finished yoke for top-down sweater

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

32 thoughts on “How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke

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

  2. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping | Fringe Association

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

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

  5. I have a couple of books on this topic and am currently knitting a top down color-work yoke sweater. I guess the concept I can’t figure out from books or from your FAB.ulous blog is what to do once you have increased for the sleeves and body, finished the yoke and you are short of the place you want to be to divide for sleeves. can you just keep knitting around until the yoke is deep enough? or will that make it look too boxy?


    • Hi, Laura! Yep, exactly. That’s this part: “… if you’ll reach your counts at any point before your yoke is long enough to come down to your underarms, you’ll simply stop increasing and work even for the remainder of the yoke. But keep those raglan markers in place.” I was confused by the term “work even” at that very point of the process the first time I saw it in a top-down pattern, so should have clarified. I couldn’t imagine that the raglans lines would ever stop before reaching the armpit, but it’s totally fine.


  6. Thank you. Oi! Work even, I meant no increases. So just keep working in the round without increases (keeping raglan markers in place) until long enuff to reach my underarms? I guess I am long!


      • I am working with Lettlopi on #7 (US) at 19st/26rows. the pattern I am using, employs short rows to shape the back which nicely rounds out the inter-scapular space. I guess (as you say) if you can work even with raglan to get the appropriate length, I can’t see why it wouldn’t work with a seamless yoke top down pattern. (?) THANK you for your wonderful blog.


  7. Question – I’ve followed your tutorial with a reversible neck before but am trying one with neck shaping and I cannot get the neckline to lie flat when worn. It lies flat on the one where I started with the ribbing, and I have a commercially produced (LL Bean) sweater I’ve been trying to get to tell me it’s secrets (It’s collar was clearly knit as a separate piece, but it has a strip of bias tape around the seam so I can’t see how it’s joined). It’s really important to the recipient that it not look even remotely turtle-neck like. Any ideas?


    • You could decrease, but it would be cleaner (and wouldn’t mess up your rib pattern) to just pick up the right number to begin with. On the sloping parts, you might need to pick up 2 out of 3 stitches, or 3 out of 4, depending on your gauge and fiber and so on. It’s like a button band — sometimes it takes some experimentation. The nice thing is it’s not a lot of knitting, not a big deal to rip and redo, and does no harm to the selvage or anything.


  8. Thank you for the wonderful tutorial! I’m making a sweater for my toddler, and I have a question about the raglan seams. I decided to have two seam stitches, like you, but I liked your idea of seed stitching them, so that’s what I’m doing. When it comes to dealing with these stitches, do you have a particular strategy for how to make sure it doesn’t look like the raglan seams end abruptly? I had been thinking of having these meet under the arm, and then continue down the side of the sweater (2 stitches wide) as a decorative detail, if that makes sense, but I can’t quite figure out how to reconcile that with the underarm cast on…


    • My first question is actually have you swatched that raglan? I’m not sure two stitches of seed stitch will really read as such, especially with increase stitches on either side. You might need to have a wider patch of it, or do reverse stockinette instead. I’d definitely swatch the raglan treatment first. Just cast on 20 sts or something (I don’t know what gauge you’re working at) and work one raglan seam down the middle of it over a few inches — enough to see how it’s looking.

      Then whatever you decide on for a raglan treatment, yeah, it’s not going to literally meet at the underarm unless you do that deliberately and don’t cast on any underarm stitches. You’d need to make a wide body and deep raglan — almost like a batwing shape — for that to be feasible, and even then I wouldn’t really advise it. Although you could try it and rip back — it’s not a lot of knitting for a toddler sweater.

      I would just phase out the raglan as you head for the underarm — work it every 4th and/or 6th row as you approach the underarm — and then resume it again with the centermost underarm sts running down the body. It won’t be obvious when it’s on the child, because that all disappears into the underarm anyway.

      I’d just play around with it. Like I said, it’s not a lot of knitting, so try it, be prepared to rip back a few rows if it’s not quite right, adjust. Have fun!


      • Thank you for the prompt response!

        Yes, actually I’ve swatched it, and it looks really nice so far (it doesn’t quite look like seed stitch, but it gives the textured effect I wanted). I’m using Rowan colorspun, and my gauge is (after blocking) is 6.5 st / in and 7.5 rows / in on US7 needles. Since the yarn is somewhat scratchy I elected to do a bit of a wider neck hole and a v-neck, and I’ve just joined the front. I had to frog twice to get the seed stitch effect to look as I wanted, but ultimately figured out that I need to do the kfb increase 1 st. *before* marker, and then on the st immediately following the second marker after the raglan seams. This provides a “border” stitch, if you will, that makes the textured effect come out. (I used the same principle for the increases on the neck edge, doing 1 st in on the left neck edge, but 1 st before the last st on the right edge; this makes the edge smoother for picking up stitches for the neck band, but also makes the kfb bumps symmetric.

