Swapping out Shaping

One of the benefits of the interstate move I mentioned is that I now live just a few doors down from my best friend. Obviously this is awesome for about a million every day reasons, but since this is a knitting blog let’s talk about the knitting-related ones. Beth was an occasional knitter for about a year, and she’s certainly kicked things into high gear since we moved.

In fact, she’s now knitting her first sweater!

One of the great things about that is that I’m getting to see, first-hand, in a context where I can pester her with questions, what it’s like to approach sweater knitting as a relative newbie. (Because let’s face it, it’s been a long time since I (or any other designer you’re likely to meet) were in that stage of our sweater-knitting journey.)

I’m fascinated by the fresh slate with which she approaches patterns themselves. I had no understanding of how much context and custom we (pattern writers) assume on the part of the knitter – she’s mentioned several times how vague knitting patterns are. In most cases when a pattern is vague, there’s a reason – different choices exist that you can make entirely based on your own taste, and will probably want to make differently for different sweaters.

So today, I’m starting a series of posts on the options and freedoms you have when you’re knitting any sweater pattern. Things you can do this way, or that way, and still get a great sweater. The first topic is edge shaping.

When shaping on an edge, you have a variety of options that will all produce different looks.

The actual pattern instructions for edge shaping often look something like this:

“Decrease 1 st at each edge every RS row 7 times.”

And as long as you’ve gotten rid of those 14 stitches over the 14 rows specified, you’re pretty much good. So what are your options, and what look will they produce? There are two different parts to how you’ll work your shaping, and they’re independent of each other. So let’s break things down that way.

The first thing to decide is where you’ll work your shaping.

Shaping Placement

Edge shaping should typically be carried out within the 4 or 5 stitches at the edge of the piece, but you can work the shaping wherever you want within that range: Either right at the edge, one stitch in, or more than one stitch in.


Shaping at the edge means that the shaping itself is going to be hidden within the finishing you’ll do – whether you’re going to be seaming that edge, or picking up stitches within it.


Shaping one stitch in means that the shaping will be just outside the seam of whatever finishing you’ll do. It will be visible, but fairly unobtrusive.


Shaping more than one stitch in from the edge means that the shaping itself will become a visual element in the piece. This is sometimes called “fully fashioned shaping”.

Shaping Slant

Wherever your performing the shaping, you can either choose to have it slant with the edge being shaped, or slant against the edge being shaped. All of the images above have shaping that slants with the edge being shaped:


Slanting the shaping with the edge, for example using left-leaning decreases on the right edge and right-leaning decreases on the left edge of the armholes of a sweater back, will make the shaping slightly less eye-catching.


Slanting the shaping against the edge, for example using right-leaning decreases on the right edge and left-leaning decreases on the left edge of the same armholes, will make the shaping slightly more eye-catching.

Putting them together

Putting them together, you’ve got a range of shaping options from completely unobtrusive (shaped at the edge itself, slanting with the edge being shaped):


To fashionably eye-catching (shaped 3 stitches away from the edge, slanting against the edge being shaped):


Which should you choose?

Truly, it’s up to you.

I personally prefer a clean look on sleeve caps most of the time, and on necklines when the yarn itself is somewhat busy, and fully fashioned shaping on neck edges when the yarn and design are more plain – as seen in the new CustomFit Basics sweater Firth:


…but really, truly, it’s a matter of taste. What look do you like, given the rest of what’s going on in the sweater?

17 thoughts on “Swapping out Shaping

  1. Thank you so much for this very clear explanation! I, too, am a very new sweater knitter and only felt confident enough to try sweaters because of CustomFit. I’ve only done shaping one stitch in from the edge, because I learned somewhere that it’s easier to seam that way. I like the look of it right on the edge though, maybe I’ll have to try it sometime to see if it’s really that much harder to seam.

