How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping

How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping

As of our last installment, you’ve got your stitches cast on and raglan markers placed, so it’s time to get busy! If you’re taking the Reversible approach, you’ve joined for working in the round and knit however many rows of ribbing your heart desires. (Remember we’re using “ribbing” for shorthand when discussing the edge treatment; you may be doing garter or rolled stockinette or whatever.) And you’ve placed your raglan markers during the final round of your ribbing. Because you’re not doing any neck shaping, and you’re already knitting in the round, you’ll only be increasing at the raglans.

If you are taking the Shaped approach, we’ll get to the neck shaping after this little bit about …


Standard operating procedure is: You increase TWO STITCHES at each raglan seam, EVERY OTHER ROW. As I mentioned in Part 1, you have all the liberty in the world where the size and style of your “seams” is concerned. For this demo, I’ve marked off two stitches for the center of each raglan, and I’m doing simple kfb increases on either side of those. You might do m1’s, left and right, or yarnovers, or any increase you like. (Barbara Walker’s book contains a great photo comparison of 10 or 12 different options.) But bottom line is that each increase round involves an increase on each side of four seams, for a total of 8 stitches increased.

If you’re working the Reversible method, go ahead and start working those raglan increase rounds, alternating with straight rounds. For the neck shapers among us, we need to talk about …


In order to shape our front neck, we’ll be working back and forth for the first couple of inches, increasing at the raglans as described above (increasing on every right side row), and also at each end, the front neck stitches. As we add to these stitches, we create a crescent shape, with those front/end stitches reaching gradually toward each other, as seen in the tippy-top pair of photos up there.

There are varying opinions on frequency for this, and it’s part personal taste and part what neck shape you’re after. For a standard crewneck, increase at the neck every other row, same as your raglan increases. For more of a scoop neck, you might choose to increase every fourth row. For a V-neck, the frequency will depend on how deep you want the V to be. A faster rate of increase (i.e., every other row) will mean they’ll meet in the middle in fewer rows, for a shallower V. A slower rate of increase (i.e., every fourth row, or more) will mean they take more rows to meet, for a deeper V. This is relevant, too, if you’re knitting a cardigan — the rate of the neck increase will determine the shape of the neck and front of the cardigan in exactly the same way, from a crewneck to a jewel neck to a shallow V or more of a deep “boyfriend” V. For this crewneck, I’m increasing the neck stitches every other row, same as the raglans.

For a V-neck, you keep increasing until you have the same number of stitches in the back and in the two fronts combined, and the front stitches should meet when you lay it around your neck. But for a crewneck, there comes a point where you cast on additional stitches so you can join for working in the round. Again, when you do that is up to you. As your crescent grows, lay it around your neck — being mindful of where the raglans are sitting on your shoulders — and see what you think.* Mine, in the photo at top right, is about three inches of knitting (measured down the center of the back) and I’m happy with the dip at that point, ready to connect the ends. If you want a bigger differential between the back and the front, keep knitting and trying it on until you’re happy with it — just remember if you keep going you’ll wind up with a V-neck.


The only functional difference between a cardigan and a pullover is that the cardigan is never joined for working in the round — you just stop increasing at the ends and continue knitting back and forth for the whole sweater body. For a V-neck pullover, as noted, just join your stitches once your endpoints meet. For a crewneck, however, once you’ve got your desired neck shape, you need to cast on stitches to bridge the gap. How do you know how many? You count. Traditionally, we make pullovers with the same number of front and back stitches. So count your back stitches, then count your two bits of front stitches, add those together, and cast on the difference. Me, I’ve got 37 back stitches and 13 stitches on each side of the front, for a total of 26 front stitches. So I need 11 more. That’s my cast-on number.

Using backwards loop or whatever you like, cast on those additional stitches at the end of a right-side row — which will have been an increase row; remember that. Using a 24-inch circular, join for working in the round. But there’s the question of where your new BOR (beginning of round) is. Some patterns tell you, when you get to your first stitch marker, to switch it out for a contrasting marker, and this is your new BOR. Others will tell you to put a marker in the middle of your new cast-on stitches and that‘s your BOR. Either will work, but the latter is the more meticulous choice, as it will keep your increases at that front-left raglan more properly paired within the round.

Once you’ve joined and knitted a few rounds, put it on again and make sure you’re happy with the size and shape of your neck. You’ve done very little knitting so far — just a few small inches. It’s no big deal at this point to rip it out, make whatever adjustments and knit it again.

