Shaping Circular Yoke Sweaters

Circular yoke sweaters are all the rage; their timeless style never goes out of fashion. Today’s knitting designers continue to find ways to revive this classic sweater construction.

The latest is Kerry Bogert, who put together a stunning collection of circular yoke sweaters from the hottest designers out there, The Art of Circular Yokes. There are so many amazing choices in this beautiful book, but I managed to pick a favorite: Altheda by Jenn Steingass.

Jenn is a true master of the circular yoke sweater. Take a tour of her Ravelry shop for some real eye candy!

yoke sweater

Altheda by Jenn Steingass, from The Art of Circular Yokes

Part of the magic of this book is that it takes a deep dive into the construction of the circular yoke sweater, including a discussion about how shaping makes this design so versatile.

Here’s Holli Yeoh to talk more about that.

The Art of Circular Yoke Sweater Shaping

There are countless ways to arrange the shaping stitches and rounds on circular yokes. This flexibility provides endless design possibilities, but it’s also difficult to narrow it down to a simple formula. That said, here are a few methods to get you started. Take a look at your body and note where the greatest difference in circumference is through the yoke region. Note that the neck is a small circumference, but just a couple of inches below the neck, the yoke needs to expand to cover the shoulders and upper torso. That short distance, between the neckline and shoulders, is where the majority of the yoke shaping occurs at a rapid rate. Between the shoulders and lower yoke, less shaping is required.

Once you have all your numbers, you need to fit the yoke motif into the space remaining. This is where things will change and shift, and the final numbers are somewhat at the mercy of the motif. Some adjustments will need to be made to accommodate both the yoke motif and the yoke shaping. Don’t obsess if the numbers for the yoke motif aren’t exactly the same as your initial numbers. It’s knitting. It stretches. The beauty of designing circular yokes is that they’re forgiving. A few approaches for yoke shaping and motif placement are outlined below. Often a combination of shaping strategies along with the dictates of a given yoke motif is used to achieve the desired results.

Funnel Shaping with Concentric Rounds

Consider raglan constructions that suggest decreasing 8 sts every other round from underarm to neck; that translates to 4 sts every round. For a circular yoke, you’re decreasing the same number of stitches, but they’re redistributed so there are sections where there is no shaping, then the accumulated stitches are eliminated in a single round a few times throughout the depth of the yoke. The yoke depth on a circular yoke sweater is more customizable because of the non-shaping rounds than its raglan counterpart with its rigid formula.

yoke sweaterThe number of shaping rounds can be anywhere from three to five or more. The stitches from one of the shaping rounds can be converted into raglan shaping. Shaping rounds are positioned closer together toward the neckline and farther apart toward the lower yoke. As much as half of the lower yoke can be worked without any shaping. The number of shaping stitches on each shaping round can be divided fairly evenly, with fewer shaping stitches in the round nearest the neckline, especially if working only three shaping rounds. The rounds between the shaping rounds are worked without shaping and are an excellent opportunity to work design motifs.

Shetland knitters, with their wealth of small colorwork motifs, use this method by inserting plain rounds of knitting between bands of stitch motifs. The shaping occurs in those plain rounds. Elizabeth Zimmermann—the late renowned knitting teacher, PBS host, author and publisher, and designer—also embraced this method and placed three shaping rounds in the top half of the yoke, equally distributing the shaping stitches across each shaping round.

Pattern Shaping

Wedges: Designs with skinny, pie-shaped repeats include the shaping stitches as part of the pattern repeat. These are essentially wedges that are strung together to make a circle.

yoke sweater

There is a bit of trial and error in this approach. Working with graph paper and swatching are essential to developing a wedge motif, as is playing with the numbers. For example, determine your lower yoke stitch count and figure out how many pattern repeats will fit. Then look at what the neckline stitch count will be based on that number of repeats. You may need to adjust the shaping in your wedge, work an extra shaping round between the motif and the neckline, or adapt your original design plan. The traditional Icelandic Lopi sweater takes advantage of the wedge approach.

Shetland Tree and Star: The iconic Shetland pine tree and star motif is distinctive in its shaping as well. The yoke motif is composed of wedge-shaped trees alternating with square-shaped stars.

yoke sweater

All of the shaping in the motif occurs at the ends of the tree branches. Additional concentric shaping rounds before and after the colorwork are often used to achieve the desired stitch counts.

—Holli Yeoh, from The Art of Circular Yokes

All of that is so interesting to me, and probably to you, too. Knitting geeks unite!

yoke sweater

Frosty Flowers by Jenise Hope, from The Art of Circular Yokes

Get yourself a copy of The Art of Circular Yokes today, and join the cool kids in their yoke sweaters.



Want more circular yokes? Check out these resources:

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