Knitting Increases, Up Close
The primary purpose of increases in knitting is to shape the fabric by adding new stitches, but there is also a cosmetic element to consider. As with most other knitting techniques, there are several different increase methods to choose from, and each method has certain characteristics that distinguish it from the others. So how does one go about deciding which increase to use in a particular situation? The best way is to become familiar with several methods so that if one isn’t working, another one can be used instead.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at some common (and not so common) increase methods to see exactly what gives each increase its particular appearance. The steps to create each increase are included, but our focus will be on the final result. (If you need more information about how to work a particular increase, visit our online glossary.)
(Note: In the illustrations, I’ve omitted the knitting needles so you can see the stitches more clearly.)
There are two major categories of increase methods: those that create stitches in the strand between the needles and those that create stitches in existing stitches. Usually, one type can be substituted for the other, but the stitch counts will need to be adjusted accordingly.
All increases have direction in that they lean to the right or to the left. Most increases have both a right and left version, but some of the increases I’ve included here don’t seem to have right-leaning counterparts. They may exist, but I couldn’t find them, so I created my own right-leaning versions for the purposes of this article.
When a pattern mentions working paired increases, it usually means that right and left increases are worked on opposite ends of the same row—for example, on each side of a sleeve or body armholes. Paired increases can also be worked on either side of a center stitch.
Some increases are very visible and are meant to be decorative, and some are almost invisible. Even so-called invisible increases may be visible when worked on a smooth pattern such as stockinette stitch. Some increases may look similar to one another, but there are actually subtle differences among them.
INCREASES WORKED BETWEEN STITCHES
A stitch can be created between stitches on the needles in a couple of different ways: either by knitting (or purling) the strand of yarn that connects two stitches or by using the working yarn to create a loop on the needle. The first type of increase is called a Make 1 and the second is called a Loop Cast-on.
All the methods shown here involve twisting the stitch to eliminate a hole. For decorative increases that leave a hole, simply omit the twist.
Make 1 Left (M1L)
Insert the left needle from front to back under the strand that runs between the two needles. Knit this strand through the back loop so the right leg twists to the left over the left leg. In the illustration, the M1L is shown on the blue row below the gray working row.
Make 1 Right (M1R)
Insert the left needle from back to front under the strand that runs between the two needles. Knit this strand through the front loop so the left leg twists to the right over the right leg.
Make 2 (M2; also known as Double M1 Inc)
An M2 is created by working an M1R and an M1L in the same strand between needles. It is a very visible increase that can be used to create a decorative vertical line of purl bumps in the center of a piece. Make sure to work one or more plain rows between increase rows so there are strands available to work into.
The Loop Cast-on is worked by wrapping the yarn around the right needle. It is similar to the Make 1, but the Loop Cast-on uses more yarn, which makes it a little looser. This can be useful in places such as the yokes of sweaters where the increases need a little extra give.
As with the Make 1, the loop can be twisted to the right or to the left.
Left Loop Cast-On
In this illustration, the working row is shown in blue and the Left Loop Cast-On appears between two stitches on the same row (rather than in the row below the working row, as for the Make 1).
Right Loop Cast-On
The Right Loop Cast-on is also referred to as a “Backward-Loop” Cast-on because the right-slanting leg of the loop sits behind the needle and the left-slanting leg sits in front. It will be necessary to work this stitch through the back loop on the following row so it won’t have a double twist.
Another way to work an increase that closely resembles the Loop Cast-on is to work a yarnover on one row, then twist the yarnover on the following wrong-side row. To work a Left Twisted Yarnover, work a regular yarnover on a right-side row, then purl into the back loop of the yarnover on the next wrong-side row to twist the stitch to the left. To work a Right Twisted Yarnover, work a backward yarnover (bringing the yarn over the needle from back to front) on a right-side knit row, then purl into the front loop of the yarnover to twist the stitch to the right.
INCREASES WORKED IN EXISTING STITCHES
Increases that are worked in existing stitches can be worked either into the stitch on the needle or into the stitch in the row below the stitch on the needle.
Lifted increases are usually considered to be the most invisible of all the increases. They are often described (a little tongue-in-cheek) in terms of familial relationships: The stitches that sit on the needle are the daughters, the stitches below these stitches are the mothers, and the stitches below the mothers are the grandmothers. In the illustrations below, I’ve numbered each stitch to make them easier to identify.
Left Lifted Increase (LLI)
The LLI is worked into the stitch two rows below the stitch on the right needle. In the illustration, Stitch 1 (the daughter) is the stitch that would sit on the right needle, Stitch 2 is the mother, and Stitch 3 is the grandmother. To work the increase, insert the tip of the left needle from back to front into the left side of Stitch 3 and knit into it. Stitch 4 is the increase (which, I guess, makes it an aunt?).
