Skip to content

Dear Patty,

Why is it that my round yoke sweaters seem to pucker at the back? It looks like there’s too much fabric at the back, but how do I adapt a pattern for that when almost all the round yoke sweater patterns I’ve seen split the stitches evenly for the front and back?

Thanks,
Emily

Dear Emily,

I feel your pain. A friend used to call that pucker “bubble back.” A universally unflattering look. There are oh so many things that can go deliciously right in a yoke sweater, but fit can be tricky—in part because when we work seamlessly, all our moving parts are going at the same time, making it a little challenging to get a custom fit than when working each piece separately.

Let’s consider the whys.

A Yoke Sweater = A Cape + 3 Tubes

One unique challenge in yoke construction: no armholes. The sleeves and body are worked in three tubes, then joined in one piece. Because there is no armhole or sleeve cap, a yoke sweater is really one round cape-like piece that goes over the shoulders. Yoke depth and underarm stitches are key to a good fit.

The worst advice I was given when I was a new top-down sweater knitter was to continue shaping the yoke until it could pass the “pinch test.” I was told the yoke should be long and wide enough that after putting it over my head, I could comfortably pinch the front and back of the yoke together under my arms.

The first free top-down pattern I ever knit had NO underarm stitches (yes, mom, you DO get what you pay for). After finishing the yoke, I divided for the body and knit that tube and then worked the sleeves. My arms were kind of pinned to my body and when I tried to move them, I looked like a flapping penguin. NOOOOO!

If you’d like to avoid the penguin look, remember the “pinch test” should leave a gap of 2–5 inches (5–13 cm) for the underarm stitches to be cast on. I like to use the guideline of approximately 8% of your finished chest size for your underarm stitches.

The Size of Things

In many cases, to find the best yoke fit, it’s best to use your high chest or upper torso measurement and add ease to that number. Your upper torso measurement is found by lifting your arms and wrapping the tape measure around your torso just below your armpit. Make sure to take the measurement with your arms lowered and relaxed.

Now add your desired ease to that measurement. This, in conjunction with the right yoke depth and underarm stitches, will equal the right fit for many.

Here’s me wearing Simone. (Pattern’s not out yet, but I’ll make the release announcement in my newsletter here.)

I am wearing the 36″ (91 cm) chest. That is 2.5″ (6 cm) of ease in my UPPER torso, but only 1″ (2.5 cm) ease in my full chest.

Here’s the same sweater but with 3″ (7.6 cm) positive ease over the high chest measurement and 2″ (5 cm) positive ease over the full chest.

Photo by Gale Zucker

A More Refined Fit

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, what happens if you have a large difference between your high chest and full chest? Is all lost? NOOOO. There are two options, and what’s right for you depends on the pattern, the yarn weight, and your measurements.

Option 1: Combine sizes

If you are working bottom up, you can start with a larger size, but then rework the yoke decreases so you decrease down to the smaller size by the neck.

Pattern considerations: This might be a good option if your yoke shaping is done in rounds, rather than working in charted wedges, since you can simply rework how many decreases are done in each decrease round.

Yarn considerations: This also works best with a finer, drapier yarn.

Option 2: Move the arms

It’s true that yoke patterns put the arms at your side and divide the stitches equally front and back, but do YOU have to? NOOOOO.

Put on a tank top or tightly fitted tee, crack out the tape measure and two safety pins.

Lift up your arms and put a safety pin through the shirt right in the center of your underarm, level with your bust—on both sides (note that your underarm center might not be at the side seam of the shirt). Now measure from safety pin to safety pin across your back and then across your front. If there is more than 2″ (5 cm) difference between the front and the back, shifting where you divide for sleeves will give you a better fit.

Say there is a 2 ½″ (6.4  cm) difference between your front and back measurements. You’ll want to divide your front and back stitch counts to move each sleeve toward the back by 1 ¼″ (3.2 cm).

If we were working a bottom up yoke, and as written, your size for a pattern knit to a gauge of 6 stitches per inch (2.5 cm) with a yoke stitch count of 192 stitches allots 80 stitches each for the back, 80 stitches for the front, and 16 stitches for the underarm bind off, you’ll move the underarm bindoff (where the sleeves will join)toward the back by 7 stitches on each side.

How’d I do that math? Simple. I multiplied the number of inches of front-side ease I wanted on each side by the gauge.

That line between the K40 and K33 marks the center back.