        (Here’s the link for my project on Ravelry, where I’ve uploaded pictures of the seams. I didn’t know how to link to your site properly, so if you would like me to do that, please tell me how!

        One idea I’ve been toying with is to kinda sorta combine a raglan and a set in construction… Not literally, but instead of casting on all 12 underarm stitches at once, to do increases on both rs and ws in the last 6 rows before the separation on the body. Does that even make sense? Thanks!


        • Oh, actually… maybe there’s an easier solution! I haven’t quite figured it out, but something like this: I’ll just treat both the raglan seams as part of the body. When it comes to casting on, the cast on portion will play the part of the “border stitch” that’s closest to the sleeve, and I’ll seed stich those 12 stitches for two rows, then only seed stitch the centre two stitches to continue down the panel. It won’t pop the same way, but maybe there’s a special stitch I can try. The idea is to have the raglan seams form a border around the sleeve on the body.


  9. Oh how I wish I found this fantastic tutorial before I started my top down raglan sweater! Thank you!!! For your generous website.
    Ok I’ve knitted the body and the shoulders and arms eye are too small.
    Current solution-LOL- is to increase arms eye so sleeves aren’t too tight and create an open gusset. (I’ll be using for hiking so this can be positive for air circulation). Question: is it possible to rip out from top down, then recaste on knitting new yoke and joining to existing body?


    • Hi, Carolyn. Are you working from a pattern? And how far have you gone past the armhole separation? The best thing is most likely just to rip back to that point and keep knitting the yoke until you have the number of stitches (and armhole depth) that you need for it to fit you correctly.


      • Thank you for your time to reply. I had completely knit the front and back. A more disciplined knitter might have frogged All that work. After picking up the shoulder/ sleeve stitches I knit flat and increased adding a couple of inches, then joined and went on to knit the sleeve in the round. I then tried on. Low and behold it fits. The increase still matches up with the sides so I can seam up with a blanket stitch. (Since the body was coming out too small I added 3 inches to the sides and 4 to the length. All is working out. What a learning curve. Pattern: LemonGrass @jojilocatelli So glad I found your great site. Carolyn


  10. sorry about any typos, I am Lena and Swedish and joining the others in praise for you tutorials.
    Also I am starting my first top-down cardigan. I am using Rowan Purelife Revive. 36%recycled silk 36%recycled cotton and 28%viscose. Feels good inside out (: Now to my question/s: –
    1) I am broad sholdered with a fair amount of muscle on my upper arms. How do I tackle the raglan on the way to my armpit?I want a snug fit all round but not to the extent the sholdder is outright too tight. I will zip the cardie.
    2) I want an hour-glass shape. How/Where do I add the additional width for my modest boobs?

    Late spring greetings from Sweden


    • Hi, Lena. All you need to do is follow the instructions above for calculating your desired stitch counts at the bust and upper arm, then increase each section of your knitting until you reach those numbers. You don’t have to increase the same number of times or with the same frequency in the sleeves as you do in the body sections. So, for instance, you might reach your desired body counts before you reach your desired sleeve counts, so you would work even in the front and back sections while continuing to increase in the sleeves. Or whatever the case may be.

      So that gives you your desired bust measurement. To shape the waist for your hourglass shaping, see the discussion of shaping in Part 5 of the tutorial. I’d avise reading all the way through before starting your sweater, just for good measure.


  11. Hi Karen, on to the next first for me thanks to you (after a first lace project and first cable project with the hatalong). You write: “So I now know I’m going to increase all 4 sections 3 more times, then I’ll stop increasing in the sleeves and only increase the front and back 2 more times after that. ” Do I understand correctly that you increase only on *one* side of the the raglan seams that mark the front and back sections, i.e. you are doing an asymmetrical increase in a way? Since increasing on both sides of that raglan seam would mean you are adding to the sleeve as well? Thank you so much for all of this!!


    • Yep, exactly! You want to increase the sleeves until you have the right number of sleeve stitches, and increase the front/back until you have the right number of body stitches. You won’t necessarily reach those two counts at exactly the same time.


      • OK, got it. Thank you! It is so good to not just follow a pattern blindly but to be able to understand the steps involved and to be able to modify the measurements based on that understanding.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s