Throughout this season, we’re reposting some of our favorite columns by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, previously featured in our Weekly Stitch newsletter.
When you decrease in knitting, you are not always losing stitches. Decreases are used in lace patterns, for example, and you’ll almost always have the same number of stitches after completing the row because the decreases are balanced by increases (most likely yarn overs). Lace pattern stitches will specify which decrease to use; the correct decrease is important because it impacts which way the fabric biases or slants.
Decreases are also used for shaping projects, such as sweaters and even purses, and you will be subtracting stitches. As in lace patterns, the correct decrease will help the fabric to slant in the direction it should. Patterns for garments will sometimes tell you which decrease to use when you are shaping the armholes and neck; other times the designer will assume you are already armed with this knowledge and you are left on your own. You could use the default k2tog decrease and turn out a perfectly fine sweater. But the correct decrease will give it a more professional look.
Which decrease to use is really quite logical. Although there are many more decreases available, it’s important to know that ssk slants to the left and k2tog slants to the right. These two decreases match each other in terms of appearance.
Armholes move inward as you decrease. As you are looking at the right side of your work, the armhole on the right slants left and the armhole on the left slants right. Therefore, ssk, which again slants left, is the decrease used at the beginning of a row and k2tog, a right slanting decrease, at the end of a row.
When shaping necklines, it is the opposite; they move outward as you decrease. As you are looking at the right side of your work, the neckline shaping on the right slants to the right so you would use k2tog; the shaping on the left slants to the left so you would use ssk.
Work decreases at least one stitch in from the edge. This makes seaming much easier as well as picking up stitches along the neckline.
See our Learn to Knit guide for videos, illustrations, and more on decreasing and other skills.