How to knit a Cowichan-style shawl collar

How to knit a Cowichan-style shawl collar

We’ve talked about and looked at a lot of Cowichan sweaters in the course of this knitalong, and clearly one of the most distinctive characteristics is that little shawl collar, so important in the blustery Pacific Northwest climate, where a Cowichan is considered outerwear. With our shaping-free, Japanese, Cowichan-style vest pattern, it’s also the most interesting part of the knitting. And also a little bit cryptic. But once you’ve worked it and worn it, you’ll find yourself wanting to knit one on every sweater going forward.

Andrea talked in our interview last week about the traditional way the collar is worked, which is a little bit different from how the knitalong pattern has you do it. If you’ve read her description and it makes sense to you, I can’t see any reason you couldn’t do the collar that way on this vest. But I want to walk you through how to do it as the pattern is written.

First, let’s review: You knit the back piece, which is just a big rectangle with cutouts for the armholes. Then you knit the two front pieces, increasing gradually toward the tops of those pieces to create a pair of triangular flaps for the front parts of the collar. You bind off the shoulder stitches and keep those top flap stitches live on a holder (while you block your pieces). Once the shoulders are seamed together, you pick up 17 sts across the back neck and from those knit the flap for the back part of the collar. Then you seam the back collar and the two front collar flaps together.

For that back flap, you need to scrutinize the pattern. On the diagram, there’s an annotation at one end of the flap that says 9 sts are increased to get the correct finished width. At the other end is the “#-#-#” style annotation that Meri explained for us. It tells you to increase 1 stitch every other row seven times (14 rows), then 1 stitch every row for 2 rows. Again, that gives you 9 new stitches (over the course of 16 rows, followed by 4 work-even rows). In both cases, these annotations are referring to one end of the flap. To get the inverted trapezoid shape and the necessary 35 sts, you need to work those increases at both ends. I’ve written that out another way and in a little more detail here.

Once you’ve knitted and bound off that back flap, all that’s left is to seam it together. But wait, you’ve got live stitches for the front collar and selvages on the back collar. What to do?! I had ideas, but I was curious to know how some of the greatest minds in knitting would do it, so I took the sample sweater with me to the trade show last spring and passed it around. All sorts of people weighed in, and pretty much everyone had a different idea about how they would do it (including not having done it this way in the first place). Then Olga Buraya-Kefelian — who I’m always calling “our foremost knitting engineer” — took one look at it, said what she would do, and everyone else said some version of, “forget mine, do what Olga said!” That’s Olga with my sweater in the photo up there, between Bristol Ivy and Julie Hoover, three of the sharpest, most technical knitters I know. This was also when Bristol clued me in about Navajo ply. Olga’s solution seemed simple and obvious once she’d said it, but I don’t mind telling you it was a little daunting to do it with everyone watching — Navajo ply plus this bind-off in a very noisy and crowded hotel lobby after I’d had a couple of drinks. If I can do it under those circumstances, anyone can!

It really is simple. All you need to do is take a smaller needle and run it under 18 bumps along the back collar selvage — to match the 18 live sts on the front flap — and knit them together just like a 3-needle bind-off. (If you’re working with yarn held double or triple, make sure you’re picking up the whole stitch and not just one strand of it.) This is garter stitch we’re dealing with, 20 rows or 10 ridges, making it easy to pick up the 10 bumps at the ends of those ridges, so you just need another 8 sts from the gaps in between. It doesn’t look very pretty, as you see in my photo up there, but it works out!

Keep in mind that a ridge will form where you do the 3-needle bind-off seam, so you need to think about whether you work it with right sides or wrong sides together, depending on whether you want that seamline to show on the front or back of the collar. I chose to have it exposed, so I knitted them together exactly as they’re pictured above, with right sides (or outsides) facing me.

If you haven’t done a 3-needle bind-off before, it’s simple: You insert your working needle into the first stitch on the front needle and the first stitch on the back needle, then knit them together. Work the next stitch the same way and pass the first one over to bind it off. Then repeat to the end of the row, working the stitches together and passing the previous one over. Tada!

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PREVIOUSLY IN #fringeandfriendskal2015: The Cowichan influence with Andrea Rangel (full series here)

5 thoughts on “How to knit a Cowichan-style shawl collar

  1. Slightly more complex but possibly smoother and along the same lines conceptually – could you pick up the bumps as suggested, or even pick up new stitches and then graft (Kitchener stitch) the two sets of stitches together? No ridge on either side. Would need to be sure to graft for garter stitch as opposed to stocking st.

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    • YES – Kitchener was definately the way to go for me! I tried countless times with VERY sore hands, to try and pick up those super bulky stitches and do the 3 needle bind off to seam that collar. The only thing that saved me was your post, Amelia, and the idea of using kitchener stitch and a little tapestry needle to weave through those stitches and create a barely noticeable seam! THANKS for posting!!!! Loving my finished Cowichan vest! Great KAL, Karen!!!!!

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  2. Pingback: Cowichan-style Knitalong FO No. 1: Andrea Rangel | Fringe Association

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