The question of this post title comes up fairly often with many people having a yes or no answer. I have several different approaches which are dependent on how I plan to wear the garment, the shape and width of the front neckline and the hand of the fabric. Before I explain my decision process I would like to share with you the information that most hand knit pattern designers use a 1 inch (2.5 cm) back neck drop on all garments. Pattern makers in the sewing world often use a little less shaping at the back neck when working with close fitting necklines (especially on the smaller sizes) and even less as necklines widen when measured from the inside neck edge. However knitters are tied to row gauge. We often write patterns that start the neckline shaping at the same time as the shoulder shaping which has also been standardized at 1 inch. The heavier the yarn the harder it is to get to less than 1 inch.
The reason most pattern writers give for the shaping requirement is that the bony spur at the top of our spine can push the garment fabric down or cause the shoulder seams to be pushed back from the top of the shoulder. The shaping is there to remove the excess fabric.
The tendency of garments to fall backwards is more exaggerated when the front neckline style is one of a larger type such as a V neck or deep scoop. Cardigan styles which are worn open may also fall back. It happens with many raglan designs as well. In this case different shoulder style shaping can have an impact. My best fitting raglans all have wider open necklines.
My discussion assumes that the garment has shoulder shaping. For more on shoulder shaping see these posts, Part 1 and Part 2.
Many knitters feel that the natural drop that occurs with a hand knit fabric gives them enough back neck shaping.
I consider several factors when making a decision to include back neck shaping or not.
- Does the fabric drape or is it stiff? The more drape my knitting has the less likely I am to add the shaping.
- Does my garment have a close fitting neckline or a wide neckline? If it's close fitting I'm less likely to add shaping.
- Is it a pullover or a cardigan? Shaping is more likely to be needed with a cardigan.
- If it's a cardigan will it be worn open or fastened up? If it's worn open shaping is more often necessary.
- Will I be wearing the garment over a shirt or blouse? I often wear Oxford shirts that have collar bands. I do not like neck shaping for sweaters worn on top of these shirts. I prefer that the sweater band gets tucked up under the collar back.
- Aesthetic considerations are reviewed as well. A sweater with a wide and or deep neckline, worn alone somehow looks better to my eye with back neck shaping.
- Personal fit choices also come into play. My shoulder slope on a jewel neckline is 3/4 of an inch. My back neck shaping measured on a shirt that fits really well is also 3/4 of an inch. I often use shaping but I don't use a full inch. I try to reduce it on my own garments and may work it over fewer rows than most patterns would normally use. Individual fit may require different adjustments. As an example a body with a curved upper back may need a little extra length.
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