In my last blog post, I wrote about how to convert a crew, scoop, or square neck pullover to a v-neck. In this post, I will do just the opposite and take you from a v-neck to a crew, scoop, or square neck. Using this tutorial, you will be able to take an existing top-down pattern and customize it to better suit your own taste.
When knitting from the top down, you will shape the neck by first working 1-stitch increases at each neck edge, then one or more small cast-ons (commonly 2 or 3 stitches, but sometimes more), then a final large cast-on that will bridge the gap between the sides of the front and allow you to join the two sides together. However, when designing a neck from the top-down, I always start at the base of the neck with the final cast-on, then the small cast-ons, then the increases; so I design backwards from how the piece is knit.
The first thing you need to know is how many stitches you have to work with in the neck. If you’re working one of my top-down patterns, there are two ways to do this:
If there is no back neck shaping (i.e., if you cast on stitches for the entire back shoulders and neck at the same time), then you should subtract the number of shoulder stitches that you pick up for each side of the front from the total back cast-on. For instance, if you cast on 60 stitches for the back, and you pick up and knit 15 stitches for each front shoulder, that will leave you with 30 stitches for the neck.
If there IS back neck shaping, then add up the number of stitches that you increase and cast on for the back neck, or subtract the number of stitches cast on for the shoulders from the total stitches that you end up with after the back neck shaping is complete and the sides are joined.
Converting a V-Neck to a Square Neck
This is the easiest conversion to make. Simply work both sides of the front until you get to your desired neck depth, then work across the right front, cast on the total number of neck stitches needed, join the left front, and work across the left front to the end. Done!
Converting a V-Neck to a Crew or Scoop Neck
When you are working a top-down crew or scoop neck, you usually begin the neck shaping with single increases on either side, then you cast on a small number of stitches (usually 2, 3, 4, and/or 5, depending on your size and stitch gauge) over a number of right-side rows. Then you cast on a large number of stitches for the center base of the neck and join the two sides of the front.
Your gauge and the desired depth of your neck will determine how quickly the shaping needs to be completed. The larger the gauge and the shallower the neck, the more stitches you will have to cast on and the fewer single-stitch increases you will work. The finer the gauge and the deeper the neck, the more single-stitch increases you will work. However, you need to have at least some small cast-ons in order to give the base of the neck a rounded shape. If you want the shaping to be completed quickly, make your small cast-ons larger (say, 4 or 5 stitches) before casting on the final base and joining. Play with it on graph paper to find your desired look.
I’ll use a stitch gauge of 4, a row gauge of 6, and a neck stitch count of 30 for my calculations.
Step 1 – Determine Center Neck Cast-On
Once you have determined the total number of neck stitches called for in your pattern, you’re ready to begin your conversion. When working a rounded neck, whether it is a shallow crew or a deeper scoop, you will always cast on a number of stitches at the base of the neck, where you join the two front sides. In a shallower neck, this number is usually around 1/3 of the total neck stitches; in a deeper neck, it may be a smaller percentage of the total stitches. Ultimately you get to decide whether you want the base of the neck to be wide or narrow – it’s largely a style decision. For now, we’ll go with 1/3 for our calculations.
With our stitch count of 30 stitches for the neck, 1/3 gives us an even 10 stitches. You’ll obviously have to round the number up or down to work with the number of neck stitches you have. So when we have finished shaping the sides of the neck, we will cast on 10 stitches for the center of the neck.
Step 2 – Determine Side-of-Neck Stitch Counts
Next we have to determine how many stitches we have to increase and/or cast on for each side of the neck, leading up to the center cast-on. So subtract the 10 center stitches from the total 30 neck stitches and you get 20 stitches; divide that by the two sides of the neck, and you have to increase and/or cast on 10 stitches for each side.
Step 3 – Decide on Side-of-Neck Cast-Ons
How I work the side-of-neck shaping depends partly on the depth of the neck and partly on the style of the piece. The average crewneck depth ranges from 2–3.5″ (though that’s not a hard-and-fast rule), and a scoop neck is anything longer than that length.
For most shallower neck depths, you will increase a number of stitches on each side, then cast on a small number of stitches one or more times. The finer your gauge, the more stitches you will want to cast on before getting to the final center cast-on. Otherwise, if you only work increases on each side and no small cast-ons, it will take you a long time to get to your desired neck stitches, and you will lose some of the rounded shape of the neck.
Let’s assume that we will cast on 3 stitches once right before the 10-stitch base cast-on, and 2 stitches twice before that. That means you’re casting on a total of 7 stitches (3 + 2 + 2) on either side. Subtract that from the total of 10 stitches that you need to increase/cast on on either side, and you’ve got 3 stitches that you will need to increase.
Step 4 – Determine the Increase Intervals
This is where the depth of your neck comes into play. We’ve planned for the base center cast-on, and one 3-stitch and two 2-stitch cast-ons on either side. That much will take you 7 rows to complete, beginning and ending with a right-side row. Now calculate the total number of rows in your neck depth; simply multiply your desired neck depth by your row gauge and round to an odd number.
