Decoding Lace Shaping: Increasing and Decreasing in Lace Knitting

Handling garment shaping while simultaneously maintaining a lace stitch pattern can seem daunting. Do you stop working a lace pattern as soon as decreases begin? How do you increase while maintaining the pattern at the start of a row? And what about challenging situations such as a front bodice, where shaping occurs at both ends of the row but at different rates? And the final question, are you ready to conquer lace knitting?

In this article, I’ll cover several approaches that will help you handle shaping in common scenarios—such as sleeves, armholes, and necklines—with confidence as you plan your attack on lace knitting. The key lies in planning.

Charting Your Plan

Each decrease in a lace pattern must be paired with a yarnover in order to maintain a consistent stitch count. It takes careful planning to ensure that you correctly maintain your stitch counts for a lace pattern while simultaneously working the shaping stitches.

A chart to plan for the shaping will create the clearest roadmap for error-free shaping. Start by charting the pattern repeats for your garment and then draw the shaping lines for decreases and increases. In some cases, you may want to chart out the full width of the pattern piece; however, in simple shaping situations, you can map out your plan with a small number of repeats (those nearest the shaping lines).

Work bound-off edges and selvedge stitches in stockinette to make picking up stitches and seaming easier. If you’re working sleeves in the round, work the first and last stitch of the round in stockinette. Work decreases in the second and third stitches from each selvedge, and work increases between the selvedge and second stitch. Lean the increases and decreases away from the edge (SSK and M1L at the right edge/start of round, k2tog and M1R at the left edge/end of round).


When a garment piece is worked in narrow panels or with multiple but fairly small repeats, it’s often easiest to stop working the lace pattern altogether and switch to stockinette, proceeding one panel or repeat at a time. Or you might add a complete panel or repeat only after enough stitches have been increased to accommodate the repeat. This technique (switching to stockinette) is often used along the underarm seams of sleeves, where the swaths of stair-stepping stockinette are not very visible.


Place a marker on the needle between the two repeats closest to the selvedge and mark this placement on the chart with a vertical line, as shown in Chart 1.

lace knitting


lace knitting

As you do the shaping, everything between the marker and the selvedge will now be worked in stockinette, as shown in Chart 2. When there are not enough stitches available to decrease between the selvedge and the marker, move the marker and repeat the process as necessary to complete all decreases.

lace knitting


You can use a similar process for increasing. Place a marker at the edge of the first or last full repeat nearest the selvedge, noting the placement on the chart, as shown in Chart 3.

lace knitting

Work stitches between the marker and selvedge in stockinette stitch until enough stitches have been increased to work a full repeat, as shown in Chart 4.

lace knitting

When you have enough stitches, work as required for the current row of the pattern. The first complete row you’re able to work may not always be the first row of the repeat. For example, on Row 9 of Chart 4, there will not be five stitches available to work the first row of the first repeat until after the increase is worked; Row 2 of the repeat, however, can be worked over the entire five stitches. Move the marker so it is once again between the edge of the first repeat and the selvedge to work additional increases.


When you decrease using this approach, rather than eliminating an entire panel or repeat, you eliminate stitches individually from the repeat as necessary, maintaining the pattern as close to the selvedge as possible. This approach is usually preferable to Approach #1 when, for example, you work the shaping for a front bodice, to avoid large visible areas of stockinette. Shaping will occur at different times for the armhole and neckline, so charting out the entire shaping plan is helpful, as shown in Chart 5. (A three-repeat length of straight knitting between the armhole and neck has been removed from the chart to condense it, as noted by the dashed line.)

lace knitting

In Chart 5, a lace pattern with a repeat of 14 stitches and 12 rows has been charted for the full width of a cardigan front, which is 46 stitches wide. Using the following shaping instructions, the garment edges are highlighted to mark the shaping and new boundaries:

Shape armhole: Next row (WS) BO 7 sts, work to end—39 sts rem. Work even until armhole measures 4½ ” (11.5 cm), ending with a WS row. Shape neck: At beg of RS rows, BO 8 sts once, then BO 3 sts once, then BO 2 sts once—26 sts rem. Dec 1 st at neck edge every RS row 3 times. Work even until armhole measures same length as back to shoulder.

Convert the highlighted selvedge stitches to stockinette stitch, as shown in Chart 6, then evaluate stitches along the edges and eliminate any single yarnovers or decreases that have no compensating stitch (Rows 19 and 31 at the armhole edge and Row 27 at the neck edge). Convert the double decreases on Rows 17 and 29 to single decreases because there is now only a single yarnover to compensate.

lace knitting

In a situation in which a yarnover/decrease pair is within the boundaries of the selvedges but a shaping decrease must be placed at the same spot, as on Row 25, you have two choices: the pair can be maintained, with the original single decrease replaced by a double decrease, or the yarnover/decrease pair can be eliminated and replaced by a shaping decrease. I chose to do the latter, as shown in Chart 6, because the original decrease and the shaping decrease leaned in opposite directions and the yarnover two rows above had to be eliminated.

When you shape with increases, a lone yarnover can be maintained as a substitute for a shaping increase, or it can be replaced by a Make 1 increase.

Decisions about whether to keep a yarnover/decrease pair or eliminate it will sometimes come down to pure aesthetics: whether that pair helps to maintain the overall continuity of the fabric or is more of a distraction. The chart lets you make that assessment before you work the shaping.

Although the example shown is for a garment knitted from the bottom up, the same concepts can be used for top-down construction, with increases replacing the decreases at the shaping lines and cast-on stitches replacing bound-off stitches.


If you are knitting a V-neck cardigan with a lace panel flanking the buttonband and the rest of the garment worked in stockinette or another filler stitch, treat the lace panel as the selvedge, with decreases placed at the edge of the panel farthest from the fabric edge, as shown in Chart 7, which shows the first few neck decreases mapped out.

lace knitting

Selecting which method to use to shape a lace garment depends on the combination of shaping and the width of the panels or pattern repeats, as well as on the knitter’s personal aesthetics. Charting out the options ahead of time will provide you with the information you need to make the best choices for each of your garments.

Roxanne Richardson is a certified master handknitter living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she designs and teaches. You can find her weekly videos on YouTube at

This article appears in the knit.wear Spring/Summer 2018 issue. Our header image depicts the Moonflower Dolman by Kiri FitzGerald, also featured in this issue. Grab a copy to see all that knit.wear has to offer.

Lace Knitting & More in knit.wear Spring/Summer 2018


  1. Ingrid H at 3:42 pm March 28, 2018

    Great article! Thank you. Curious about the sweater in the photo at the very top… the brunette model wearing the tweedy, hay-like colored sweater with the horizontal lace design across the front yoke area. Name & designer, please!

    • Jenn at 9:45 am April 2, 2018

      Our header image depicts the Moonflower Dolman by Kiri FitzGerald, featured in knit.wear Spring/Summer 2018. The issue was just released, so the pattern is not yet available as an individual product in our store. I encourage you to dig into our lookbook so you can see what you will be getting with the full issue:

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