Updated: Aug 17, 2022
There are some beautiful raglan sweaters out there that don’t have neck shaping. Instead of avoiding those patterns, what if you put in some neck shaping of your own?
I’m going to walk you through adding a shallow short-row neckline to a raglan that’s knit in the round from the bottom up.
To help you apply this to your own project, I've created a downloadable PDF worksheet - you can get that here:
Why bottom up?
I have noticed that neckline shaping is most often omitted when there’s colorwork, and knitting (and designing) a colorwork sweater is easiest when worked from the bottom up. My goal is to give you some room to breathe!
Short rows can’t accommodate long vertical lines because all the stitches stay live on the needle. If you turned your work at the same stitch over and over, you’d create a vertical line, but you couldn’t work the next row. Because all the stitches stay on the needle, there would be a large gap between stitches. You can space your turns as far apart or as close together as you like in the same row, but if you want to create a scoop neck, you’ll need to bind off instead of working short rows.
Collect info from the pattern
Note: I've used inches below. You can use cm - it all works the same. Whichever unit you use, be sure not to round.
Determine gauge per inch
If you’re working with a gauge over 4”, divide the number of stitches and rows by 4 to get the gauge over a single inch. Do not round this number.
You will need to know the number of stitches in the front and each shoulder. This will be the number of stitches in the last row before any decreases for ribbing. If your pattern has a stitch between the front and the shoulders for the raglan increase itself, assign that stitch to the sleeve.
Determine starting neck depth
In a raglan, stitches from the sleeve contribute to neck depth (see illustration below).
Divide the number of shoulder stitches by the stitches per inch from your gauge. This is the shoulder width, and from the top of the shoulder, half the width will fall the front and half to the back. Divide shoulder width by 2 for starting neck depth.
Determine how deep you want the front neck to be - desired front neck depth
For a crew neck, we’re looking at a shallow neckline, just enough to create room for your neck.
Method one: measure your body
Measure from the point where your neck meets the shoulder (right at the top where a shoulder seam would be), straight down to a point level with where you want the bottom of the neckline to be. The line you measure should be perpendicular to the floor, not at an angle to the middle of the neck (see illustration above).
Method two: measure your clothes
Put on a button-down or other non-stretch shirt with a shoulder seam. It should fit you but not be tight. Put a safety pin where you want the neckline to land. Measure the distance straight down from the shoulder seam to the level where you want the neckline to be, in a line parallel to the button placket. For bonus points, reference a sweater you have and love that has the perfect crew neck.
To this measurement, add your trim depth. Ex: If your trim will be 1” of ribbing, add 1” to this depth. This is your desired front neck depth.
Calculate neck shaping depth
Subtract starting front neck depth from desired front neck depth to get neck shaping depth. This is the number of inches you’ll need to lower the front neck to create your dream neckline.
Calculate neck shaping rows
Multiply neck shaping depth by your row gauge to figure out how many rows you’ll be working this shaping over. Round to an even number. This will be neck shaping rows.
Plan your neckline
These steps assume you create a crew neck – a shallow, round neckline. If you’ve drafted a scoop neck instead, you’ll need to bind off stitches instead of working short rows. Short rows cannot accommodate long straight vertical lines.
Step 1: Calculate bottom neck stitches
Every round neck starts with a flat bottom. For a crew neck, this is typically 40 – 55 % of front neck certain stitches. 40% will create a rounder neckline, 55% will be more shallow.
If you have an odd number of neck stitches, Bottom neck stitches should also be odd, and if you have an even number of neck stitches, bottom neck stitches should be even.
Tip: Not sure how you’d like your neckline to look? Use spreadsheet software to create custom grid paper that matches your gauge by adjusting the number of pixels in the rows and columns, and then applying a light gray outline to each cell. Count out and highlight a number of cells that corresponds to the number of neck shaping rows and the number of neck stitches, and draw the neckline you want to make. Either print and draw right on, or highlight cells to illustrate your dream shaping.
Step 3: Calculate the shaping rate
This might be a good time to talk about the goal of short rows. Short rows keep us from knitting stitches. It can be helpful to think of it as turning away from stitches, almost as if we had placed them on waste yarn.
