"Reading" Your Knitting: Part 3 - Recognizing Increases and Decreases

I hate row counters. Why? I'm so glad you asked!

I usually do other things while I am knitting - watch movies, read books, ride in a vehicle, visit--and, while this habit causes enough mistakes from divided attention, the last thing I remember to do when I am clicking along and flipping pages on my Kindle reader is to also flip a row counter. (Especially because I often knit in the round, making the "end of a row" that much less obvious.)

Does this sound familiar? I'm betting that if you are still reading, it does.

Never fear! Once you know how to read your knitting, you don't need a row counter!

Originally, I was going to cover increases, decreases, and cables in this tutorial, but I have decided to save cables for the next one.


What's the Point?

(Ha ha--Get it? 'Cause knitting needles have points? ... Okay, never mind.)

Most patterns that use increases, decreases, and cables will have you repeat a certain block of rows to achieve the shaping they desire.

For instance, a pattern shaping a thumb gusset (knit in the round) may look like this:

Rnd. 1: M1L, k to marker, M1R, k to end.

Rnd. 2-3: Knit.

Repeat Rounds 1-3 four times.

Well, if you can't recognize the increase stitches you made in round 1, how are you going to know when it's time to make them again?

I'm becoming multi-lingual in my tutorials and branching out with technology. So, you can either keep reading my brilliant prose illustrating this concept below, or watch the tutorial video I made:

Recognizing Increases - Bar Increase

A Bar Increase is easy to recognize because of the little bar that wraps around the base of your increased stitch, with a small hole beneath it.

The most common bar increase is the K1FB/KFB, which is the Left-Leaning Bar Increase. (Simply knit into the front and back of the same stitch before slipping off the needle.)

The mirror of that is a bit more complicated. (If you want to know how the Right-Leaning Bar Increase is done, see my tutorial about it.)

In my demo, I was knitting flat and increasing every four rows. So my knitted instructions would have looked like this (assuming that the increase happens on the 1st row--which it doesn't in my swatch, so work with me):

Row 1: K1, kfb, k to end.

Row 2: Purl.

Row 3: Knit

Row 4: Purl.

Repeat Rows 1-4.

Whether your increase falls on row 1 or another row, for the purposes of counting rows between increases, all you need to know is the number of "plain" rows between increase rows. In this case, I have my increase row, then three plain rows, for a total pattern repeat of four rows.

When I am counting my rows to see if I am ready to increase again, I start with my last increased stitch as number 1, and count the stacked "Vees" up to the needle, remembering to include the stitch on the needle.

In the image below, I have worked the full four-row pattern repeat (as you can see on the left needle), and have just begun to work Row 1 again, completing one more kfb increase stitch.

You would use a similar method to count between increases made with yarn overs (YOs), except there would be no bar wrapping around the increased stitch, just a little hole under it.

Recognizing Increases - Make 1 (M1)

Make 1 increases (also known as the Running Thread increase) pick up the bar between two stitches and knit into it in such a way that the bar "twists", drawing the two neighbouring columns of stitches together and preventing the little hole that is common with so many increases. You can Make 1 R (right) or L (left). If a pattern doesn't specify, use M1L.

M1L: Pick up bar and place on Left needle with right leg in front. Knit into back leg.

M1R: Pick up bar and place on Left needle with left leg in front. Knit into front leg.

The bars will twist in opposite directions for these two increases, making your stitch seem to "sprout" from the existing column on either the left or right side of your increase. However, for recognition purposes, all you really need to do is look for the twisted bar. The stitch coming out of it is your increase stitch.

The twisted bar is in the centre of the circle, with the increase stitch "growing" out of it.

This is just the opposite end of my swatch, so I was still increasing every four rows. The instructions for this would have looked like this:

Row 1: Knit to last stitch, M1, k1.

Row 2: Purl.

Row 3:  Knit.

Row 4: Purl.

Repeat Rows 1-4.

You would count your repeats the same as for the Bar Increase, except be sure not to count the twisted bar as your increase stitch--it is the stitch coming out of the twisted bar "stitch" that is your increase row.

I have not yet worked the second increase in this image, but the row I am working (on the right needle) is row 1, so as soon as I knit the next stitch, I can. Yay!

Recognizing Decreases

Most decreases have the same end result--take two or more stitches and decrease them to only one, meaning you have two or more overlapped stitches with one stitch coming out of it.

Since you are, in essence, "absorbing" one or more column of stitches into another, leaving only one column intact, the designer's choice of decrease is important to the final look you want to achieve.

To decrease one stitch and keep the right column intact, use Slip Slip Knit/SSK.

SSK - Slip two sts in a row knit-wise, then insert left needle back through and knit these two stitches together as one.)

To decrease one stitch and keep the left column intact, use Knit 2 Together/K2tog.

K2tog - Knit next two stitches together as one.)

To decrease two stitches symmetrically, use either a Central Chain Decrease/CCD (which keeps the centre stitch on top) or a Double Centre Decrease/DCD (which keeps the centre stitch in the back.)

CCD - Slip 2 together knit-wise, k1, and pass two slipped stitches back over worked stitch OR slip 2 together knit-wise, sl 1 knit-wise, insert left needle back through 3 slipped stitches and knit together as one.

DCD - Slip 1 knit-wise, k2tog, pass slipped stitch back over.

This image shows a SSK decrease--however, you can see how the lapped stitches are in the row below the decrease row, which has only one stitch coming out of it. This is true regardless of what kind of decrease you have done--your stitches will only overlap with a different stitch on top with each kind of decrease.

I have decreased twice in this example--the first has the detail, the second is the row just completed on the needle. Can you see it?

So, now you are well on your way to ditching the row counter completely! You can recognize your increases and decreases, and with a little practice, you'll be able to count rows between them with ease.

In my next tutorial, I will explain how to do the same between crossing rows on cables.

Happy knitting!

If this tutorial was helpful to you, please spread the word by sharing on your favourite social media. Thanks so much!

You may be interested in the following patterns: