Shaping Lace: Decreasing

One of the most-asked questions in knitting land is: How do I do shaping in lace? Great question, as lace already has decreases and increases all over the place! How do you add extra decreases or increases without messing up the prettiness?

Papyrus Lace from Lace & Eyelets

One easy way is to use changes in needle size to accomplish your shaping—this way, no extra increases/decreases are needed. Let the gauge do the heavy lifting, in other words.

If, however, you are using a pattern where gauge changes aren't suitable, then you have to figure out how to add the increases and decreases into the lace pattern itself.

Lace patterns are (usually) formed by paired increases and decreases: for every yarnover, somewhere nearby there is a decrease. It helps to use a pencil to lightly circle the paired decreases/yarnovers in your pattern so you can clearly see which stitches "belong together."

These pairs are critical in terms of maintaining both the integrity of the lace pattern and the overall stitch count of the row. Always keep these pairs together. If you don't have enough stitches to work an entire pair, then forget about working the pair and treat the stitches as though they were plain stockinette.

Example: Decreasing

Let's use this simple lace pattern as our example:

Row 1: *K1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
Row 2: Purl.

When you "pair up" the decreases and yarnovers, you can see that this pattern has two halves to it:

K1, yo, k2, ssk —— and then —— k2tog, k2, yo.

To work the first half properly, you need five stitches; to work the second half properly, you need four stitches. So besides noting where the "pairs" are, you also need to note where they are in relationship to each other. It helps to break the pattern up into sections, with one yarnover/decrease pair per section.

Now we're ready to start decreasing. For simplicity, we're only going to talk about decreases at the beginning of Row 1.

Notice that a decrease at the beginning of that row will use up both the k1 and the first stitch of the k2, "stepping over" the space where you normally would work a yarnover. The solution? Forget about the yarnover AND its mate, the ssk, treating the ssk as two stockinette stitches. In fact, while you work your decrease, you are going to treat that entire first half as five stockinette stitches, as follows: 

    Ssk——the initial k1 and first half of the original k2,
    k1——the second half of the original k2,
    k2——the original ssk,
    k2tog, k2, yo; and then continue on with the second half of the repeat and the rest of the row.

After the first decrease row, you no longer have enough stitches to work the first half of the lace pattern (you have four, you need five), so work them as stockinette. (However, you can continue to work the second half—the next four stitches—in the lace pattern.) On subsequent rows, work decreases as needed in that stockinette block until you arrive at a row where you have to use the first stitch of the k2tog (in the second half of the repeat) for part of the next decrease. On that row, you'd then treat all four of the second-half stitches as stockinette.

Here are the decrease rows written out for clarity's sake: 

    Row 1: *K1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 2 and all wrong side rows: Purl.
    Row 3: Ssk, k3, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 5: Ssk, k2, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 7: Ssk, k1, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 9: Ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 11: Ssk, k1, k2; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 13: Ssk, k2; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.

And you can take it from there yourselves!


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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