In recent days I’ve had some interesting discussions about yokes. They began when I sent out a pre-release copy of a top-down raglan sleeved sweater pattern, in which I labeled one of the sections ‘Yoke.’ A couple of knitters promptly replied to point out that the pattern was for a raglan sweater, not for a ‘yoked’ sweater.
Thankfully, we were all correct.
I am aware that some knitters use the term yoke to refer specifically to circular yokes of the kind with concentric colourwork or lace motifs (i.e. Scéal Grá, pictured above). However, the definition of a yoke in the context of garment construction is in fact far broader. All sweaters, no matter how they are constructed, have yokes.
The yoke of a sweater is the section that goes over your head and sits above the underarms. If you imagine a horizontal line at underarm level, the yoke is everything above it - including the neckline, shoulders, upper chest, upper back, and sleeve caps, as applicable.
The term yoked construction refers to methods of crafting a garment (whether by sewing or knitting) where the yoke is worked as a distinct pattern piece.
For hand-knitting, this means that the yoke can be knitted seamlessly in the round, with either circular, raglan, or contiguous construction, or any combination thereof. On a top down sweater, for instance, the yoke is the bit you do prior to dividing for sleeves. On a bottom up sweeter, the yoke is the bit you do after attaching the sleeves.
A yoke can also be knitted flat, then pieced together with other parts of the garment.
In short: A circular colourwork yoke is certainly a type of yoke. But not all yokes need be of this style. The yoke is simply the upper part of a sweater, from underarm to neck opening.
I hope this brings some clarity to the topic.