top of page

Why your handknit cardigans slide off

I know I know, I say this all the time - but sewists get all the good stuff. Maybe because woven fabrics are more unforgiving? Whatever the reason, if you sew, you know that there's an expectation that you'll need to modify your pattern. So today, we're stealing from sewists, and we're learning about the forward shoulder adjustment. You might never make this adjustment, but I've found that knowing it CAN be made, and understanding why I have the fit issue helps me choose more appropriate patterns that need less modification anyway!

Do your sweaters slide back? Do your necks choke you?

If like me, you spend a lot of time doing things like knitting, typing, scrolling, or other activities where your arms are busy in front of you, you may have shoulders like mine. Shoulders that sit forward, at an unhappy angle. We stretch out the muscles in our backs, we shorten the muscles in our chests, and before we know it, our shoulders perk forward.

The problem with this is that suddenly, the shoulder seam of your sweater is sitting in back of the top of your shoulder.

Since the top of the shoulder is the highest point, now we have more of our sweater in the back than the front, and that seam is lower on the body. That kicks off an avalanche, encouraging your sweater to slide down and back. This is particularly evident if you're wearing a cardigan, but even in a pullover with a shallow front neck, this fit issue can contribute to a neckline that rides up and chokes you.

The way I see it, we have two choices

First, we can go to physical therapy. Now, I dispense exactly zero medical advice, but I can tell you that I believe in making knits for the body you have now, so let's skip the copay and go to option two.

Make a forward shoulder adjustment

In this common sewing adjustment, we move the outside of the shoulder forward, until it matches the location of our natural shoulder.

We want to leave the total length of the sweater from the hem to the inner neck point alone, while changing the rate of the shoulder shaping. On the back, you'll start your shoulder shaping later, and work fewer shaping rows. On the front, you'll start the shoulder shaping earlier, and work more shaping rows.

Steps to adjust the shoulders in your handknits

  1. Measure how much your shoulder sits forward. It can be helpful to put on another shirt with a shoulder seam, and measure from the seam to the point of your own shoulder.

  2. Convert the difference to rows using gauge, rounding down to an even number.

  3. When you get to the back shoulders, work the extra rows straight. Redistribute the shaping so that it's worked over the remaining rows.

  4. When you get to the front shoulders, start the shaping early by the number of rows. Redistribute the shaping so that it's worked over the new total rows.


You have 22 stitches in your shoulder. Your instructions tell you to bind off 6 stitches every right side row three times and then bind off the remaining 4 stitches on the next right side row. So your shoulders are worked over 6 rows plus the final bind-off. You plan to shift your shoulder by 2 rows. In the back, you knit an extra two rows with no shaping, and then you bind off 7 stitches every right side row twice, and then bind off the final 8 stitches on the next RS row. In the front, you start your neck shaping two rows early so that you can work 8 rows plus the bind-off. Bind off 4 stitches every right side row four times, then bind off the final 7 stitches on the next right side row.

Give it a try!

Next time you knit a set-in or drop-shoulder sweater, give it a try and let me know how it goes! You can do the same for other constructions, but it's a bit more complicated (as always, modifications are easiest to do for a classic set-in). If you try it, send me an email and let me know how it goes!

If you liked this article, check out this article about how to figure out where your sweater will land at the hip and this one about what bust darts can do for your knits.

This article is made possible by ko-fi supporters, whose contributions make it possible for me to spend time writing educational content. Having a size inclusive pattern is just the starting point - for us to have wardrobes that truly replace our fast fashion clothes, we need to know how to create garments that fit us perfectly and are comfortable and reflect who we are. It's about power, agency, and justice. I'm committed to sharing paywall-free knowledge about fit, grading and design, and it's possible for me to do that because of community funding.

If you share our vision or find articles like this useful, you can check out my ko-fi page here. Thank you!

335 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page