Reading Your Knit Fabric – Part 2: Identifying Decreases and Increases

In my last post “Reading Your Knit Fabric”, we looked at the basics of reading knit fabric; what the knit and purl stitches look like, and how they interact with each other in a pattern. It also helps to identify decreases and increases. Both are methods used to shape knit fabric, such as decreasing stitches at the armholes, and increasing at the side edges of sleeves.

Identifying Decreases

Decreasing reduces the number of stitches, manipulating the fabric width by narrowing the piece. Stitches are worked without dropping them, to maintain the fabric’s integrity. Decreasing stitches to shape an armhole allows room for setting in a sleeve. Decreases made in lace knitting are used to compensate for the yarnovers, and also for shaping.

There are a variety of techniques to decrease, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. Decreases can be directional, slanting to the left or right, or remain vertical. By placing the decreases within an edge or further into the fabric, they form a decorative detail that is visible on the right side.

decorative decreases made along front borders
Visible decreases along front borders

The most basic decrease is either knitting or purling two stitches together, forming a right slanting decrease. A column of stitches converge when a decrease is made. When looking at your work, a stitch is removed, and you’ll also notice the direction of the decrease.

The point at which the stitch column converges, is the decrease row of a pattern stitch. Count rows beginning with the stitch above this point. Keeping track of the number of rows completed before the next decrease is important. When you are able to visually recognize a decrease, you’ll be able to notice problems such as not completing the correct number of rows between decreases.

raglan sleeve decreasing

Identifying Increases

Increasing adds stitches to make a piece of knitting larger. Some increases are inconspicuous, and others are visible and decorative. Like decreases, there are a variety of methods to work increases and they can also be directional.

The most basic increase is a “bar increase”, which is visible and right leaning. A horizontal bar follows the increased stitch on the knit side of the work. When a bar increase is made, one column of knit stitches branches out into two, with the new column growing to the right.

The stitch immediately above the point where a column of stitches branches out is where an increase has been made. When counting rows, make sure to start above this row. In my sample incorporating bar increases, there are 5 complete rows before the next increase.

bar increase right slant

Note: Lace pattern stitches are more complex, and rows are more difficult to count, but learning to read knit and purl stitches, and identifying decreases and increases will assist you in recognizing the shaping methods used, their direction, and how often they occur. The lace pattern below uses both right and left slanting decreases, along with yarnovers to form the fabric. 

lace pattern with left and right slanting decreases
Simple lace pattern with both left and right slanting decreases.

Identifying decreases and increases further advances the skill of reading your knit fabric, and helps you to catch those mishaps that are bound to occasionally happen. And now you have the skill to move forward and explore all that knitting offers.