Right Lifted Increase (RLI)
The RLI is worked into the stitch one row below the stitch on the left needle. The illustration shows the increase after it is complete and the rest of the row has been worked. Before the increase is worked, Stitch 1 (the daughter) sits on the left needle, and Stitch 2 (the mother) is the stitch below the stitch on the left needle. To work the increase (Stitch 3), insert the tip of the right needle from back to front into the right side of Stitch 2, place this stitch on the left needle, and knit into it. Stitch 4, created by knitting Stitch 1, isn’t considered part of the increase.
Knit Front and Back (KFB, also known as K1f&b and Bar Increase)
To work this increase, knit into the front of a stitch but don’t remove the old stitch from the left needle; bring the right needle behind the left needle and knit into the back of the same stitch, creating a second stitch to the left of the first knitted stitch. The top of the old stitch forms a horizontal bar across the second stitch. Because the bar is positioned to the left of the stitch, KFB increases are usually mirrored by working the increase on the right-hand side one stitch closer to the edge than the increase on the left-hand side so that the bar falls the same distance from the edge on both sides.
After a little trial and error, I came up with a method that makes the bar appear to the right of the stitch instead of the left. It’s a little more complicated than just knitting into the front and back of a stitch, but having both versions may make it easier to pair the increases because they can both be worked the same distance in from each edge. Since the KFB isn’t usually considered to have a counterpart, it is simply referred to as the Bar Increase. However, if I were using both versions in a pattern, I’d call the KFB a “Left Bar Increase” and its counterpart a “Right Bar Increase.”
Right Bar Increase
Slip 1 knitwise, then return this stitch to the left needle so that the right leg of the stitch is in back of the needle and the left leg is in front. Knit into what is now the front leg of the stitch so that the stitch twists to the right, removing the old stitch from the left needle, then insert the tip of the left needle under this right-slanting leg and knit into it.
Knit Front, Slip Back (KFSB)
This increase is often touted as an “easier way to work a KFB that doesn’t leave a bar,” but it would be more accurate to describe it as “an easier way to work an LLI” because the end result is exactly the same. (This can be seen by comparing the arrangement of the blue and white stitches in the illustration below to stitches 2 and 3 of the LLI.) There is no gray row for the KFSB because that row hasn’t been worked yet, but the increase is essentially complete when there are two stitches on the needle.
To work the KFSB, knit into the front of the stitch (leaving the stitch on the needle as for the KFB), then bring the right needle behind the left needle and, instead of knitting into the back loop, slip the stitch to the right needle without working it. (Actually, it isn’t necessary to bring the right needle to the back of the work before slipping the stitch; this seems to be an unnecessary holdover from the KFB.) In the illustration, the blue stitch is the stitch that was knitted and the elongated white stitch below it is the one that was slipped.
It may even be a better selling point to call the KFSB an easier way to work an LLI because, unlike the KFB (which is the first increase most knitters learn), the LLI is pretty fiddly to work. The only reason I wouldn’t use this as an alternative method for working the LLI is that there isn’t a correlating easy RLI. After a little experimenting, I came up with something that works, but it’s more complicated than just working a regular RLI.
Right Version of KFSB
K1 (the blue stitch in the illustration below), then slip this stitch back to the left needle without twisting it. Insert the tip of the right needle from back to front into the top of the stitch in the row below (the white stitch), then slip the knit stitch to the right needle.
Knit Back and Front (KBF)
The bar can be an interesting design detail, but if you really don’t like it, knitting into the back and then the front of a stitch can minimize it. However, doing so twists the stitch in the row below and isn’t very attractive.
To keep the stitch from twisting, you need to reorient it before knitting into the back of it.
Slip 1 knitwise, then return the stitch to the left needle so the right leg is in back and the left leg is in front. Now knit into the back and front of it.
Getting a version of this increase that results in the bar falling to the right of the stitch took a little doing, and it’s so fiddly that I will probably never use it, but I’ve included it here anyway.
Right Version of KBF Untwisted
Knit 1 stitch through the back loop so the right leg twists to the left over the left leg, insert the tip of the left needle from back to front under the left leg (the lower leg) of the stitch, and knit into it.
Whether you’re following a pattern that doesn’t specify an increase or you want your increases to have a different appearance than the ones called for in a pattern, being familiar with a few different methods will provide you with greater control over your project.
Joni Coniglio is the senior project editor for the Interweave knitting group.