Raglan sweaters need front neck shaping

Ever seen a fun raglan sweater pattern, but noticed that there were lumps under the collar? Or maybe there was a hard, straight, line right across the neck? Let’s talk about the front of your neck and why your raglan sweater needs to be shaped.

Is the neckline in your raglan uncomfortable?

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 schematic doesn’t show a difference between the front and back. uh oh.

How much depth do we need?

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?

A line illustration of Jen standing to the side. An arrow points to her back neck, and another to her front neck - the back neck is 2" higher than the front.

The front and back neck depth are measured from the inner neck point. Inner neck point is where the shoulder meets the neck, halfway between the front and back. The back neck is 1" deep, the front is approximately 3-3.5" deep.

Do turtlenecks and funnel necks need front neck shaping?

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 to create front neck shaping in raglan sweater

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.

A top down schematic of a raglan sweater, showing a rectangle shape around the neck if there was no neck shaping, and a scoop in front showing the front neck shaping adjustment.

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.


A schematic of a tee, showing the front neck depth, which encompasses both the front neck shaping at the shoulder depth.

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. That means most raglans need additional neck shaping in the front.

Note: If you’re knitting a smaller size, this is more likely to be an issue. The shoulders are generally narrower in the smallest sizes, and therefore contribute very little to front neck depth.

Shaping makes room for the front of the neck

So what we need to do is to leave part of the front of your sweater unknit.

If we want to do this with short rows, we’ll work around to the front neck area, and then turn around and go back. We’ll keep knitting our sweater as normal - but we will leave some stitches in the front unknit.

If we want to do this with increases and a cast-on, or with a bind-off and decreases (for top-down and bottom-up, respectively), we’ll do the same thing - leave those front neck stitches unworked.

For the rest of this discussion, let’s assume you’re working top-down. Everything is the same if you’re working bottom-up: you’ll have the same number of stitches in the same places. But so that I can simplify the writing and make it more digestible, let’s just pick something and stick with it 😉

Which method: short rows vs. increases and a cast-on

Both of these methods accomplish the same goal: stitches in the front neck area are left unworked.

However, short rows have a limitation - they can’t ‘stack’. So if need to work a deeper neckline, you might not have enough stitches to make the required number of turns.

That means that if you have very narrow shoulders that don’t contribute much depth to the front neck, or if you want to create a neckline deeper than a crew, you’ll need to start by working flat at first, working increases slowly until you reach your desired neck depth, and then cast-on for the bottom of the front neck.

But for today - let’s dig deeper into short rows.

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 myth busting 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? Here's two swatches - one done with short rows and one done with decreases. You can see they both would like perfectly flat along the body.

Two swatches, showing the similarities between shaping the neck with short rows and shaping with decreases.

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!

Do you have questions? Pop 'em in the comments. And stay getting the One Wild Post, so you know when our next round of classes is offered!

Or try a pattern that already has front neck shaping

Jen smiles at the camera, wearing a flower crown with a hand knit ochre and yellow sweater. Her sweater, knit from her Plusses pattern, features a plusses colorwork design.

We get it, sometimes it's easier to follow instructions the first time you do something new. Or maybe you don't want to hack a pattern, and just want to cast on and thrive. Try Plusses - a seamless colorwork sweater to try this out for yourself. Not crazy about working short rows in colorwork? Plusses comes with an addendum that will walk you though creating a gansey version instead. Learn more about Plusses here.

Raglan sweaters need front neck shaping
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