After the shoulder pick-up row, you will begin with a wrong-side row; you will end all neck shaping with a right-side row on which you cast on the center neck stitches and join the fronts. Subtract the 7 rows that it will take you to complete the cast-ons at the end of the neck shaping (or however many rows it will take you if you choose to work more or fewer small cast-ons). Unless you have a very shallow neck depth, I would recommend that you work about an inch even at the top of the neck, before beginning shaping. So at our row gauge, that would mean 6 rows (including the pick-up row), since we have to begin with the right-side pick-up row and end with a wrong-side row.
So let’s say you want a 3″ neck depth. Multiply 3″ by the row gauge of 6 to get 18 shaping rows, then round up to 19, an odd number. Subtract the 6 even rows at the beginning of the neck (pick-up row and following 5 rows) and the 7 cast-on rows at the bottom of the neck, and you’re left with 6 rows over which to increase stitches. Divide the 6 rows by the 3 stitches that we have to increase on each side, and we get a nice round 2, which means that we’ll increase 1 stitch every 2 rows, or on every right-side row between the work-even rows and the first cast-on row.
If your neck depth is 5″, you will have 31 shaping rows to work with (5″ x 6 rows per inch = 30 rows, rounded up to 31, an odd number). Subtract the 6 rows at the beginning and the 7 rows at the base from 31 and you have 18 rows in which to work the increases. You work the first increase on Row 7 (the row right after the pick-up row and 5 work-even rows), then you have 17 rows left to work the remaining 2 increases. Divide 17 by 2 and you get 8 (rounded down from 8.5). So work the next increase on the 8th row after the first increase (Row 15), then on the following 8th row (Row 23). On the next two RS rows (Rows 25 and 27), cast on 2 stitches to each neck edge. On Row 29, cast on 3 stitches to each neck edge, then on Row 31, cast on the center 10 stitches, and join the fronts.
Step 5 – Troubleshooting: Fitting Too Many Increases into Too Few Rows
While I was writing the above, I initially began by only calling for one 2-stitch cast-on on each side, which would have left me with 5 stitches to increase on each side over 8 rows, given my neck depth of 3″. Divide 8 by 5 and you get 1.6, not the nice even 2 that we got above. That means I would have had to increase 1 stitch every 1.6 rows, which would work out to 1 stitch every right-side row, with a single wrong-side increase stuck in toward the beginning of the increases. I prefer to avoid working wrong-side row increases, since increasing every row can make the fabric bunch up. So I decided to work two 2-stitch cast-ons instead of one, which enabled me to fit the increases smoothly into the available shaping rows.
So if you have a shallow neck depth or are working with a heavier weight yarn, you may need to cast on more stitches toward the base of the neck and reduce the number of increases you work so that you can complete the shaping in the depth you have to work with. You can cast on a larger number of stitches in your final center neck cast-on, but that will make the bottom of the neck broader, which will affect how it looks.
A broad center cast-on is appropriate if you want to shape the back neck (I usually figure somewhere around 80% of the total neck stitches), but it may not give you the results you’re looking for on the front. That said, there’s no reason you can’t have a broad center cast-on, larger side cast-ons, and few side increases so that all of the neck shaping is completed quickly. It’ll depend on the look you’re going for.
Using Graph Paper
You might find it easier to plot out the neck shaping on graph paper. I would recommend creating your own graph paper using your specific stitch and row gauges (use Excel or go to http://sweaterscapes.com/lcharts3.htm and follow their instructions). Make sure to label the right-side and wrong-side rows on your graph. The cast-ons and join are worked on right-side rows. Play with the shaping until you get the look that you want.
What if I’m Working from the Bottom Up, not the Top Down?
If you’re working a bottom-up pattern rather than a top-down one, you can use the same process to convert the pattern’s neck. You will be binding off and decreasing stitches instead of increasing and casting on stitches.
To determine when to begin the neck, subtract your desired neck depth from the total length from beginning of armhole to top of shoulder (including the shoulder shaping length if you have to shape the shoulders); this is the point at which you will begin your shaping. When you get to that length, work across to the stitches that you have calculated for the center base of the neck. Bind off those stitches and work to the end. You may either work both sides at the same time with separate balls of yarn, or work each side separately. Bind off the small numbers of stitches at either neck edge, then decrease 1 st the determined number of times.
For instance, if I were working bottom-up with the numbers I calculated above, I would work to the center 10 stitches, bind off those stitches, then bind off 3 stitches at each neck edge once, then 2 stitches twice. Then I would decrease 1 stitch at each neck edge on the next 3 right-side rows. Finally, I would work even until the shoulder shaping is complete. Keep in mind that you might have to begin shoulder shaping while you finish up the neck shaping.
That’s all there is to it. It’s a lot more intimidating to think about it than it is to do it.