  2. Great post, Amy! This has never been explained to me and your explanation with pictures is crystal clear!

  3. Thank you for a very good and informative blog on shaping placement. Good pictures to go with the blog. Next time I knit a sweater I’m going to check on the blog to decide on shaping placements, just to make sure I’m picking the best way of shaping for the project. Thank you – I always look forward to the blogs you publish, I find them very good and useful.

  4. Thank you! That is an excellent and helpful tutorial! Love your options idea. I’m just starting to design my own sweaters and information like this is invaluable.

  5. Like Laura Lou, I too am a new sweater knitter and am taking on this journey with the help of Custom a Fit (on my second sweater which I have completely frogged with only half a sleeve to go because I did not get gauge and it would have ended up much too big). I appreciate your taking on the basics that are assumed in a pattern (Laura Lou, decreasing on the edge presents some challenges come seaming time, I’m sure you can figure out how I know). Looking forward to future posts, especially on necklines!

  6. What a great post! Your way of explaining things is very effective. I particularly enjoyed what you had learned from teaching your friend. You are absolutely right – without realizing it, we assume a lot of prior knowledge on the part of our student, without intending to do so or realizing that we do! I have been teaching part time for about ten years, and I struggle with this issue every day. And I have knit most of my life, and I find explaining things to a novice very difficult. You are a natural! Keep up the good work!

  7. Thanks for this Amy! I’ve posted a link to this and recommending my knit group follow so they can get some great tips toward construction of beautiful sweaters. I think beginners struggle with “what to do” and us old timers just “do what we always do” instead of thinking through what will look best (or what look do we really want). I’m looking forward to this series.

  8. This is exactly the type of guidance I’m seeking. I know enough to understand that I can stray from the pattern, but I don’t know how each technique influences the result. And I can’t always discern which part of the instruction should not change (like in your example, “…as long as you’ve gotten rid of those 14 stitches over the 14 rows specified, you’re pretty much good.”)

    Knitting seems like cooking—you can use different ingredients and methods than specified by the recipe and still get a successful chicken entree. My problem is that I don’t know which spices do what. In any case, thank you for sharing your knowledge is such an accessible way. I look forward to reading more!

  9. I agree with Gina and Brenda – this is great information, definitely something to think about since I just started a new sweater for my daughter. The pictures are a great help. Thanks, Amy.

  10. Fascinating! Bookmarking this for future reference. But this inexperienced sweater knitter (just two sweaters, one knit in pieces bottom up, the other top down – neither finished!) has a question: Are these options applicable just to traditionally-knit sweaters knit bottom up or also to top down designs?

  11. Fantastic post. I will think about this the next time I get to an edge, but in the meantime… is there a pattern for that glorious mint green and grey sweater picture. I must have it!!

    1. Hey Jen, that’s me in the mint and gray 🙂 If you’re a CustomFit Maker, you can access the pattern here: http://customfit.makewearlove.com/maker/, or there’s details on my Rav project page: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/laureneliz/customfit-6

  12. Shaping doesn’t have to go on the edges only (or even 2-3 stitches in). I had a nice result when I did the sleeve cap shaping in the middle of the sleeve, about 2 inches apart – about even with the top part of the cap. It gave the otherwise plain stockinette a lift, got both sides done on the same row, and didn’t hurt the cap shape.

  13. […] Herzog talked about different ways to shape garments in this excellent […]

  14. i love the photos showing the options. I would love is the pattern were to mention what kind of shaping they chose, so the knitter can chose another one, even if just beginning.

  15. I just finished Wintry Mix for the Deep Winter KAL. As I was seaming, I saw that you had written elsewhere that you liked to decrease one stitch in from the edge. I (inexperienced sweater knitter) had just blindly followed the directions. The seams look fine, but I LOVE this description of choices. Perhaps you could put a link to this post in your Custom Fit patterns under Design Notes or Pattern Notes. Thanks! Now I have to knit another sweater to try this out – or 2 or 3!

  16. Which sweater/project is in the beautiful butterscotch yarn with fully fashioned shaping at the sleeve cap 3 stitches in from the edge (“fashionaby eye-catching”)? LOVE this post and these explanations.

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