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Knitting: Shawl Collars

Aunt Toby is a big believer in keeping necks warm. I would argue that for all the ‘wear a hat’ business out there, wearing something around the neck (whether it’s a turtleneck shirt, a scarf, etc.) actually provides more insurance for maintaining body heat than a hat does, especially if you are inside rather than outside. On the other hand, though, wearing a turtleneck sweater can be pretty…sweaty, and there is no way to modify that, which is why most people wear either a cardigan, or a crewneck with a turtleneck shirt underneath. You can always unbutton the top couple of buttons if you get overly warm. But neither of those items covers the neck and if you are in a place where it’s drafty or just downright chilly (ahem, like Chez Siberia where we keep the daytime temps, even when people are in the house, at 60 degrees F. Do not ask what the night time temps are: Does the phrase “can see your breath’ mean anything?), you might want to reach for the scarf.

Well, a shawl collar is sort of an adjustable scarf that is attached to the neck of a sweater. If it’s really cold, you just flip up the collar and it will cover the whole back of your neck and you will be toasty and warm. If you get overly warm, then you can just fold down the neck and you’ve opened up more breathing room. Great stuff.

I’ve been working on a sweater for our grandson (yes, he’s lovely and has started to walk, thank you for asking) and wanted to build in a shawl collar because as a little person, he has the challenge of being able to maintain his body heat since the ratio of ‘skin area’ to ‘body mass’ is such that he’s throwing off BTUs like crazy all the time and I can’t get him to keep his hat on for anything (see, there is THAT issue with hats too – I can’t imagine he worries about ‘hat hair’ since he has so little hair, but…). Now, I could have just put a v-neck into the sweater, but I don’t like the look of a shawl collar put into a v-neck, so I bound off the center 2″ of stitches. Here is how I did this: Your mileage may vary in terms of sweaters you are making.

Once you’ve got the top of your sweater done (this one is an ‘in the round’ item, but you can do this with a ‘knit the front and back separately and sew up the shoulders’ sort of sweater also), pick up the stitches around the neck according to your pattern or your usual method. I use the ‘pick up 5 and skip one stitch all around’ method. Now, before you start knitting or purling or anything, you need to remember that this collar will, at some point in its lifetime, be folded down so that the inside can be seen. So you want to use some sort of stitch pattern that will look the same on the inside and the outside. I used knit two/purl two ribbing here. It’s not my favorite ribbing but it does look the same on both sides. Another stitch pattern that will work is garter or moss stitch. One of the reasons I used ribbing however, is that I wanted this collar to pull in around the baby’s neck to keep him warm. Garter and moss stitch doesn’t do that; those stitches give you sort of a flat piece of material. But again, it’s your choice. As you can see from the photo, I’ve left the bound off stitches in the middle free and I’ve done a collar about 4″ high (you want a collar that is tall enough that when it’s flipped up, it will reach the bottom of the wearer’s ears – so that when it’s folded over, it gives a nice, luxurious roll.

Take the bottom short edge of the collar and bed it around so that the very last bound off stitch at the end is matched up with the inside edge on the opposite side of the bound off stitches in the center of the sweater. Pin and then firmly sew/graft the bound off center stitches to the short edge of the collar (see next photo).

So, you have one side secured – see the other side sort of flapping there. The next thing you do is flip that over, matching the bottom of the short side of the collar to the bottom of where you sewed the other side of the collar down. Do not stretch it so that the edge of the collar matches the other edge at the other side of the bound off stitches of the sweater. I’m not sure what it is, but it always deforms the collar and give me a nasty result. Now, having said THAT, I’m admitting that I am a lazy tyke and I could, should I wish, make that end of the collar more triangular with several short rows which would lengthen that end of the collar. This would enable me to have extra fabric to match up that other corner and it would look very nice indeed. But I’m lazy and I did not do that; I just flopped the collar down and sewed it down (see the photo at the top). It doesn’t meet the corner – it’s a couple of rows in and that is ok.

Now, what if you want a REALLY luxurious shawl collar (and don’t want to worry about right side and wrong side stitches). Then you knit your collar twice the height, fold it inside and sew it loosely to where you cast on the collar stitches. Then you do the bottom edges of the collar to the middle cast off stitches. That is a very very warm collar indeed and is the sort of thing that you see on sweaters designed to be worn out of doors. For an inside sweater, a single layer is enough.

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One Comment

  1. Duchesse says:

    What an adorable, quirky sweater! I would wear it (in a big size)! You know how families have their own words? When small, my sons would often pull on their turtlenecks backwards… so they were called neckleturts.

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