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How to Get the Perfect Neckline

April 8, 2021

Creating the perfect fit in a seamless sweater often depends heavily on the neckline. If you’re working top-down, for example, and the cast-on is too loose, the neckline can ‘spread’ and become too wide. If you’re working bottom-up and your bind-off is too tight, the sweater might not go over your head. You also might prefer a wider or narrower neckline than the pattern suggests. Below we offer some tips for creating that perfect neckline – and one method for fixing a neckline that isn’t to your liking.

Thinking ahead

Planning ahead is the best way to get your neckline juuuuust right. It’s always easier to get something right the first time, rather than having to go back and fix it, right? So start by considering your own knitting style… Is your ribbing usually a little looser? How firm is your cast-on? Think about how these things will affect your preferred neckline before embarking on your sweater. It will be a huge help, especially if you’re knitting top-down.

Adding structure

When knitting a sweater from the top-down, you’ll often cast on, work the ribbing, then the yoke, etc., so the whole sweater ‘hangs’ from that cast-on. If you have a firm cast-on and it’s a smaller sweater – or you’re using a lightweight yarn – this isn’t a big deal. But if you’re working on a larger sweater or using a heavier yarn, that’s a lot of weight to hang from your cast-on. If it’s not firm enough, the stitches can start to spread; this might result in a more open neckline than you want.

One answer to this problem is adding in a little extra structure. If you’re planning ahead, you can try casting on and skipping the ribbing. Work the yoke and the rest of the sweater first. At the very end, pick up and knit one stitch in each stitch cast-on and then work the ribbing. This way the sweater ‘hangs’ from the seam where you picked up the ribbing, rather than from the cast-on. If you use this method, try the sweater on. If you find the neckline is still too wide for your liking, you can rip back to the pick-up, work a decrease round, and then work your ribbing on fewer stitches.

Marshland sweater pattern
The Marshland sweater makes use of this technique. The yoke starts with a cast-on, and the neckline ribbing is worked last.

Hedging your bets

If you’re unsure whether the neckline will be to your liking in the end, you can always start with a provisional cast-on. (We have a provisional cast-on tutorial here and an alternative provisional cast-on method here!) Cast on using the provisional method of your choosing and skip the ribbing. Once your sweater is complete, you have some options:

  1. Unzip the provisional cast-on, work the ribbing, and then bind off.
  2. Unzip the provisional cast-on and bind-off, pick up and knit one stitch in each bound-off stitch, and then work the ribbing. (This adds a little structure.)
  3. Adjust the neckline stitches by working a decrease round before the ribbing.
  4. Adjust the bind-off round by using smaller or larger needles to get the right firmness.

Casting on provisionally and then working the neckline last is a bit fussier than just casting on and working the neckline first – but it it gives you the flexibility to adjust this critical area without too much trouble.

Love Note pattern
The Love Note sweater starts with a provisional cast-on, and this ethereal sweater hangs beautifully from a firm bind off.

Working bottom-up

One of the major benefits of a bottom-up sweater is easy neckline adjustments. It isn’t too much trouble to unpick the bind-off or the ribbing and try again. If you find your neckline is too loose for your liking, you can work an extra decrease round before the ribbing, or try a tighter bind-off. If you find your sweater needs a little extra structure, you can work a bind-off before the neckline ribbing, pick up and knit one stitch in each of the bound-off stitches, and then work your ribbing. It will hold firm and prevent the neckline from stretching out too much.

Antler pullover pattern
The Antler Pullover is knit from the bottom-up, so you have extra flexibility in getting the perfect number of stitches and structure at the neckline.

Making adjustments after the fact

So you’ve knit an amazing sweater, but the neckline just isn’t what you wanted it to be. If you’ve knit your sweater bottom-up, the fix is easy. But top-down? Not so much. Don’t lose hope, though! We have a few suggested fixes to get that sweater into regular wardrobe rotation! It can feel fiddly to fix the neckline after the fact, but we promise it’s worth it! You’ve put a lot of love and energy into your work of art, and it’s well worth the effort to get it just the way you like it.

