“I hate knitting ‘at-the-same-time’ instructions. I wish designers would just tell me what to do row by row, and I don’t care how long the pattern is.”
Whew. I’ve heard this one a few times in knitting meetups over the years, sometimes with frustration, sometimes with longing.
What is concurrent shaping?
If your sweater pattern has shaping for the underarm and shaping for the neckline, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter concurrent (at-the-same-time) shaping. Concurrent shaping is particularly common with raglan sweaters because underarm shaping extends the yoke’s entire depth. Deep v-neck sweaters also often have concurrent shaping because the neckline shaping extends far towards the underarm.
In concurrent shaping, the pattern provides a set of instructions to shape one side of your knitting while also providing another set of instructions that will shape the other side. Basically, “do THIS to create the underarms, while also doing THAT to create the neck.” Even when the instructions are well written and clear, it can be overwhelming to manage both, especially if you’re also working a stitch pattern.
Scoop Shop Cardi, my upcoming release, is a raglan cardigan with a v-neck. The concurrent shaping creates the triangular shape of the fronts.
So why don’t designers write out row-by-row instructions?
First, writing row by row instructions for each size means creating a pattern that can be dozens of pages. It’s overwhelming to read, and knitters would find themselves endlessly paging around.
But more importantly, knitters lose transparency and flexibility when the pattern prescribes row-by-row instructions. Here’s an example, abbreviated from Scoop Shop Cardi, in just one size:
To work raglan shaping:
Working a shaping row every right side (RS) row, work in pattern for 10 rows.
Working a shaping row every other RS row, work in pattern for 24 rows.
Working a shaping row every RS row, work in pattern for 12 rows.
At the same time, work neckline shaping:
Working a shaping row every third RS row, work in pattern for 36 rows.
Working a shaping row every other RS row, work in pattern for 0 rows.
Working straight with no shaping, work in pattern for 10 rows.
By seeing the instructions laid out, knitters get a bird’s eye view that empowers them to make adjustments. For example, if you know your row gauge is too long and you’d like to work four fewer rows, you might make a plan:
"I can see that I’m doing compound shaping, with decreases placed together closely at the bottom and top, so for my raglan shaping, I’ll work more ‘every RS rows’ and fewer ‘every other RS rows in the middle. For the neckline shaping, I’ll need to work fewer ‘every third RS rows’ and work a few ‘every other RS rows."
Another advantage of this perspective is that you are more familiar with the outline of the shape you’ve created when it comes to blocking your work. Above, you can see how the compound raglan shaping (red) and neckline shaping (yellow) look blocked. Knowing what to expect makes blocking easier and results in less fabric distortion.
Working concurrent shaping
Generally, if your pattern has concurrent shaping, you’ll need a map. I like to write out the instructions in two columns and put a line where I’ll make my tickmarks. I make a straight tickmark for rows with no shaping and a checkmark for shaping rows. For each row knit, I make a tickmark in each column.
If you think you’ll do better with written row by row instructions, start by numbering lines on a page, with a line for each row. Go through one set of instructions at a time, noting what you'll do on each row. Written-out maps are the least complicated to follow but can be quite a lot of work to put together if you have many rows.
So what’s a progress chart?
In many of my patterns, I include both written instructions and a progress chart (example below). The progress chart is a table showing the row number, how many stitches you’ll shape for the armhole and the neckline, and how many stitches you’ll have at the end of the row. That last bit - the stitch count - will reassure you that you’re on track!
To use the progress chart, start by verifying you have the right number of stitches (the "Begin" row). Read through the shaping instructions, so that you know how to work the decreases or increases for each type of shaping (in the chart above, decreasing for the neckline "N" and armhole "A"). Then, you can work straight from the chart.
Example: For size A, start with 54 stitches. Work in pattern with no shaping on row 1. On row 2, bind off eight stitches on the armhole side, 46 stitches remain.
What knitters say about progress charts
Marisa (Scoop Shop): I found the progress chart to be amazing, it made it so much easier than trying to figure out where to do which stitches. I don’t usually like charts, but this one was perfect. I appreciate you including it.
Eryn (Sunup on 82nd): “The spreadsheet you provided is like a freaking Christmas miracle!”
Kelleigh (Sunup on 82nd): I LOVED the stitch count sheet for the yoke and while I had never done a sweater that way, I found it easy to follow…”
Lisa (Sunup on 82nd): Progress chart was very helpful, and guided me through the neckline + raglan concurrent shaping. I relied on it heavily.
If you're working a stitch pattern, mark that on your map or chart! For example, circle the rows on which you'll work bobbles or cable crosses.
If you knit with frequent distractions, create your own chart for shaping sections even if it's not concurrent. This is also helpful if lose your place frequently because you have a toddler who likes to click your stitch counter...
Looking for my patterns that have progress charts? Sunup on 82nd, Little Sunup, and Picture Day all feature progress charts, as will Scoop Shop and Ridge and Valley when they are published. Find patterns with progress charts in this bundle on Ravelry.
Lose track of where you are? Check out Brooklyn Tweed's post on reading your increases and decreases, here.