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Your raglan sweater needs front neck shaping

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

I've seen some fun raglan patterns out recently, and some of them are missing front neck shaping. Let's talk about why front neck shaping is critical, how it's created, and what to do if it's missing.

Do I need front neck shaping?

The neckline ends up above the collarbones, drawing a tight line across the neck. Testers note that they've blocked the neckline aggressively. The colorwork ends on a solid repeat all the way across the top, uninterrupted by the curve of a neckline. The pattern notes don’t list short rows as a technique, and the schematic doesn’t show a difference between the front and back. uh oh.

In order to fit you well, your handknit sweaters need to make room for the front of your neck.

Front neck, back neck, and the angle of the neck

Our necks don’t sprout from the center of our shoulders. They come out towards the front of our bodies, at an angle. We need to scoop out some fabric to make room for them, or our necklines will rub against the front of our necks, and they will pull forward and be generally quite uncomfortable.

Not convinced? Take a t-shirt from your closet and put it on backward. Can you feel the problem?

Here, I'm showing a scoop neck drop shoulder sweater, Local Meadow. I've chosen this one because it really illustrates the relationship between the front and back of our neck. You can see that my head sits in front of the middle of the shoulders and the back of the base of the neck is much higher than the front. This is a scoop neck so there's tons of room for the front neck, but you can see that if the front depth didn't have this shaping, this would be a comfortable sweater.

Side note: what if you're knitting a turtleneck?

Even collared sweaters, such as cowl necks or a turtleneck, need to have front neck shaping. If we're going to add a tube of fabric for the neck, we still need to make sure that the tube comes out of the body at an angle that's consistent with the angle of the neck as it leaves the shoulders. Typically, those sweaters will have a classic crew neck.

How do you make room for the front of the neck?

In raglan sweaters, there are two ways to create adequate room in the front neck - having a really wide shoulder and/or creating some shaping.

Create more front neck depth by having lots of stitches for the sleeves/shoulder at the neckline

Raglans come with a head start over other constructions, because of the stitches from the sleeve/shoulder. If you've ever knit a top-down raglan, you know that the start of it looks like a rectangle - two shoulders, a front, and a back.

Once you drop that rectangle on the body, the sleeve stitches impact where the front and back sit on the body. Half of the sleeve/shoulder stitches will contribute to the front neck depth, and half to the back neck depth.

In the photo above, I'm showing Herbalist. The sleeves are relatively narrow at the bind off (it's knit from the bottom up). If the bind-off were wider (more stitches), the seam would be much lower, and I wouldn't need to create so much shaping in the front body.

The problem shows up when the shoulder stitches don’t create adequate depth for the neck. Most knitters are comfortable in a crew neck with 3-3.5 inches of front neck depth. Some raglans have a shoulder width of 6-7 inches, but most do not. Most need neck shaping in the front.

Create a neckline with shaping

In this solution, we're going to NOT knit some stitches - in a curved shape that makes room for the neck. The depth of the curve will depend on the shape of the desired neckline (crew, scoop, etc) and on the depth contributed by the shoulder/sleeves as described above.

To create this shaping, we can work short rows (suitable for a shallow neckline, like a crew), or bind-off stitches (if working bottom-up), or cast on stitches (if working top-down).

What are short rows and how do they shape the neck?

To work a short row, you leave some stitches unworked. You work partway across a row (or around, if you're working in the round), turn the work mid-row, and go in the other direction. It’s a little bit like leaving those unworked stitches on waste yarn – those columns don’t get any taller while you continue to work subsequent rows.

To create room for your neck by working short rows while working a raglan in the round, you work to the bottom of the neckline, turn around, and work flat all the way to the start of the bottom of the neckline on the other side. Then again on the right side, stopping a few rows short of the last row. And so on.

"Short rows raise the back neck.”

I want to do some mythbusting here.

Here’s the thing. If you didn’t work short rows, you’d just keep knitting all your raglan instructions until you reached the top of the sweater. Those rows simply finish the garment. Turning partway through the row simply lets you avoid knitting where your neck needs to be.

Knitters hear ‘short rows raise the back neck’ and it sounds optional. It makes it sound like the neck is going to ride up. Maybe creating a shawl collar effect? It doesn’t accurately describe what the short rows do, and it de-emphasizes how critical it is to have shaping for the front neck.

Another reason I don't love this language is that I then hear people say things like 'you don't want to raise the back neck too quickly' when they're talking about shaping the front body of a raglan sweater. You can definitely create a weird yoke on a raglan by decreasing the raglans at a rate that doesn't match the body's shape, but in no way can short rows on the front of the body impact the back neck of a raglan.

Skeptical? Check out my post on using short rows to add front neck shaping here for a look at how short row shaping works when you make turns with a single stitch between them.

Help! My raglan pattern doesn't have front neck shaping!

Let’s say you’re in love with a pattern that doesn’t make room for your neck. You don’t have to skip that pattern, just add it yourself!

To demystify the process of adding shaping to a pattern you're working on, I've put together a step-by-step guide for you, including a worksheet that walks you through calculating all the stitches and rows. You can find that here!

You can use a very similar process using bind offs or cast ons (but you get more flexibility because you can work some rows with no shaping, and create a deeper neckline).

The contents of this post first appeared in one of my weekly Studio Updates. Interested in getting technical content, inspiration, and fit tips delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up here!

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