How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping


OK, so that was the hardest part! From this point forward, there’s no difference between the Reversible and Shaped methods. Assuming we’re doing a pullover, we’re all joined in the round, working only from the right side of the fabric, and continuing to work our raglan increases on every other round. What we’re creating now is our yoke. Carry on, but don’t knit more than a few inches of your yoke before the next installment, in which we’ll talk about how to know when you’re done increasing.


* A note about trying on your sweater: You should do it a lot — that’s the whole point of knitting in this fashion. To do so, you’ll need to be able to spread out your stitches to really see what you’ve got. You can always slip them all onto waste yarn, then back onto the needles, but that’s tedious. The best bet is to either knit or slip half the stitches onto a second needle. Both needles will need a cord that’s at least half the circumference of the sweater. Pull all four needle ends free (as seen in the lower left photo above), so the stitches rest on the cables, and then you can easily pull the sweater on and off over your head. (See also: Save time at try-on) My habit is to pretty much do this on the last round each night. I put it on before I put it away, see how I’m doing, and note what I need to do next. Be sure to keep good notes for yourself throughout this entire process!

POSTS IN THIS SERIES: [Favorite it on Ravelry]
Pattern + overview / Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans / Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping / Part 3: Finishing the neck and yoke / Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body / Part 5: The art of sweater shaping / Epilogue: The possibilities are endless

NOTE: The photos and methodology described in this post were both updated in August 2016.

58 thoughts on “How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 2: Raglans and neck shaping

  1. I am LOVING this series and bookmarking each entry for future reference…although if you feel the urge to pull them altogether into a PDF, I’ll happily pay for a copy of that too! ;-)

  2. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater: Introduction | Fringe Association

  3. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 1: Casting on and marking raglans | Fringe Association

  4. This is so helpful to have as reference!

    I find trying on is made easier by my Addi Turbos as I can just pop the needle off one side, add the connector and another cord and pull it through to lengthen and try on. (This is a nice plus of the spring-loaded catch…counteracts the con of the yarn catching on the smallest 3.5mm needle in the kit!)

    I need to do it more often though! End of every night sounds about right.

  5. Pingback: How to improvise a top-down sweater, Part 4: Separating the sleeves and body | Fringe Association

  6. I have a quick question – After joining in the round and knitting a few rows I’ve noticed that my increases look a little different at the markers – is this normal? I am increasing in exactly the same way as before (two at each marker), but I’m wondering if knitting in the round has somehow changed the way that the increases look? It’s a bit off-putting because now they look somehow uneven.

  7. Great blog – I bought some beautiful chunky yarn at the weekend with a hope of finding a suitable raglan crew neck pattern with stripes; I’ve not yet found a pattern with quite the right neckline, so I love the idea of making it up as i go along according to these instructions! However, i have a concern about the stripes; if i knit a round in a different colour, will the ends of that stripe end up offset from one another? If so, where is the best place to mark the beginning of round and change colour? I’ve not yet decided whether to do narrow or wide stripes – I suppose wide will better disguise any offset? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi, Lois. There are a few different theories and approaches for dealing with that unfortunate jog in the stripes when knitting in the round. If you Google “knitting jogless stripes” or equiv and poke around, you’ll see what I mean and can decide what method you want to try. Whichever you choose, I’d suggest doing the color changes at your side seam marker. And make sure you’re really careful about keeping notes about exactly where and how often you changed colors, assuming you want to match them up on both sleeves. Good luck with your sweater!

  8. Hi Karen, thanks so much for this series of posts. I’m just getting the courage up to improvise a top-down sweater for myself using sport-weight merino, and I’ll be following your thoughts and notes closely – thank you for being my enabler!

    Also, I wanted to ask: do you have any preference for the neck increases you use? I notice for the raglans you use kfb (which is my preference as well) but I’m wondering if I should do the same for the neck increases?

    Thanks for your time!

  9. I am in the process of knitting my very first sweater, Jane Richmond’s ladies raglan top down sweater and I thought I would take a gamble and ask you a question about the pattern.

    For the first row of raglan increasing, pattern says to knit to one stitch before marker, kfb, sm, kfb.
    I noticed in the pattern under the neck shaping section, she has added to kfb and then knit to one st before the marker. Since there is only one stitch for the neck, should I be kfb on the first stitch (neck stitch) right from the first row of increasing?