Stitches to shape out
We know we’ll need to close the gap between our bottom neck stitches and our neck stitches by eliminating stitches as we work towards the neck. It’s typical to leave a stitch on either side of the raglan shaping. That means the formula is:
((Stitches in front neck – bottom neck stitches) divided by two) – 1 = stitches to shape out on each side.
For a crew neck, you’ll want to use two shaping rates to eliminate stitches, so that you’re getting rid of stitches faster at the bottom of the neckline. We might need to finesse this later, but it’s a good starting point.
Shaping Rate A (A)
Start by eliminating two stitches per turn (if working German Short rows, this means you’ll work until there is 1 stitch before the double stitch, then turn your work) until half your stitches to shape out are eliminated. Here’s the formula:
Stitches to shape out / 2 = stitches used in shaping rate A (round this so it’s an even number)
Shaping Rate B (B)
You’ll eliminate the remaining stitches one per turn (work right up to the double stitch, then turn your work)
Stitches to shape out – stitches used in shaping rate A = stitches used in shaping rate B
Step 4: Finesse your shaping - have you used all your rows?
Rows used in shaping: Rate A + (Rate B *2)
Because we’re using short rows, the total rows used must equal neck shaping rows.
If rows used in shaping is MORE rows than you calculated when you worked out desired neck depth, you’ll need to either increase the number of bottom neck stitches or work more rate A rows.
Another option is to eliminate more than two stitches in your first rate A row, which has the added benefit of creating an even more smooth curve.
If rows used in shaping is FEWER rows than you calculated, you’ll need to eliminate stitches more slowly. Reduce the number of bottom neck stitches or work fewer rate A rows. If you still have rows leftover, you can re-evaluate your neck depth or consider working bind-offs instead.
Convert to knitting instructions
Work in pattern
Before launching into your short rows, you will need to calculate the number of rows you’ll be following the pattern instructions before beginning your neck shaping. You’ll need to add one more row to resolve all those double stitches, so the formula is:
Rows worked in raglan shaping per pattern - neck shaping rows - 1
Once you’ve worked those rows, place a stitch marker in the middle of the front stitches (if it’s odd number of stitches, mark the middle stitch with a locking stitch marker).
Work to X stitches before the marker (C)
Half of our bottom neck stitches come before the marker. Let’s call this C. If you have an even number of stitches, simply divide bottom neck stitches by two. If you have an odd number of stitches, the formula is:
(Bottom neck stitches -1) / 2 = C
Row by row instructions for short rows
While continuing to follow raglan shaping and stitch pattern:
Row 1 (RS): Work in pattern to C sts before the marker / marked stitch, turn.
Row 2 (WS): DS, work in pattern on WS to C sts before the marker / marked stitch, turn.
Row 3: DS, work to 1 st before DS, turn.
Row 4: DS, work to 1 st before DS, turn.
Repeat Rows 3 and 4 (A/2 -1) more times.
Next Row (RS): DS, work to DS, turn.
Next Row (WS): DS, work to DS, turn.
Repeat these two rows B-1 more times.
Next Row (RS): DS, work to BOR.
One last thing - about that short row shaping rate
There's some mythology out there about how front neck shaping rates can 'raise the neckline too fast.' Remember - we are avoiding knitting front stitches, and finishing the sleeves and back of the shoulder as normal.
To illustrate this, here are two swatches, both worked with the exact same shaping rate as suggested above. The top one is worked with short rows, the bottom is worked with bind-offs. The only difference between the two? Since I didn't shape out the last three stitches, and there's a final row to resolve the double stitches, the top one appears to have a gentle curve. It's an artifact of the swatch. The shaping is all absolutely identical, and you can see that this would have zero effect on the back neck.
Swap a round crew for a v-neck by choosing a deeper neckline and binding off just 3 sts at the bottom.
If you’d like to make a deeper neckline by binding off, you have so many choices! All of the shaping is the same, only instead of turning away from stitches, you’ll bind them off. This blog post from Amy Herzog is a fantastic resource for different neckline shapes and the shaping rates that create them.
PS - many thanks to Anne Marie Hart for technical editing support on this post! I wanted to make sure it was perfect for you, and I'm grateful for her sharp eye and clear voice. You can find more info about Anne Marie and the services she offers here.
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