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 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? Short rows.
There are two basic options to fix the circular-yoke fit issue and a third, hybrid one:
raising the back neck
lengthening the back
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.
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.
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.
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
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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