    • Hi, Jessica. I’m guessing yes, but I would have to look at the pattern, and I honestly don’t feel comfortable doing pattern support for someone else’s pattern — hope you understand. I’m sure Jane would be happy to answer your question!

  10. in counting stitches for joining the front,do I count just the back stitches then subtract the front & raglan stitches and cast on the difference?

    • Hi, Penny. If you’re doing a crewneck, the standard approach is to have the same number of front and back stitches. So count your back stitches. Then count your front stitches. (Add the two sets of front stitches together for your total number of front stitches.) And cast on however many you need to make the front equal the back.

  11. Pingback: Amanda neck shaping, part 1: Karen plots a shawl collar | Fringe Association

  12. I’ll echo everyone’s appreciation for this amazing tutorial! i couldn’t find what i wanted in the yarn weight i had so it’s time to do it myself! I’m trying to do the shaped neck and with my measurements came up with a 1/1/14/40/14/1/1 situation. what i can’t figure out is how to do the first row of neck increases as well as the raglan increases. i’ve decided to increase on either side of 1 knit stitch in my raglan (i’m doing a seed stitch sweater so i want a column of knit stitches in between the increases). if i’m using a kfb to increase that first neck stitch, then i don’t have any stitches to increase before that raglan stitch. have i seriously missed something? the only solution i can think of is to start off with 4 neck stitches (2 on either side) and go from there…i’m assuming that won’t be a huge issue. thanks again for this, i’m seriously learning SO MUCH!

    • Hm, I’m not sure I understand. First, your numbers aren’t quite making sense to me — if you’re doing 1 stitch in each raglan seam (increasing on either side of it), only two of those four single stitches are represented in your numeric breakdown there. Do you actually mean 1 | 1 | 14 | 1 | 40 | 1 | 14 | 1 | 1?

      And then not sure what you mean about “don’t have any stitches to increase before that raglan stitch.” Your first row would be kfb (the one neck stitch), knit the raglan stitch, kfb (the first sleeve stitch), …

      Increasing in pattern will be a little bit tricky to keep track of. Your increase stitch will always be a kfb, and you’ll work the stitch next to it as whatever your seed stitch pattern needs it to be.

  13. Pingback: The accidental V-neck | Fringe Association

  14. Pingback: Improv: Basic pattern for a top-down seamless sweater | Fringe Association

  15. Pingback: How to incorporate a stitch pattern in a top-down sweater | Fringe Association

  16. Pingback: Top-Down Knitalong: Panelist check-in | Fringe Association

  17. Pingback: Top-Down Knitalong FO No. 1: Jess Schreibstein | Fringe Association

  18. This is really helpful information. I’m confused though. I have a target number of stitches for the end of my raglan increases and a target number for the neck to cast on based on the desired fit. Then I picked my needle size based on my desired fabric. Then I tried making some swatches to see how different increasing schemes would work. So I found how many stitches I would gain after 3 or 4 inches and then calculated the ratio for how many I would have at my desired length to the underarm. However I’m finding I’m either going to have way too many or not enough stitches. How do you get all the variables to work out? Or should I combine schemes and increase every other row and then switch at some point to every 4th row to get the number right? Or do you just nudge all the different numbers around until it’s as close as possible?

  19. Friend! This is amazing. But I’m having some issues.

    When I CO, I’m adding: back stitches [after all those raglan increases] – front stitches added together.

    This makes for a really big/wide front of the neck. Is this right?

    My back neck is supposed to be 9″ and by the time it’s time to CO, the # of back stitches is nearly 11″, making for 20″ neck… I’m thinking of trying a third time and just doing reversible if I can’t figure this out haha

    • My best guess is it sounds like you’re not doing the increases at the front neck? Your front neck stitches should be growing toward each other as you go, so by the time you’re casting on to bridge the gap, it’s only a couple-few inches wide.

  20. Pingback: FO-2016.21 : Striped pullover | Fringe Association

  21. I’ve just started a cardigan, I’ve got about 3″ neck depth, but I’m wondering… Do I cast on the extra stitches as in a pullover, to match the front and back? Or is there another technique for a cardigan?

    • It depends on what kind of neck shape you’re doing — is it a crewneck or a v-neck? One way or the other, you do need to have the same amount of stitches in the front half of your sweater as the back.

