Deep Dive: Choose the Best Increase or Decrease for Your Knitting Design

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There are a lot of increases and decreases in knitting, and they're not just random. Designers choose particular increases and decreases for specific reasons. If you're just starting out in the world of designing, knowing how these stitches take shape will be really helpful for writing your pattern.

Let's do a deep dive into the single decreases and increases you can choose from when you're deciding which shaping stitches to include in your design.

Single decreases

Decreases are almost always worked on right side rows, but some decreases have a wrong side equivalent in case you need to work a decrease on the wrong side row.

There are two basic single right side increases to choose from: ssk and k2tog. One decrease leans to the right, and the other leans to the left; both stitches decrease the stitch count by one stitch. Here's a closer look:

SSK (slip, slip, knit)

Wrong side equivalent: SSP (slip, slip, purl)

This decrease leans to the left on the knit side of stockinette stitch. When you slip the stitches to the other needle, you're twisting them so they're oriented in a different direction than the stitches in the rest of the row. That's what makes them lean to the left.

In the swatch above, the decrease row is worked like this:

Decrease row: K3, SSK, knit to end of row.

This creates a nice edging along the decreased side of the work. This decrease looks very neat when it's applied to a decreased right edge like a triangle shawl worked from the top down, for example.

K2tog (knit 2 together)

Wrong side equivalent: P2tog (purl 2 together)

The K2tog is the opposite of the SSK: it leans to the right on the knit side of stockinette stitch. When you knit the two stitches together, the second stitch in the decrease is being tugged over to meet and overlap the first stitch, and that's what creates the right lean.

In the swatch above, the decrease row is worked like this:

Decrease row: Knit across to last 5 stitches, K2tog, k3.

Opposite the SSK, this works well for left edges to give them a nice, clean look.

K2tog + SSK working together

The k2tog and ssk often work together to decrease one stitch at each end of a row. If you're working in the round, you might work the k2tog at the beginning of the round, then work the ssk at the end of the round so that they lean in toward each other. For example:

Round 1: K1, k2tog, knit to last 3 stitches, ssk, k1.

This will cause the stitches to meet in the middle, creating a kind of triangle shape that draws the eye up.

Single increases

Like decreases, increases are almost always worked on right side rows. These three increases each add one stitch to the stitch count:

M1L (Make 1 Left)

Wrong side equivalent: P1L (Purl 1 Left)

This increases is almost entirely invisible, making it desirable especially on garments. Like its name indicates, the increase leans to the left.

When you lift the bar between the stitches, the direction in which the stitch is twisted determines how the stitch leans.

M1R (Make 1 Right)

Wrong side equivalent: P1R (Purl 1 Right)

Like M1L, this increase is almost completely invisible. As the name indicates, the increase leans to the right. 

Also just like the M1L, the direction in which the stitch is twisted when you lift the bar between stitches determines how the stitch leans.

M1L and M1R working together

M1L and M1R are often used in combination when you want to decrease one stitch at each end of the work. In sweater sleeves worked flat from the cuff up, for example, the sleeve would have M1R on the right side of the sleeve and M1L on the left side of the sleeve like this:

Increase row: K1, m1R, work as established to last st, m1L, k1.

When you seam the sleeve, you'll have neat increases that lean toward the middle of the seam as the sleeve grows.

KFB or K1FB (knit into the front and back of the stitch)

Wrong side equivalent: PFB or P1FB (purl into the front and back of the stitch)

This increase is a visible increase that's sometimes called a bar increase. Take a look at the swatch and you'll see why! No matter which side you work the increase on, you'll see a little horizontal bar appear right next to the increased stitch. It looks kind of like a knit stitch with a purl stitch right beside it.

Because of that horizontal bar, KFB is often used for increases in garter stitch. You can use it with other stitches, of course, but just be prepared to see that visible bar.

Which increase and decrease is your favorite to use?

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Deep Dive: Choose the Best Increase or Decrease for Your Knitting Design