Read Knitting Patterns with Decreases
When a Knitting Pattern says Dec, what do you do?
Sometimes, when you read a knitting pattern, you will see the word Dec without any other explanation. What does it mean?
The answer can differ based on the type of project you are making.
Occasionally, the pattern writer will give you guidance. But more often than not, you have to figure it out yourself.
This hub contains some information about decreases in knitting, and in particular, a decrease in which two stitches on the old needle become one stitch on the new needle.
Basic decrease - 2 stitches become 1
General information about knitting decreases
When you work a decrease, only two things can happen: either the right stitch covers the left stitch (making a left-leaning decrease), or the left stitch covers the right stitch (making a right-leaning decrease).
So if you want to see a mirror image in your project (say in armhole shaping for a sweater, or in some lace patterns), then you probably want one of each type.
The most commonly used right-leaning Knit decrease is the K2tog (Knit 2 stitches together).
Here are the two most commonly used left-leaning Knit decreases:
- SKP (Slip 1 stitch knitwise, Knit 1 stitch, Pass the slipped stitch over the knitted stitch)
- SSK (Slip 1 stitch knitwise, Slip another stitch knitwise (don't do both at the same time), Slip both stitches purlwise back onto the old needle, then knit the two stitches together through the back loops)
Purl-based decreases are uncommon, but they do occur.
The most commonly used left-leaning Purl decrease is the P2tog (Purl 2 stitches together).
There are two commonly used right-leaning Purl decreases:
- P2togtbl (Purl 2 stitches together through back loops).
- SSP (Slip 1 stitch knitwise, Slip another stitch knitwise (don't do both at the same time), Slip both stitches purlwise back onto the old needle, then purl the two stitches together through the back loops)
Decreases in a sweater pattern
OK, so now we have described the most common decreases for knitting. Now what?
When you are working the armhole or sleeve cap shaping for a sweater, the pattern writer will just say "Dec 1 stitch at each end of row such-and-such".
These are good ways to work those rows:
- On the right side: Knit 1 stitch, SSK or SKP, follow the stitch pattern for the sweater until 3 stitches remain, K2tog, Knit the last stitch.
- On the wrong side: Purl 1 stitch, P2tog, follow the stitch pattern for the sweater until 3 stitches remain, P2togtbl or SSP, Purl the last stitch.
If you follow that general rule, you will get a nice diagonal line of decreases where the armhole is shaped.
However, if you do not want that diagonal line (because it might detract from the appearance of the main stitch pattern for the sweater), then the following guidelines will actually hide the decreases:
- On the right side: K2tog, work in the stitch pattern for the sweater until 2 stitches remain, SKP or SSK.
- On the wrong side: SSP or P2togtbl, follow the stitch pattern for the sweater until 2 stitches remain, P2tog.
Notice that there are three key differences between these sets of instructions:
- Different types of decreases are worked at opposite ends of the knitted fabric.
- In the first set of guidelines, the decreases are worked one stitch from the edge; in the second, they are worked right at the edge.
- In the first set of guidelines, the diagonal slant of the decreases is quite visible; in the second, the decreases are almost invisible.
Decreases in lace knitting
On a lace knitting pattern, the pattern designer very likely has incorporated the lean of the decreases into the lace design, so most lace patterns will specifically tell you which decrease to use. Here is an example:
Row 2: K4. * K2tog. YO. K1. YO. SKP. K5. Rep from * until 9 sts rem. K2tog. YO. K1. YO. SKP. K4.
Notice how the K2tog and SKP "frame" the YOs (Yarn-overs). The differing slant of the two decreases provides symmetry to the lace pattern.
For more information
Consider taking the free e-course on how to read knitting patterns.