If you’ve found the perfect sweater pattern for you, except that it has a crew, scoop, or square neck, and you want a v-neck, never fear – you CAN convert the existing neck shaping to suit your taste.
As with any other changes you wish to make to an existing pattern, you must first know the stitch and row gauge of the yarn that you will be working with. Ideally your gauge matches the gauge given in the pattern. If your stitch gauge matches, but your row gauge does not, that’s okay; we can work with the actual row gauge you’re getting. In my instructions below, I’m going to use a stitch gauge of 4 and a row gauge of 6.
Converting a Crew, Scoop, or Square Neck to a V-Neck
Determine how many stitches you have in the neck to work with. Let’s call this number A. If you’re working one of my top-down, set-in-sleeve patterns, the easiest way to determine the number of stitches is by adding up all the stitches that are cast on for the back neck. Keep in mind that you may be shaping the back neck, so you may cast on and increase stitches over several rows. I’m going to use a stitch count of 30 stitches for my sample neck.
Divide A by 2 to get the number of increases to be worked on each side of the neck (call that number B). If you’re beginning with an odd number of stitches for the neck, first subtract 1 stitch from the neck total, then divide by 2. You will have to cast on a stitch at the base of the neck when you go to join the sides of the neck. I started out with 30 stitches; divide that by 2 and I end up with 15 stitches to increase on either side of the neck. If I had 31 stitches in my neck, I’d subtract 1 stitch (= 30), then divide that by 2 to get 15 stitches to be increased on either side.
Decide how deep you want the neck to be. You might want to take the neck depth from an existing sweater that fits you well. If you’re planning a neckline that is deeper than the armhole depth, you want to make sure that the neck width is narrow enough that the sweater won’t fall off your shoulders. Depending on the style and fit of the piece, as well as the drape and weight of the yarn you’re using, I would keep the neck width under 9″ if it’s going to be very deep. If that’s what the pattern calls for, then you’re fine. If it calls for a wider neck, then you might want to adjust the neck width by working more stitches in the shoulders, and fewer in the neck. I’ve decided my neck depth will be 8″ deep.
Multiply the desired neck depth by your row gauge, rounding that number to an odd number. The reason I round to an odd number is because in my top-down patterns, you pick up stitches for the front shoulder from the back shoulder, then begin by working a WS row. Since you will begin the neck shaping with a RS row, you have to work an odd number of rows from the pick-up row to the first shaping row.
I multiply 8″ by 6 rows per inch and get 48 rows for the neck. Since I have to have an odd number, I’ll round up to 49 rows. Now decide how many rows you want to work before you begin the neck shaping; make this an odd number. I usually work about 1 to 1.5″ before beginning shaping. Now subtract the work-even rows from the total neck rows to determine how many rows it will take you to shape the neck. I’ve decided to work 7 rows before beginning the shaping, so when I subtract that from 49, that means I have 42 rows in which to work the shaping. Let’s call this number C.
Now it’s time to determine the intervals at which you will increase a stitch at each neck edge. First, divide the number of shaping rows in the neck (C) by the number of increases you have to work along each side of the neck (B). You will likely come up with a fraction; don’t worry – we can work around that. (If you get a number lower than 2, go to the Two-Stitch or Every-Row Increases section below.) I divide 42 shaping rows by 15 stitches to increase and come up with 2.8. Round that fraction to the nearest even number both above and below the fraction (4 and 2 – call these numbers D and E, respectively). You will work the increases every D rows x times, then every E rows y times. Since I round up to 4 and round down to 2, I will be increasing every 4 rows x times, then every 2 rows y times.
The next calculation will tell you how many times you are to work each interval. Multiply the higher of the interval numbers (D) by the number of increases you have to work (B). Then take the resulting number (F) and subtract the number of shaping rows (C) from it (G). This gives you the number of times that you increase every E rows. Subtract G from the total number of increases (B) and divide the resulting number by 2, and you get the number of times that you increase every D rows (H). For my sample, I multiply the larger interval, 4 rows, by the number of increases (15), and get 60 rows, then subtract 42 shaping rows from that to get 18, which I then divide by 2 to get 9. So I have to increase every 2 rows 9 times. Subtract 9 from 15 (total number of increases), and I get 6, which is how many times I have to increase every 4 rows. So I will increase 1 stitch at each neck edge every 4th row 6 times, then every 2nd row 9 times.
