How to Use Short Rows for Shoulder and Neck Shaping

Sooo….my Fall Vest that I started knitting back in September? Yeah, well, I just recently finished it. I might have to to re-name it since it’s, you know, almost Spring now.

Tabard Vest knitting

The pattern is Tabard Vest, by Lion Brand Yarns. The front and back are worked, then seamed together at the shoulders. Collar and side button bands are then added at the end.

The pattern is beautiful and well-written, but of course, I had to make modifications. I changed up the collar, and worked and attached the pocket as I went (rather than seaming it onto the vest).  But let’s talk about how I shaped the shoulders and the back neck.

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Shaping with Stair Steps

For the shoulder shaping, the pattern calls for binding off stitches at the end of each row for a stair-step look. Once the shoulders are bound off, the pattern instructs to bind off stitches at each end of the neck to create a dip.

Stair step bind off

After the stitches are bound off, the front and back can be seamed together.

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Shaping with Short Rows Instead

Short rows can be used for So. Many. Things. Carol Feller’s book, Short Row Knits: A Master Workshop With 20 Learn-As-You-Knit Projects is an amazing resource for all things short rows.  Feller describes in great detail the different types of short rows as well as the many techniques they are used for.

Short rows are utilized for creating 3D shapes, turning a sock heel, and of course, for garment shaping.

Subbing short rows for stair steps in a pattern is easy. Instead of binding off stitches at the beginning of each row, instead, knit to the END of the row, stopping short of the number of stitches the pattern calls to bind off.

For example, if the pattern calls for binding off 3 stitches at the beginning of the row, instead, work to three stitches before the end of the row, and work a wrap & turn. Keep working this method until you end up with the same number of rows the pattern calls for.

My Tabard Vest Example

The following sample shows how I shaped the shoulders and neck of my Fall Vest, using the Small size of the Tabard Vest.

I started with 93 stitches, which is the number of stitches on your needles in the pattern before shoulder shaping. Before beginning, I marked off the center 57 stitches and the center 19 stitches. The center 57 stitches are for neck shaping and the outer 18 stitches on each side are for the shoulder shaping.

For shoulder shaping, the pattern instructs to bind off 3 stitches at the beginning of each row for 12 rows (6 right side rows and 6 wrong side rows).

My method:

Knit across to last 3 stitches, then wrap & turn.

Short Rows knitting

Work across the wrong side to last 3 stitches and wrap & turn.

Short Rows Wrap & Turn

On the next right side row, knit across the last 6 stitches; wrap & turn.

Short Rows Wrap & Turn

Continue in this manner until you have 10 short rows, with 15 stitches on each side with every 3rd stitch wrapped:

short rows

Rather than working the last 2 shoulder short rows, THEN working the neck short rows, I worked the neck shaping while I was in the middle of the last set of shoulder rows rows. Sort of like short rows within a short row. 🙂

Short Row Neck Shaping

The neck shaping is worked over the center 57 stitches. The center 19 stitches are the ones that are bound off in the pattern to make the dip in the neck.

There are 4 markers. From left to right on the right side, let’s call these markers A, B, C and D.

Short Rows
Neck shaping is worked between Markers A and D

Short rows are first made between Markers A and B, then between Markers C and D as follows:

Right side: Knit across to 3 stitches before Marker A, wrap & turn.

Short Rows

Wrong side: Purl across to 5 stitches before marker B (since the pattern called for binding off 5 stitches at neck edge); wrap & turn.

Right side:  Knit across to 6 stitches before marker A, wrap & turn.

This was for the left side of the neck. The right side was worked similarly as follows:

Wrong side: Purl to 3 stitches to Marker D, wrap & turn. (As you purl to the other side of the neck, pick up the wrap that is 5 stitches before Marker B and purl it with its stitch.)

Right side: Knit to 5 stitches before Marker C, wrap & turn.

Wrong side: Purl to 6 stitches before Marker D, wrap & turn.

Now that the neck shaping has been worked, the last set of shoulder short rows can be completed. Knit to Marker A (which is 18 stitches from the end), picking up wraps and working them with their stitches; wrap & turn (you can remove the marker also):

Purl back to Marker D, again picking up wraps; wrap & turn.

Finally, the last step is to knit back all the way to the end, while picking up all wraps on the left shoulder, then purl back to the other end, again picking up all wraps on the right shoulder.

What results is a smooth curve that can either be bound off or left with live stitches.

On my vest, I left my stitches live and used the 3 needle bind off to join the  front and back shoulders. I also used the live neck stitches to add the collar.

Tabard Vest

What do you think about this shaping method? It can be used on pretty much any pattern that calls for binding off stitches for shoulder and neck shaping. Try it out!

Happy short-rowing!

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