  22. This is my first big project and I am so excited! I have a quick question, when you get to the join and you have been increasing for one row, purling one row, increasing one row, purling one row, etc. Once the join happens, do you continue this pattern or do you just increase the entire time at the raglans? Thank you so much for posting this, this cleared up a lot of things for me! Even though I still have questions haha :)

      • I’m not sure, but I think there’s something else in the question, specifically, do we increase every other row once we’ve joined? Prior to the join, we only join when we knit, but post-join we knit all the time (hurray!). I think the answer is once you join, you keep track of even and odd rows and only increase on odd rows.

        This is my first adult-size sweater and I’m enjoying it so far. Thank you for making it available for free!

  23. bonjour
    quelqu’un peut m’expliquer en français s’il vous plaît

  24. Hi! I’m (very) slowly making my way through this “pattern” as I make along with it – I love this. But I had a question about the joining and having the BOR in the middle of the new cast on sts: does it matter that, with the BOR being in the middle of them, some will be worked a second time to get back to the BOR in the first round after the join?

    I’m not sure I’ve made myself clear there, hopefully you get my meaning!

    • If you’re knitting any sort of stitch pattern, you might need to keep the BOR at the seam, but if it’s stockinette it doesn’t matter either way.

      • Great ok. Thanks for that. I’m doing moss stitch so I’ll keep it on the front left nearer the seam.

  25. Great ok. Thanks for that. I’m doing moss stitch so I’ll keep it on the front left nearer the seam.

  26. Hi Karen,
    First of all, thank you for a wonderful tutorial!
    It may be a silly question, but usually when I knit back and forth, I slip off the first stitch. In this case, when I cast on and have my back of the neck, 2 x sleeves stitches + 2 additional stitches on each end for the front neck, where should I do the increases at each end? Should it be the very “outside” stitches, if I do KFB, or, if I slip off the first stitch in the beginning of each row, will it be the 2nd and 2nd to last used for the KFB? Thank you.

    • You probably don’t want to slip the stitch here — that’s great for an edge that will remain visible, but not the most stable edge for picking up stitches later, if that’s in your plan. In any case, when you start with the one stitch, all you can do is increase it to 2 on the first RS row. You’ll wind up increasing both of those on the next RS row, as one is your neck st and one is your raglan-adjacent stitch, so then you’ll have 4. And you proceed from there. Make sense?

  27. I’m so happy this information is still available. Your tutorial is very easy to understand and I think you’ve answered every question I have about top-down knitting, whether a cardi or in the round. I feel much more confident in knitting my garment without following someone else’s pattern.
    Thank so much!

    • it’s the same for me. I hate to be controlled and I get the same feeling if I have to follow a pattern ha ha ha.
      It is so annoying to have to look at a paper all the time. And the biggest fun part is to figure out what do I want to knit and then how do I do it. To knit all the stitches is not that fun =)

  28. Pingback: Day 3 – giraph

  29. Thank you so much for this tutorial, Karen! I have a quick question. I’d like to do a shaped neckline (a somewhat shallow crewneck) but I don’t want to pick up the neckline stitches after as my neckline pattern flows into the pattern of the body. Would it be possible to work the neckline in the round, then do short rows back and forth for the shaping, then rejoining in the round? If so, do you recommend a specific short row method?

    • You can use short rows to shape the neck. What method you use would just depend on personal preference, and for placement of the turns you’d need to take into account any stitch pattern you might be using.

  30. Thanks for such a nice tutorial. As a beginner it is quite ambitious project for me but I read and read again and finally I started knitting. Very excited! :-)

    I have a question. Exactly where should I increase for the front neck increase? Should it be very end of both side or next to raglan increase or wherever?? At the moment I do just after the raglan increase but when I closed up your picture, it looks little diffrent. Is it that important which stitch I increase or can I just keep going my kitting?

    • Yep, the stitch at each end is your front neck stitch, so that’s where you want to do your neck increases.

  31. Thanks, Karen! Good to ask you before doing too much work. I unravelled it and start over again. :-)

  32. Thank you so much for these tutorials!
    I have started to knit a sweater on 2.5 needles, 27 stiches/cm, so it will take me for ever to finish it. Now I started to worry if it will be to small and what a disaster if I will find it out after it is finished. So today I decided to knit it top down instead so I can try it on all the time. But I have never done it before. The more I read about the method the more confused I got till I found your Ravelry post. As soon as I get my long circular needles I will start to follow your advices. So once again, thank you =)

Comments are closed.