Once you’ve completed your increases, make sure you work a WS row (or several rows if you want to add a bit more length to your neck). Then on the neck RS row, work across the Right Front, cast on 1 stitch at the end of the Right Front if you need an odd number of stitches, then work across the Left Front.
A = total neck stitches
A / 2 = number of increases to be worked on each side of the neck [(A-1) / 2 if you have need to have an odd number of neck stitches] = B
Neck depth x row gauge = total neck rows (round to an odd number)
Total neck rows – rows to work even before shaping (odd number) = C (neck shaping rows; should be an even number)
C / B; round this number up (D) and down (E) to nearest even number
((D x B) – C) / 2) = F (number of times to increase 1 stitch every E rows)
B – F = G (number of times to increase 1 stitch every D rows)
You will increase 1 st every D rows G times, then every E rows F times.
If You’re a Bit Intimidated
If this makes your head spin, try this: Divide the number of neck shaping rows (C) by the number of increases on either side of the neck (B), then round up and down to the nearest even number as in Step 5 above. Now play with your numbers until you can get in all the increases within your required number of neck shaping rows.
Here’s an illustration of this:
In my sample above, I’ve got 42 shaping rows and 15 increases, so I get 2.8 when I divide 15 into 42. I round up and down to 4 and 2. Rather than going through all those calculations in in my recap, I just decide to experiment.
If I work 2 increases every 4 rows (8 rows total) and 13 increases (15 – 2) every 2 rows (26 rows total), I end up with 34 rows. That doesn’t get me to 42 rows. So obviously I need to work more increases every 4 rows.
If I work 13 increases every 4 rows (52 rows total) – uh oh, that’s already too many. Try again.
If I work 8 increases every 4 rows (32 rows total) and 7 increases (15 – 8) every 2 rows (14 rows total), I end up with 46 rows. SO close. It’s 4 more rows than I need, so I’ll try working 1 fewer increase every 4 rows.
If I work 7 increases every 4 rows (28 rows total) and 8 increases (15 – 7) every 2 rows (16 rows total), I end up with 42 rows. Just right.
If you’ve got a lot of neck stitches and not a lot of neck shaping rows, you may have to either work some 2-stitch increases, or work some increases every row. You’ll know that this is the case if you divide your shaping rows by your neck increases and you get a number that is less than 2. Here’s what to do if that happens:
Divide the number of shaping rows (C) by 2.
Subtract the resulting number from the number of increases (B). This is the number of 2-stitch increases that you need to work every RS row.
Subtract that number from the number of RS increase rows, and you get the number of 1-st increases that you need to work every RS row.
Here’s what this looks like if you’ve got a total of 50 neck stitches (25 increases each side) and 42 shaping rows:
B = 25 increases
C = 42 total neck shaping rows
C / 2 = 21 RS neck shaping rows
B – 21 = 4 two-stitch increases worked every RS row
21 – 4 = 17 one-stitch increases worked every RS row
To make sure this works:
Verify the stitches: 4 increases x 2 stitches each increase = 8 stitches increased; 17 increases x 1 stitch each increase = 17 stitches increased; 8 + 17 = 25 total stitches increased.
Verify the rows: 4 + 17 = 21 RS increase rows, or 42 total increase rows (RS and WS).
If you don’t want to increase 2 sts on each shaping row, you can instead increase 2 stitches over 2 rows. In other words, you can increase on the RS, then increase again on the WS.
Using Graph Paper
Some knitters and designers like to work on graph paper to figure out how to work the shaping. Just make sure you use a pencil, and not a pen! The advantage to this method is that it enables you to see how the shaping will look visually, especially if you work out the shaping on knitter’s graph paper, which you can format to match your stitch and row gauge. Even using graph paper, you’ll need to do some simple math to start out. Follow Steps 1 through 5 above to determine the intervals at which you will work your increases (for example, every 4 and 2 rows as in my sample), then play with the shaping on the graph paper until you get a shape that works for you.
Stay tuned for my next blog post, in which I will tell you how to convert a v-neck to a crew or scoop neck.