Knitting the Neck

The neckline in a sweater is the location of one of my perpetual anxieties about knitting. I suppose this could be resolved to knitting objects that don't have necks, like socks, or mittens, but I'm not sure that would be incredibly healthy, and besides, whats knitting without a little challenge. The one nice thing about neck lines, is that there are a handful of different approaches, and once you find a neck line that you like, it's a fairly short order to transplant this neckline from one garment to another. You'll probably still need to learn a few different kinds of collars/necklines but then you're basically set. In this part of our series, I'll cover three basic neck lines that are among my favorites, and (in a special bonus part) a few of the hard lessons that I've learned from knitting sweaters.

Collar Basics

We'll assume for a moment that these collars will be constructed in the round around steeks, and thus descriptions of neck shaping will assume that the back and both sides of the front (of the neck) will be shaped at the same time. If you don't want use steeks, it should be easy to translate these directions to "flat knitting.

The basic principal of neck opening design is that, as you near the shoulders of your sweater, you put a percentage of stitches in the middle of the front of the sweater on hold and then knit around decreasing on either side of the opening at some speed to shape the neck opening. The length of the shaping, the number of stitches placed on hold, and rate of decreases control the shape of the neck line. Here are some basics:

V-Neck This one's simple. If the front of your sweater has an odd number, put the middle stitch on a thread, and cast on for the steek (conversely if the number of stitches is even, just cast on steek at the middle of the front.) Decrease at a regular rate until the end of the shoulders. Generally neck openings represent a touch more than one third of the total diameter of the body, and in a V-Neck the decreases need to be calculated such that the proper number of stitches can be decreased on each side of the steek/neck or opening at a regular interval over in the length of the neck opening.

I suspect that a short, but standard v-neck is likely to take about 2/5ths (call it 4 inches for most adults) of the length of the yoke section (that is, the top of the sweater that the sleeves attach to). But V-necks can be much deeper as well. There's a lot of versatility in this.

Crew Neck What I think of as a crew neck, is just a basic "T-shirt" or "rounded" neck opening. I think I picked up my version by backwards engineering and modifying a pattern I knit from a rather famous Scottish designer. I use this or derivations on this formula for almost all of my sweaters these days:

Set aside (on a holder) the middle 1/6th of the total number of stitches on the front of the sweater 3 inches from the shoulders (or 2/3s of the way to the end of the sweater). Decrease one stitch on either side of the steek/opening every round for an inch and a half. Then, decrease one stitch on either side of the opening/steek every other round for the remaining inch and a half. All things being equal, you should, have decrased away a few more than 1/3rd of the stitches between the stitches on the holder and the stitch that you decreased. You may have to slow the decreases a few rounds earlier, or decrease quickly for an extra row or two, depending on gauge, but this generally works.

"Sport" Neck My favorite neck, by far, is what I call a sport neck. This isn't exactly traditional, but I find it flattering, and it's not entirely inconstant with some traditions. This neck is just like a crew neck, except the front of the yoke is slit open and plackets are knitted on each side of the opening. The process is quite simple, though there are variations that you can explore.

My initial exploration involved setting aside the 1/6th 3.5-4 inches earlier than I would have other wise, and then knitting around plainly until the crew neck would have usually started, and then shaping the crew neck as if all was "normal." When I went to knit the neck, I would knit plackets perpendicular to the "straight side of the neck opening, and then knitted the collar with rounded corners on either side of the opening.

More recently, I've taken to only setting aside a few stitches at the base of the neck, and the setting aside the "normal number of crew neck stitches at the normal time. In this case, I knit the collar normally, and knit a short hem along the sides of the "open neck," creating more square corners.

Either option works fine, and is quite fetching. There are of course other possibilities and variations on this style of neck.

The Back of the Neck Until this point I've been mum as to what happens on the back of the neck. It's perfectly acceptable to do absolutely nothing. and simply set aside a number equivalent to the number of stitches you decreased/set aside at the front in the middle of the back when you bind off (so that the shoulders line up.) I've more recently taken to doing some back of the neck shaping, this is more simple than it sounds:

About an inch and a half away from the shoulders, set aside the number of stitches that you've decreased from the front at this point (this is why I like to work in the round) on a thread at the back of the neck. For the remaining portion of the sweater, decrease on either side of the back neck steek/opening at the same rate that you are decreasing from the front. This works with every kind of neck that I can think of, and is one of those things that gives a sweater an extra little edge.

But wait there's more I'm sure you still want to hear about cool neck shaping tricks, knitting collars on these neck openings and more. I think that I've given you all enough to chew on for a while. I'll be back in a few days for a bonus episode in this series to cover more collar related issues.

Until then, be warm and I'll see you all soon.

Cheers, tycho

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