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Lean to the right, lean to the left (We're talking decreases!)

Jan 21, 2011

Remember that high school cheer "Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, fight fight fight!"? It came to my mind as I was working on this post about decreasing in knitting—there's a lot of talk about left-leaning and right-leaning in the world of decreases.

When I first started knitting I only used one decrease, knit two together. It's easy and it looks good. When I started doing garments, though, the options for decreasing really increased! (Ha, ha.)

I learned about right- and left-leaning decreases and how using the correct decrease when shaping the waist, sleeves (especially when working a raglan design), socks, hats, and so on, really makes a difference in the finished product.

There are two decreases that are used most often: knit 2 together (K2tog) and slip, slip, knit (SSK).

Here they are:

Knit two together = right-leaning decrease, which is done on the left side of the row. Most often seen in patterns as "K2tog." Slip, slip, knit = left-leaning decrease, which is done on the right side of the row. Most often seen in patterns as "SSK."

These examples of decreases create really professional-looking shaping. I like the pronounced look shown here, which is achieved by doing the decreasing a few stitches in from the edges, which makes them more pronounced. If you want a less visible line of decreases, you can work them on the edge stitches so they'll end up hidden in the seam.

K2tog and SSK really work for pretty much all shaping situations, but I got curious as to what else was out there.

As I was cruising the info-superhighway I came upon something called "feathered decreases," which can also be fully-fashioned but make a softer edge. I knit up a swatch—and here it is:

SKP decrease KRPR decrease

Basically, this system uses a right-leaning decrease on the right side and a left-leaning decrease on the left side, which is the opposite of what's usually done. The right-side decrease is a KRPR, which means "knit-return-pass-return." What you do is knit 1 and replace it on the left-hand needle, pass the next stitch over and then pass the stitch back to the right hand needle by slipping it purlwise.

The left-side decrease is an SKP, which means "slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over knit stitch."

I quite like this pairing. It's softer than the K2tog/SSK match-up but it still adds definition, which I like in my garments. To me, shaping serves two purposes: ensuring a good fit and adding some texture, especially when using a smooth, solid-colored yarn.

So, as always in knitting, there are several ways to achieve your goals; you get to choose!

If you're interested in learning more about shaping techniques and so much more, get yourself a copy of the DVD workshop Getting Started, Basics and Beyond with Eunny Jang, which is what started me down this rabbit hole in the first place (plus, it's on sale this weekend!).


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Tephra wrote
on Jan 24, 2011 10:12 AM


Slip knitwise in decreases, purlwise anywhere else unless told otherwise by the pattern. The reason you slip knitwise in decreases is to change the mount of the stitch, so when the decrease is finished the stiches aren't twisted. If you slipped the stitches in an SSK purlwise you'd end up making a k2tog tbl, which has the stitches twisted at the base (it makes them cross their legs).

Regarding the SSP, you still slip them knitwise, it's a decrease. The SSP is the purl version of the SSK, a left leaning decrease. You slip two stitches one at a time knitwise, then return those two stitches to the left needle (so you just changed the mount of those two stitches, but not their order) and then purl them together through the back loops (which can be rather awkward). The result is the right stitch on top (producing the left lean) with both stitches untwisted. The right leaning purl decrease is the p2tiog.

Zoe wrote
on Jan 22, 2011 8:29 PM

SSK means you slip the stitches off knitwise.  SSP means you will slip the stitches purlwise.

KarenV@3 wrote
on Jan 22, 2011 8:23 PM

Regarding the SSK, do you slip knitwise or purlwise. Most patterns don't tell you. I have to write down which way I decide to do it on my pattern or I'll forget.

HelenB@38 wrote
on Jan 22, 2011 2:28 PM

Thanks so much for explaining the decreases....I love the KRPR one.  In fact I just used it to finish off my newest slouchy hat.  Thanks again.

Zoe wrote
on Jan 22, 2011 11:45 AM

Hi tephra, you are right about there being no difference in the final result of the stitch.  Just more fiddling with one method than the other.  I have used them all.  I find that depending on tension the KRPR works better for me than K2tog.  It is all the same just different!! hehe  Thanks Kathleen for the decrease methods.  Can you also do an increase post?  some increases leave holes in the knitting!!  Those bother me in my knitting.

Sarah T. wrote
on Jan 21, 2011 6:36 PM

Sorry if this is a silly question, but I'm not a very advanced knitter... when you say the "right side of the row" does that just mean the beginning of the row? And the left side is the end of the row?

maryfc1 wrote
on Jan 21, 2011 10:56 AM

I wonder if these decreases would work on hats?

MD Knitter wrote
on Jan 21, 2011 9:53 AM

I'm sorry, Kathleen, but I'm not at all sure I understand your directions for the KRPR decrease.  You say:

"The right-side decrease is a KRPR, which means "knit-return-pass-return." What you do is knit 1 and replace it on the left-hand needle, pass the next stitch over and then pass it back to the right hand needle by slipping it purlwise. "

When you say "then pass it back to the right hand needle . . ," does the "it" refer to the knitted stitch or the passed-over stitch? And if the word refers to the passed-over stitch, what does one do with the knitted stitch, which was replaced on the left-hand needle?  Or if the word refers to the knitted stitch (uh-oh: wrong antecedent!), then I would think the instructions would say something like "pass the next stitch over and off the left-hand needle"?

This is a lovely and as you say, very soft decrease.  Please clarify how it's done.  Thanks!

Tephra wrote
on Jan 21, 2011 9:13 AM

KRPR results in an k2tog, the right most stitch is under the left most, both untwisted. That's the same as k2tog without all the stretching and slop that passing stitches around creates. K2tog is also faster to work than passing a stitch back and forth. :)

Likewise, SKP and SSK result in the same formation, left most stitch under right most stitch, both untwisted as long as you remember to slip knitwise in decreases. Which method is faster and easier to work depends on the individual knitter and project, for me the SSK is faster unless I'm working at a tight gauge, then the SKP can be less hassle.

The soft look in the second set is the result of leaning the decreases off the edge of the piece, not how the decreases are made.

on Jan 21, 2011 8:25 AM

Little mistake on the the left decrease caption:

Knit two together = right-leaning increase?  think you meant decrease

Love the post - marking as a great reference

HaBaHaBa wrote
on Jan 21, 2011 7:07 AM

Hi, Kathleen.

I wonder, can usual k2tog be used on the right and ssk on the left side for "feathered decreases"? It seems to me, overall effect will be the same...