Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shawl Collar Tutorial

Lately, I seem to have designed quite a few jackets/cardigans with shawl collars. Why? It's because they're so flattering to so many figure types. "Wakefield Redux" has one, my sideways jacket just sprouted one,

and soon you'll see another one on a garment in an upcoming online publication. So, let's say you've just knitted a V-neck cardigan and you're thinking how nice it would look with a shawl collar. How do you set about it if the pattern doesn't specifically tell how? I'm sure there are lots of other ways, but this is how I like to do it. FYI, I'm going to describe how to knit the button borders AND the collar.
1. Calculate how many garter stitch ridges you will need for a 4- to 5-inch deep collar. With the Peace Fleece I'm currently using, I'm getting 4 sts per inch and 4 ridges per inch in garter stitch. Note that 4 ridges = 8 rows, since it takes two rows to make one garter stitch ridge. If I want a 5-inch deep collar, I will need a total of 20 ridges.
2. Calculate how many pairs of short row turns you need to work. I always knit a base of three ridges, and then there's another one at the end when I work back across all the wraps, so I deduct four from my total ridge count to get the number of pairs of short rows to work. In this case, I want a total of 20 ridges for my collar and now I deduct four from that to come up with 16 pairs of short rows. Note again that I'm talking about "pairs", since there must be a wrap and turn at each side of the collar.
3. Calculate how far apart the short row wraps will be. I like the short rowing to be completed about halfway up the V-neck, which is usually about where the diagonal portion of the V-neck ends. In this case, I decided to work the short rows two stitches apart. If I'd gone with three, the short rowing would have ended too close to the shoulder.
There are a few more calculations to deal with down the road, but let's get going with the actual knitting. Usually, I go down a needle size from what I used for the body of the garment, but since I'm already working this jacket in a rather firm garter stitch, I won't be changing my needle size. I will, however, change to a LONGER needle (a 32" circular) to accommodate all the stitches comfortably.
I start by knitting up stitches all around the front borders and neck, starting with the right side facing at the lower right front edge. With the sideways jacket, it's pretty easy because the sideways construction means that the front stitches are already sitting there on lengths of waste yarn. Across the back, I simply knitted up one stitch per ridge. Place markers at the point on each side where the front border meets the V-neck.

Right front stitches knitted up for border.
In a garment like "Wakefield", I'd start at the lower right front edge and knit up three stitches for every four rows on the straight sections and one stitch for every row on the diagonals. I like to close gaps at corners by picking up a horizontal strand and knitting into it to make either a M1R or M1L, depending on the direction of the angle. Now, turn the work around and knit to the end. You've just made one garter ridge, as seen from the right side.
4. It's time to decide where you want your buttonholes to go. I refer you here for my preferred method. Mark the placement and work them on your next row. Work another WS row for a total of two garter stitch ridges. Work one more RS row. Now, from the wrong side, BO the right front border stitches all the way to your first marker, work around the collar to the next marker and BO the left front border stitches. Break the yarn. The collar stitches will be the only ones left on the needle and you will have a nice base of three garter ridges to build on.

Front borders and buttonholes completed, collar stitches left on needle.
5. Begin to work the pairs of short rows, wrapping and turning at the necessary intervals. In this case, I worked to 2 stitches before the end, wrapped and turned, then worked back to two stitches before the other end, then wrapped and turned. For the next pair, I worked until four stitches from each end, and so on. I use Lucy Neatby and Meg Swansen's method, so aptly named by Lucy as "Slip, wrap, replace" or SWR. Slip next stitch, bring yarn to opposite side of work, replace the slipped stitch, turn, and continue.
6. At the halfway point in the collar (in this case, after 10 ridges), I like to add about 3 inches worth of stitches across the back of the neck to help the collar roll and lie gracefully around the neck. At my current gauge, that means adding 3 x 4 = 12 stitches. I increase by means of knitting into the front and back of a stitch because it blends in well in garter stitch. I have 26 stitches here across the back of the neck so worked kfb every second stitch.
7. When I'm one ridge short of my total, I work 2 more rows (I ridge), working all the way to the end each time. THERE IS NO NEED TIDY THE WRAPS IN GARTER STITCH. You can ignore them! For extra fussy knitters, slip the first stitch knitwise on the last row and for the first stitch of the BO to create a nice smooth edge to weave in with the front borders when it comes to the tidy-up.
8. BO loosely from the RS with a needle that is two sizes larger. I use a dpn in my right hand for better maneuverability.

Done! It goes without saying, that it will all look much better after blocking. And of course now I have to pick up the stitches on the lower edge and start working down. Happy knitting and stay warm--it was -21C when I woke up this morning.

Addendum #1 (almost four years later): If you prefer an all-in-one treatment, with everything bound off in one swoop, have a look here for this updated shawl collar tutorial.

Addendum #2 (six and a half years later): For a ribbed shawl collar, as in this as yet unpublished design,

I take a different approach, involving pairs of German short rows spaced 2 stitches apart for about one and a half inches at each side of the back neck, then spaced every 4 stitches down to the bottom of the V-neck. No extra increased stitches are necessary. Why German short rows? Because they work reversibly into the k2, p2 rib. More on this version of the shawl collar to come.