Adding a bit of structure

One way to tighten up a neckline and add a bit of structure is to work a crochet chain around the inside of the sweater at the bottom of the ribbing. The crochet chain isn’t stretchy the way your knitting is at this point in the sweater, so it will hold firm.

Cutting off the ribbing and reworking the neckline

Thinking about cutting into your knitting is a bit scary, but don’t worry – this is only minor surgery! Because of the way knit stitches work, you can’t simply undo the cast-on and unravel the ribbing. (We tried it, so you don’t have to… but if you don’t believe us, go forth.) Instead, you need to insert your needle below the ribbing, cut one stitch, and take the ribbing off (described in detail below). Note that the photos show removing the ribbing on a bottom-up sweater, but all the steps are exactly the same to remove the ribbing on a top-down sweater.

  1. Insert a small needle through one ‘leg’ of each stitch. Make sure to keep in the same round.
  2. Cut one stitch and unpick the round below your needle.
  3. Remove the ribbing.
  4. Join new yarn, and you’re ready to redo that ribbing as you see fit.
A hand holding the ribbed hem of a sweater with a small knitting needle through the stitches above the ribbing.
Insert a small needle through one ‘leg’ of each stitch. Make sure to keep in the same round.
Needles inserted through the stitches above the ribbing at the hem of a sweater. Scissors ready to cut a single stitch below the needles.
Cut one stitch and unpick the round below your needle.
A knitting needle is inserted through live stitches and the ribbing of the sweater is being removed.
This is what it looks like as you undo the round above your needles.
A sweater with needles through the live stitches at the bottom and the removed ribbing underneath it.
Here we’ve removed the hem ribbing of a bottom-up sweater, but the steps are just the same for removing the neckline ribbing of a top-down sweater.

Once you’ve got that ribbing off and live stitches on your needles, you can work any of the changes listed in the ‘hedging your bets’ section above. It’s as if you’ve unzipped your provisional cast-on and are ready to go!

This is also the method you would use if you knit a sweater from the bottom-up but want to add or remove length in the body or sleeves. Insert your needle above the ribbing (or wherever you want to change the length), cut, and remove the ribbing. Then you can make your length adjustments and redo that ribbing.

Looking for more helpful sweater knitting tutorials?

We love sweater knitting, so we’ve created lots of sweater knitting tutorials!

  1. Knitting Hack: the provisional cast-on
  2. Let’s knit a bottom-up sweater
  3. Let’s knit a colourwork sweater
  4. How to block a hand-knit sweater
  5. How to knit a garment at a different gauge

Or you can find ALL our tutorials here!

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristan permalink
    April 20, 2021 12:36 pm

    Thank you so much for this tutorial! I have a sweater knitted with birthday yarn where the neckline stretched out. I was just going to live with it, but now I can fix it! So excited!

  2. Olivia permalink
    April 19, 2021 5:40 am

    I need to add length to so many sweaters, it looks scary though!

  3. April 12, 2021 8:03 am

    WOW–what a great service you have provided! Thank you for the clear, in-focus photos and your patient coaching! I *know* I am going to have trouble with a bottom-up knit little girl’s jumper as the neck stitches look dodgy–too loose. I was thinking maybe I should try an i-Cord seam since the neck does need more structure, per your blog post. I have not yet started the finishing on the neck, so this is really helpful.

  4. Lisa Schwarz permalink
    April 12, 2021 5:32 am

    Hello, This is sooo helpful! I have one sweater that I love that was a bottom up sweater, that has the reverse problem. It’s cropped and love it, but when I wear it, the back tends to swing out from my body and ride up a little. I love the sweater and really don’t want to knit it a second time to make it a bit longer, but maybe cutting off the bottom ribbing and adding some length then redoing the ribbing will work. Have you ever had that problem with the back of cropped sweaters not laying flat against your body and being shorter in the back? Will adding some length fix it or would short rows be the fix for that? If so, how do you know where and how many short rows to add?

