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Improving Circular Yoke Fit with Short Rows [TUTORIAL]

Improving Circular Yoke Fit with Short Rows [TUTORIAL]

Circular yoke designs have become hugely popular in the past couple of years, undoubtedly because of the huge resurgence in colorwork yoke sweaters. But the circular yoke shape can be a bit of a pain to make fit right. If the neckline fits nicely at the front, the back neck is often too wide and too low. And if the sweater fits nicely at the back, it sits too high at the front.

The Problem?

The human torso is not symmetrical back to front.

The reason for this is that a circular yoke is symmetrical in all directions. But human anatomy is not. If you look at the side profile of an upper torso, you'll notice that the neckline is not horizontal. And to reach the same level at the bottom of the yoke, the back piece needs to cover more distance than the front.

The circular yoke problem

What happens when you wear a circular yoke sweater with no fit adjustments? You might have encountered this problem. When you first put the sweater on, you adjust the yoke so that it fits just right. Then you move around and the yoke tends to dip backwards, leveling the height difference at the bottom, causing the back neck to drag down and the front neck to ride up. This is why many people feel that circular yoke designs are choking them. But they don't have to be.

The Solution

The solution? Short rows.

There are two basic options to fix the circular-yoke fit issue and a third, hybrid one:

  1. raising the back neck

  2. lengthening the back

  3. a combination of the two!

Raising the Back Neck

Raising the back neck with above-the-yoke short rows is the solution I've most often seen in bottom-up colorwork sweaters, like in many DROPS Design patterns. After the colorwork portion on the yoke is complete, a trapezoid-shaped wedge is made by starting at the center back and knitting back and forth in incrementally longer and longer short rows. The work is then resumed by knitting across all stitches and the neck ribbing is added.

Solution 1: Raising the back neck

In Pontefract I've raised the back neck using this method. But in general I tend to avoid it, especially in colorwork or other designs where it's strikingly obvious even to the casual observer that there's a bigger stretch of plain fabric at the back. I think it destroys the visual appeal of the nicely placed design across the yoke.

Pontefract uses short rows to raise the back neck

Hiding short rows in the body of the sweater is more invisible, which is why I like to use this second solution in my designs, like in Mirkwood Cardigan or Matcha Latte.

In Mirkwood Cardigan short rows are added to the bottom of the yoke to lengthen the back

Lengthening the Back

Lengthening the back with below-the-yoke short rows is often seen in top-down sweaters. After the patterning on the yoke is complete and just before sleeves are separated from the body, a trapezoid-shaped wedge is made by knitting across the sleeve and back stitches, then working back and forth in shorter and shorter short rows, turning a few stitches before the last turning point.

Solution 2: Lengthening the back

Some instructions tell you to make the first short-row turning point on the front of the sweater, even as far as one-third into the front. I usually have stitch markers delineating front, sleeves, and back anyways, so I like to use the markers on the front–sleeve boundary as the first turning point and go from there. It just makes life (and pattern writing) a tad easier.

In Matcha Latte short rows are added to the bottom of the yoke to lengthen the back

Multiple Short Rows

For an even better fit, the two solutions can be combined. In fact, you can even have multiple short-rows placed throughout the entire length of the yoke. If the colorwork portion is not continuous or if the yoke is striped, for instance, sections of main color are natural (and pretty invisible) places to hide the short rows in.

Solution 3: Multiple short rows

In my version of the Mon petit gilet rayé I did multiple short rows on the upper yoke within the first few main-color stripes. If the stripes are narrow, like in this case, you can clearly see the where the short rows are since some of the cream-colored stripes on top are visibly wider than stripes in other parts of the cardigan. But if the stripes are wide, short rows hidden within them are pretty much indistinguishable.

Mon petit gilet rayé with added short-rows on the upper yoke

Top-down Or Bottom-up?

Short-row shaping to adjust circular-yoke fit issues can be done regardless of whether you're working from the top down or from the bottom up. One thing you to be mindful of, though, is the shape of short-row wedge you create.

The right way vs. the hump way

The right way vs. the hump way

To create a shallow U-shaped wedge from the bottom up, you start with shorter short rows that get longer and longer. In contrast, when you're knitting top down you start with longer short rows that get shorter and shorter. Especially in raising the back neck I've seen — and used myself — short rows that create a wedge that's wider at the bottom than it is at the top. This can literally look like hump on the back and you want to avoid it.


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Improving Circular Yoke Fit with Short Rows [TUTORIAL]

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Susanna Winter is a knitwear designer, creating timeless and elegant pieces with clean lines. She has been knitting for over 20 years, knit blogging since 2007, and designing knitting patterns professionally since 2016.

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