Bottom up yoke (pattern as written)

192 stitches for body. End of round marker is at center back

Knit 40, BO 16 st for underarm, knit 80, BO 16 sts for underarm,  knit to end of round marker

Our adjustments:

1) Multiply the number or inches we’d like to move our sleeves x gauge

1.25 x 6 = 7.5

We’ll move our sleeves back by 7 stitches.

Just subtract 7 from the back on each side and add 7 to the front on each side.

Our bottom up yoke

192 stitches for body. End of round marker is at center back

Knit 33 (original pattern–7), BO 16 st for underarm, knit 94 (original pattern + 14), BO 16 sts for underarm, knit to end of round marker

Are we doomed to bubble back? Do we have to knit a pattern as written? Say it with me, NOOOOOO!

About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at askpattymdk@gmail.com.

 

34 Comments

  • Great advice! During the last year, I have knitted my sweaters using the measure of my upper bust instead of bust as most patterns suggest, and they fit much better, from now on I will take the advice of adding the suggested ease to that measure also. Thanks as always, Miss Patty. Greetings from Argentina!

  • I think this is why I have not been a successful sweater knitter. I have narrow shoulders and short arms but also a large bust. And I honestly did not know how to adapt patterns to fit my body. The sleeves I can figure out. But adapting to the shoulder/ bust situation has never allowed a knit sweater to fit well on me. Cardigans have been my sweater of choice for fit. Although those aren’t perfect either because the bust situation still exists. Maybe once I move past menopausal brain, I’ll be able to make sense of all this, and that’s some awesome sweaters! lol!

    • Also a member of the small shoulders, large bust club! I like yoked sweaters, but always do them top down, because the shoulder fit is so finicky. I often reknit or rethink the shoulders.

      What I usually do is add an extra increase row (or two) in the front to accommodate the bust. I do have to study any color work to make sure there is a way to do this without distorting the pattern. Working these extra stitches in, sometimes in combination with short rows on each side, gets me a sweater that fits neatly on my shoulders, with room for everything below.

  • Another tremendously helpful lesson! I love “Simone” and will be watching my inbox for the release announcement!

  • Patty, thanks so much once again. I had sworn off knitting sweaters because I just couldn’t get them to fit. Now, your clear explanations make it possible for even this barely-intermediate knitter to contemplate another pullover sweater. Some day.

    • Noooo. Don’t give up on sweaters. Altering sweaters of any construction (or gauge) is waaaay easier than you think. I have an education site that has many video sweater classes and each one teaches alterations – https://education.pattylyons.com/collections

  • Trying to wrap my head around flipping this advice for puckering under the front neckline. You see this effect on so many patterns – even the pattern photos themselves. Is the yoke too deep (too may rows?) I have no construction/design skills so can’t figure it out. Any advice on that?

    • This is most likely from seamless knits that don’t use short row shaping to drop the front neck lower. The higher the neck the more puckering you’ll see at the neckline. Simone is a nice wide neck, but even with the all over lace, I sneak in 4 rows of shaping so the back of the sweater is 4 rows longer than the front.

  • Thanks so much! I wondered how to more the armholes round evenly and whether that would have the desired effect. I assume the same can be done for a top-down sweater, right?

    • Where is the gap in the pinch test? Between your fingers? Wouldnt that mean knitting less of a yoke? Tnx!

      • It’s between the front and back of the yoke together under my arms. Visualize putting a cape over your head.

        IF the yoke is correctly designed then there should be space to bind off (bottom up) or cast on (top down) underarm stitches.

  • When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’ve been struggling with just this issue on a side to side cardigan vest. As usual, you have broken it down very clearly. Thanks so much, Patty!

  • My gosh what a lot of useful information! Thank you to you, (and your ancestors) for being a genius!
    I’ve often thought and even said aloud, if I had only known the importance of algebra to my knitting and other arts & crafts, I would have learned it… I know, it’s not too late. However, thankfully there are others with the gift/strength willing to do it for the greater good as well as share it with the masses.

  • Thanks, Patty, for your helpful comments on yoke sweater fit . I have shied away from them fearing poor fit; however, your tutorial has given me courage to try one. The upper bust measurement seems to be particularly relevant for smaller busted gals. Any additional comments would be most appreciated.