    Thank you for your tutorials. I learn something new every time!

    Warmly, Lisa Schwarz

    • April 12, 2021 2:42 pm

      Hi Lisa – I would give adding length a try, but I think that’s probably the designed fit of the sweater. A little swingy if it’s got some positive ease.

  5. Laurie permalink
    April 9, 2021 3:27 am

    Oh this is just what I needed! I tried to unravel the neckline of a top don sweater haha, it didn’t work indeed… I have two sweaters to fix and your advices are just great!!! Thank you so much!

  6. Chloe permalink
    April 8, 2021 11:40 pm

    Thank you for this! It’s so useful.
    What if you’ve bound off your ribbing from a top down sweater too soon? Can you pick up the stitches again without indoing the bind off and continue the ribbing pattern? Many thanks for your help.

  7. Kelli Page permalink
    April 8, 2021 4:28 pm

    Great suggestion about prepping neckline for a top down knit with a heavier weight yarn, Thanks!

  8. Genevieve Jones permalink
    April 8, 2021 3:43 pm

    Can I shorten a top down cardigan in this way ?

    • April 9, 2021 11:36 am

      Hi Genevieve – For a top-down cardigan you should be able to just unravel the ribbing and add some length

  9. Shannon Carroll permalink
    April 8, 2021 2:29 pm

    Super helpful! Thank you for a great tutorial!

  10. April 8, 2021 12:34 pm

    Thank you so much for this lovely tutorial! It helps a lot. Question: when knitting a top-down sweater ribbing-first (such that the sweater hangs from your ribbing cast-on as you describe), what cast-on method do you recommend to keep that edge firm and un-saggy while still allowing it to go over your head? Thank you as always for your guidance as I navigate this new world of sweater knitting!

    • April 8, 2021 1:43 pm

      Hi! It takes a little trial and error. I use a long tail cast on and mine is on the firmer side, but it’s heavily dependant on your cast on tension and a bit on knitting style. If you find your necklines are coming out too wide you can try casting on with a smaller needle, using a smaller needle for your ribbing, or casting on fewer sts and then increasing after the ribbing.

  11. Dorith Wielinga permalink
    April 8, 2021 11:45 am

    Thank you so much!
    I’m knitting bottum up the Clayoquot cardigan at the moment and I’m in doubt of the lengths of the sleeves.
    Do I understand correctly that I can make the sleeves longer just by picking up the stitches and cut the ribbing?
    Doesn’t that affect the knitting direction?
    Thanks again, Dorith Wielinga
    Netherlands

    • April 8, 2021 1:41 pm

      Hi! – You can definitely do that to lengthen the sleeves. The change in direction isn’t noticeable in stockinette so don’t worry.

  12. April 8, 2021 11:39 am

    Oh man, I could have used this tutorial a week ago! I ended up doing sweater surgery to fix a top-down Strangebrew collar that was not sitting right.

    There was a lot of tension in the house as I did this but now I love the neckline!

  13. April 8, 2021 7:23 am

    Necklines on bottom up sweaters are often a challenge, particularly when working with a firm yarn such as a cotton or cotton mix. Would love hints on how to make it neater.

    • April 8, 2021 1:44 pm

      Hmm, is it the ribbing that isn’t neat? I would try going down a needle size or 2.

      • April 9, 2021 5:51 am

        No it’s picking up stitches around the neckline and finishing off, sometimes with just a row of knit or otherwise ribbing – just so often get a bit of a holey look when picking up.

      • April 9, 2021 11:35 am

        Hi – Sounds like maybe there is an issue in how you pick up and knit those sts. Is it possible to send a pic to tincanknits.com? It might help me diagnose the issue.

      • April 12, 2021 2:19 am

        I shall consider that when I get to my next neck pick up, thank you. Meanwhile I have just rediscovered a basic knitting book and will take another look at the section on picking up stitches. I have been knitting for years, maybe I’ve just made things up as I go along lately!

  14. jmbjerke5 permalink
    April 8, 2021 7:11 am

    This was great!!!! Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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