The success or failure of the collar of a sweater determines the success or failure of an entire sweater. This post provides an overview of my basic: "how to knit a collar" system that usually works for me and some thoughts on why collars are so important.
The hard part of collars is that on the whole, collar shaping accounts for five or ten percent of the knitting, but weeks or months worth of work hangs in the balance. The collar affects both the overall style of the sweater and has a great impact on how you will feel about the sweater when you wear it. A collar that doesn't hang right, or is too narrow or too wide is the worst: the right collar can also make a sweater that is otherwise too light feel just warm enough and more importantly the sweater that's too heavy not feel oppressively warm.
So how do you knit a collar?
The fine print: These instructions assume that you're knitting the sweater in the round.</small>
For a basic, round, crew neck...
Figure out how long your sweater will be from the top of the shoulder seam to the bottom hem. Typically this is the length measurement in the pattern and you can measure it easily yourself.
Figure out how many stitches around your collar opening needs to be at the very end, but the width of the hole at the top seam. Because you're shaping the collar, the number of stitches on the collar as you knit it will be slightly higher because of the angles/sloped edges. Typically this is 13-16 inches for most people.
Elizabeth Zimmerman would figure 1/3rd of K, which is a good starting point, but if your sweater has too much ease or if your making a sweater in excess of 40 inches (which isn't too big,) I think you'll end up with neck openings that are a little too wide.
Before you start, compute the following values:
- Half of the total collar width. This is the total number of stitches that you need to set aside or decrease by the time you get to the shoulder seam on the front and the back.
- About half of this number or a quarter of the total (or a bit less, round down here, if need be) to set aside at the base of the neck.
- The total number of stitches minus the actual number of stitches set aside at the bottom of the neck, if your math is fuzzy. This is the number of stitches that you have to decrease on either side of the neck. This number must be even.
- The distance between the bottom of the neck and the top of the shoulder. This is almost always within a half an inch of 3 inches. Also record the number of rows.
With these numbers in hand, do the following.
Three (3) inches before this length, begin the collar shaping. (Change depth as needed.)
Set aside stitches at the bottom of the neck.
Decrease on either side of the neck opening (possibly using a steek,) every row until you have decreased half of the number of stitches that you need to decrease. Typically this should take about an inch and a half of knitting, or half of the total collar depth to accomplish.
After you've knitted half of the total collar depth, figure out how many stitches you've decreased at this point. Set this number of stitches aside in the middle of the back of the sweater.
Meanwhile: Create a new steak or begin decreasing at the back of the neck at the same rate as you decrease at the front.
Now decrease at half the rate (e.g. every other row) for the remainder of the depth of your collar opening. Bind off. You've made a sweater.
If you time it right, and your stitches are not too short and wide, this basically works out to: set aside stitches at the front, decrease every row for an inch and a half, set aside stitches at the back, decrease every other row for an inch and a half. Bind off for shoulders.
Knit more on the front so that the shoulder seam is actually at the top of the back, and the front of the sweater extends over the top of the shoulder.
Use shoulder saddles or straps to increase the depth of the neck. This is a perpendicular strip of knitting that starts at the side of the neck and extends across the shoulders and forms the top part of the sleeve.
In this case, subtract half of the width of the saddle/strap from the depth of the collar opening, and twice the width from the opening. Adjust accordingly: typically the best thing to do is figure out how much additional depth you need to decrease, figure out how many rows that will be, and plan to decrease on every row and set aside the remainder. Depending on the depth you may need to "fill in" or shape some of the depth on the back of the neck.
If your shoulders slope downward, consider short rows across one or both of the sides, to make the top of the sweater a bit more conical.
I often make Henly-style sweaters by setting aside a single stitch (and knitting a steek) 3-5 inches bellow the bottom of the collar. This keeps sweaters from becoming too warm.