    • Actually, the use of the high chest is more important for anyone with a larger difference between the skeletal measurement (high chest) and flesh measurement (full chest). When knitters with a larger difference between the two use the full bust and add ease on top of that, the whole sweater is a sack.

      If you have a larger difference, you want to base your overall size on your skeletal measurement so it fits your shoulders, and then adjust from there. There are so many simple ways to adjust a sweater and they depend on different types of sweater construction. You might be using vertical bust darts, short rows, working a different size front and back (for pieces) changing rate of shaping (for seamless). So many ways.

  • OMG, that’s brilliant. Just starting a yoke sweater yesterday, and that will help me with the fit because I am so full in front. thank you.

  • Sometimes we need others to give us the lightbulb for over our head. As someone with a large bust, I’ve struggled for many sweaters to fit if made as written. Now I will use my upper bust measurement and add ease. Hopefully this will eliminate the look of wearing an awning.

    • I am with you 100%. What a valuable, wonderful post from Patty. Thank you!

    • “wearing an awning”, my first lol of the day. Thanks.

  • Patty, absolutely brilliant, as always. Thank you, thank you!

  • My problem is that larger sizes assume a tall person which I’m not so I have to recalculate the yoke shaping into far fewer rows

  • So brilliant! Yokes are the devil for fit – and also ubiquitous. I appreciate so much revealing ‘why’ and approaching the idea that you don’t have to accept ill fitting yokes – it’s not you, it’s them. Brava.

  • I always love your posts! I’ve only done one yoke sweater, and didn’t face this issue because it’s a very squishy cardigan. I, too have a large bust and relatively narrow shoulders. “Simone” is a dreamy top, and I love the “yoke that is also the sleeve” effect – this visually gives us with narrower shoulders some help. Alas, the transition between the lace and stockinette sections will draw the eye precisely where we don’t want it. Hmm. I suppose with more math-ing, the transition could become v-shaped in front, which could be gorgeous. Hmm.

  • Would the same principle/math apply to cardigans for those of us who are large busted and need more positive ease in the front than back?

  • Could someone please clarify for me how to determine the right yoke depth?

  • Brilliant! As usual!

  • Very interesting! I’ll be revisiting this article the next time I begin a yoked sweater. Thank you!

  • You are in one word GENIUS! Thank you for making it seem so simple.

  • Congrats on this article. Finally, so nice to know that someone else knows our bodies are not cardboard tubes. Also, an article on short rows for the bust so sweater doesn’t ride up at the bottom in the front. Some of us have small frames and large bust lines. Thank you.

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Here you go – https://www.moderndailyknitting.com/community/ask-patty-the-long-and-the-short-of-it/
  • Any suggestions for someone with a small bust (men’s sweaters are great!) and broad, square shoulders? I find that 99 percent of yoked sweater patterns are designed for Very Sloping Shoulders and ride up terribly–to the point that I know go up 1-2 sizes over my bust, do a provisional cast on where the neckline/ribbing meets the top of the yoke, and start there. Then I return after sleeve separation or when the body is finished, and add any needed adjustments from the provisional cast on up–sometimes adding short rows before doing to the ribbing. I’ve also recently learned about lengthening with short rows on the back below the yoke–I’d been doing it when I get to the hem.

    The corollary issue is cardigans, where everything sags in the from because of said small bust (which is how I got to the short rows just above the bottom ribbing to even things out). So many tutorials are geared to large bust adjustments, but Very Little for small bust! THANKS as always for simple yet perfect ways to figure stuff out. The tank+ safety pins+measuring! WOOT!

    • I’m of a similar build, and was interested to see on knitting youtube channel (Mel Makes Stuff it’s called) who modifies her yoke sweaters to fit her broader shoulders by moving the armholes more to the front in order to fit her shape. It might be something to try…

    • Not all sweater constructions are right for all body shapes. A yoke is basically a cape. A set in sleeve construction would be great for you. Raglan is also a great shape for small bust and square shoulders.

  • wish I could print this out to have while I’m knitting.

  • Hi Patty
    I am about to embark on a 2nd yoke sweater. After my first one got a pouch in the back, I blamed it on the short rows being done after the yoke design but before sleeve separation. I ripped it back and skipped them. Now I want to try again, but right after neck ribbing, I don’t mind my design being an inch or two lower on back.
    But is it possible that the bubble can also happen from short rows at back of neck going short to long vs long to short? Is there any difference?
    This is keeping me awake at night!
    Val

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping