I had started this post back when I was up to the shoulders of my ribbed leaf pullover, but life intervened and it languished. Also, the diagrams ended up taking more time than I thought they would. For the record, I write these entries mostly in the half-hour I steal in the morning after breakfast, while my kids are getting dressed for school. Some of the longer and more illustrated ones can take a couple of days to pull together. Yet another reason why my blogging rate has fallen back since leaving the world of consulting for full-time employment.

For the record, I’m now just a couple of rows away from completing the sleeves of the ribbed leaf pullover. I’ll use the piece to do some assembly and finishing posts later this week and next.


Some deadlines have passed, others remain. I did have an hour or so of knitting time last night, which I used to excellent effect, both for some much needed relaxation, and to advance my leaf pullover. I am now finishing up the front, at the point where the centermost stitches are set aside and the shoulders are completed.

Now this stage of production is one that has inspired a huge number of wiseNeedle advice board questions. The directions to join in a second ball of yarn and knit both shoulders at the same time tend to confuse people who are new to knitting. Here’s the basic concept. My postulated directions say something like

Work across 25 in pattern, place center 20 on holder, attach second ball of yarn and work remaining stitches; continue in pattern and commencing on the next wrong-side row, working both sides at the same time, decreasing 3 stitches at each neck edge 2 times, then 1 stitch at neck edge three times. Continue until piece measures 20 inches from bottom and bind off.

Here you see a basic sweater front (or back), knit in green yarn bearing a big R in the center so we can keep track of the right (read public) side. You see all 70 stitches on one needle, ready to commence a right side row.


At this point, I’ve followed the direction to “Work across 25 in pattern, place center 20 on holder”. Note that the stitches on my right hand needle have been completed.


Now I’m beginning the part that confuses many beginners, “attach second ball of yarn and work remaining stitches.” It’s not difficult. We’re going to do the left and right shoulders simultaneously, mirroring all shaping so that they are symmetrical. The stitches on the holder form the bottom of the neck opening. Sometimes the pattern specifies that they be bound off, other times it asks that they be placed on a holder so that they can be used “live” to form the collar. In either case, they are now parked and won’t be touched again until the pattern revisits collar production and finishing.

Take another ball of the same yarn and starting with the stitches on the far side of the stitch holder, finish out the row. Leave enough tail at the neck edge for easy finishing later. This next diagram shows the work after I’ve completed the “work remaining stitches” bit. I’ve finished my right side row.


The diagram below shows the work flipped over to work back across the wrong side (the non-public side). I’ve got my two balls of yarn set up, one for each shoulder area, and I’ve indicated the spots where the decreases should happen.


We’re up to continue in pattern, working both sides at the same time, decreasing 3 stitches at each neck edge 2 times.” The pattern is now directing the shaping of the neckline. When a pattern calls for decreasing more than one stitch at an edge I usually bind off at the beginning of a row. Yes, that makes a stepwise decrease, but as you’ll see I minimize the jaggedness a bit. The only exception to this is if I’m working in a giant superbulky (3 stitches to the inch or fewer). In a yarn that big, the steps can be quite noticeable. But back to 99.99% of all knitting.

To accomplish my first set of bind offs I have to remember to work my rows in pairs beginning on a wrong-side row- two rows each with stitches bound off at the beginning yields symmetrical decreases at the right and left edge of the work. In the diagram above, I am poised to begin my initial shoulder decrease. I have worked back across the first bunch of shoulder stitches, ending at the neck edge. No bind-offs yet. But as I begin the second set of shoulder stitches I bind off the first three, then continue across the row. Then I flip the work over to begin my right-side row, work across the shoulder side I just decreased, and perform a similar decrease on the other shoulder


At the end of my second decrease row (in this case, a public side row) I finally have symmetrical decreases on either side of my neck edge, formed by binding off stitches at the commencement of two successive rows. My bind offs are a bit jagged and step like, but that can be diminished somewhat by slipping rather than working the first stitch bound off prior to ending it off.


I am ready to go on to the next direction in my instructions. It says to decrease “1 stitch at neck edge three times”. It doesn’t say to do this by binding off. I could do it that way, and many patterns say so. But I don’t like the jaggies formed by binding off. If I’ve got only one stitch to get rid of, I’ll use plain old K2tog and SSK decreases. Depending on the pattern, I might work them in the edgemost stitches, or in the next-to-edgemost stitches, allowing them to form some sort of decorative detail. Also unlike the bind-off style decrease, there’s no logical reason to separate these between two successive rows. I generally work them on the same row. Most of the time that’s a right-side (public side) row, but in my current project – a piece with heavy texture patterning – it’s easier to do them on the plain purl worked wrong side, using P2tog and P2tog through the back of the loop so as to produce the same effect on the public side as K2tog and SSK. In any case, I place them on either side of the neck edge, creating the curve that is the foundation for whatever collar treatment is specified by the pattern in hand.

An aside: It’s interesting to note that older patterns more commonly suggested completion of one shoulder and then the other rather than knitting them in parallel. Most often those pattens gave directions for the first shoulder, and then said something like “repeat for second shoulder, reversing shaping as necessary.” (A direction that caused me to blink in wide-eyed terror while knitting my very first sweater.) There’s no reason why patterns written in that style can’t be worked in the “at the same time” method. I prefer the two-together method because it’s how I idiot-proof my own knitting to ensure that my shoulders end up being exact cognates of each other. But not everyone likes working this way.

Reasons to stick with the older method might include the unavailability of a second ball (if for example you are working off one immense cone of yarn and don’t want to break it to create a second ball); or the need to concentrate on one set of shaping directions at a time. So long as the you take care to make sure that row counts are the same and that placement of the decreases is a parallel as possible, working one shoulder at a time is a perfectly legitimate way to go. There’s no shame in working the one at a time method, it’s just a matter of mental wiring and personal comfort.

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One response

  1. Thanks for this explanation of working shoulders at the same time. I came across this in one of my first projects, and really had no idea what they were talking about. It was the "decrease X stitches at each neck edge" that stumped me. I did what I felt would work and be *close enough,* which was to bind off on two successive rows as I came to that edge, and I’m really glad to see here that this is also what you do. I guess my fudging of the pattern wasn’t so fudg-ish after all! Whew. Your diagrams are really clear and it helps a ton! Thanks again.

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