Decreases and Increases for Sweater Knitting

Increases and decreases. Making more stitches, making fewer. Seems as though that would be a simple topic, yes? Nope. Knitters are clever, and we've come up with lots of clever ways to make more and to make fewer. This abundance of cleverness means that we have an abundance of choices to make when we are putting a little shaping into our sweaters, and, as MT of the comments points out, for so many of us, our knowledge has been handed down from one knitter to another…but this does not necessarily mean that we know what our choices are and how to choose wisely.

M1L: Step 1 of Left-slanting M1 increase (see entire stitch)

Stitches That Shape But Don't Steal The Show

Let's focus on the increases and decreases used in shaping, such as the waist shaping we've been talking about lately. I'm going to give you my opinions, based on the bazillion knitting patterns I've edited and read and knitted, and the insights taught me by all the talented folks who walk in and out of the Interweave front doors each day. But you folks know stuff too, of course, so if you have something cool and useful to teach us about increasing and decreasing, leave a comment!

For sweater shaping in general, you want decreases and increases that look like they are part of the fabric design—remember, these are not meant to create a stitch pattern, they are meant to widen or narrow the fabric. This doesn't mean the increases or decreases have to be invisible, it just means they ought not to be little divas and shout "LOOK AT ME! I'm a DECREASE!" One way to ensure that your shaping stitches support the rest of your sweater design is to work your increases/decreases so that they slant towards some sort of center line. This center line can be a side seam, for sweaters worked flat; or if the sweater is done in the round, the centerline can be a pretend "side seam" set off by markers. The slanting-towards-a-vertical-seam effect helps the eye move up and down, emphasizing the curve of your shaping.

M1R: Step 1 of Right-slanting M1 increase (see entire stitch)

For decreasing: I prefer to use an ssk before the "side seam," as it leans to the left—towards the "seam." After the "seam," I use a k2tog, which leans to the right, again towards the "seam."

For increases: A M1 serves well, provided you actually do a M1, twisting the loop as you knit, rather than a yarnover! For before the "seam," there's the lovely M1L, shown above; and for after the seam, there's the charming M1R, shown at right.

Special decreases for working in the round

If you are working in the round, you might want to try one of the beautiful "double decreases" out there, where more-than-two stitches are decreased down to one in the same decrease. This produces a single line of decreases, rather than a double line; the single line can give you a nice visual effect up the sides of your garment, resembling a fake seam. These double decreases can also give a bit more structure to the sides, helping the fabric to avoid sagging—particularly useful if the yarn is either very slippery or very heavy.

Here is one such double decrease suggested by one of the commenters (he/she did not leave a name so we could say thank you!):

If there are as many as Sandi has in her imaginary-sweater-in-the-round then a double decrease (sl, k2tg, psso) [at the "side seams"] would be pretty. That would create small triangles facing the waist.

A beautiful alternative to Ms. (Mr.?) Anonymous's suggestion would be a vertical double decrease: Slip 2 sts as if to k2tog, k1, pass 2 slipped sts over. This creates a non-leaning stitch that points upwards at the side of your in-the-round garment. Lovely.

Which one is the RIGHT one?

Ah, c'mon. You know me well enough by now… Everyone sing along with me: The Right Stitch Is The One That Is Right For YOU! Do a little swatch of a pretend side seam, try out the different decreases and see how they look with the particular yarn and pattern you are using. Then: Choose the one you like best! After all: It's Your Knitting, Not Mine. 

 You asked so many interesting questions during our discussions on waist shaping that I have made a file of them and will be answering them in future posts.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a comment, and look for your wise questions, and my oh-so-charming answers, in the weeks ahead. 


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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