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3 Different Ways to Shape the Neckline of a Sweater

This column by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, originally appeared in The Weekly Stitch newsletter.

shapenecklineWhen making a pullover sweater in either knitting or crochet, there are many different ways to construct a sweater. In some cases, you will be working from the top-down in one piece (working from the neckline downwards, adding stitches for your raglan sleeves, and then coming back in for the body); you might also work in the round from the bottom edge, splitting the stitches at the arm holes and then working on the front and back separately.

Often you'll see instructions like this:

Shape Neck

    K14 (15, 16, 16) sts, join a 2nd ball of yarn and bind off next 6 (8, 8, 10) sts, k to end. Working both sides at once with separate balls of yarn, dec 1 st at each neck edge every other row 3 times - 11 (12, 13, 13) sts. Work until same length as Back to shoulders.

When you shape the neck of the front of a pullover, in particular a crew neck or a v-neck, you are ensuring that the neck opening will be large enough so that it fits over the head. There are two components: the width and the depth.

The depth is generally several inches. This is why the neckline shaping begins before the front armhole reaches the depth of the back armhole (where usually only width is of consequence to the total neck opening).

To begin, stitches are eliminated in the center and then decreasing takes place on each side of these center stitches to further widen and shape the neck opening. When the depth is completed, the shoulder stitches are usually bound off.

We'll be discussing how to shape a neckline when you work the sweater in pieces, starting from the bottom edge and working up towards the neckline.

1. Work With Two Balls At The Same Time

An instruction where you are working with two balls at the same time is sometimes confusing. Here's how you break it down:

  1. Work across the row as indicated for the first set of stitches. Add the new ball in the same way you would when you run out and add a new ball (work the first stitch, leaving a long tail you will weave in later). Work across as indicated with the second ball.
  2. You now have two balls of yarn attached, one on each side of the neck.
  3. Now you will work both sides at the same time, ensuring you have the same number of rows. Work across the row with the yarn that is attached to the end of that series of stitches. Drop the yarn. Pick up the other ball and complete the row on the other side of the neck. Continue in this way.
Knit Kimono Pullover
Knit Kimono Sleeve Pullover

2. Use Stitch Holders To Keep Track Of Rows

There are other ways to accomplish this as well without working with two balls of yarn. Just keep track of the number of rows rather than relying on measuring, as it's easy to measure incorrectly.

  1. You could work across the first set of stitches and then place them on a holder.
  2. Continuing with the same ball, bind off the center stitches and then complete the row, working the remaining stitches.
  3. Work the one side as indicated.
  4. Place the stitches from the holder back on the needle and complete the other side.
Level 3 Crocheted Cardigan
Level 3 Crocheted Cardigan

3. Work Off The Stitch Holder

Since you are going to pick up stitches to work some sort of edging along the neckline, you can simply work these center stitches off the holder instead of picking up stitches along that area. It saves time and there won’t be a ridge along the wrong side of the neck when you pick up stitches; rather, it will be a continuation of your stitches.

  1. Work across the first set of stitches and place them on a holder as in the second alternative.
  2. Instead of binding off the center stitches, work across those stitches and place them on a second holder.
  3. Continue across and complete this side, then the side with the first set of stitches as above.
Knit Crisp Color Pullover
Knit Crisp Color Pullover

Editor's Note: For crocheters, you won't have to worry about a stitch holder. Simply put a split ring stitch marker into the "live" stitch to keep it from unraveling. Then you will be able to work the stitches and indicated above and come back to the live stitch when you're ready to proceed with that section of the sweater neck.

A final note for knitters: use the correct decrease as you shape so they slant right and left in the correct places!

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