Decreases and Increases for Sweater Knitting

Increases and decreases. Making more stitches, making fewer. Seems as though that would be a simple topic, yes? Nope. Knitters are clever, and we've come up with lots of clever ways to make more and to make fewer. This abundance of cleverness means that we have an abundance of choices to make when we are putting a little shaping into our sweaters, and, as MT of the comments points out, for so many of us, our knowledge has been handed down from one knitter to another…but this does not necessarily mean that we know what our choices are and how to choose wisely.

M1L: Step 1 of Left-slanting M1 increase (see entire stitch)

Stitches That Shape But Don't Steal The Show

Let's focus on the increases and decreases used in shaping, such as the waist shaping we've been talking about lately. I'm going to give you my opinions, based on the bazillion knitting patterns I've edited and read and knitted, and the insights taught me by all the talented folks who walk in and out of the Interweave front doors each day. But you folks know stuff too, of course, so if you have something cool and useful to teach us about increasing and decreasing, leave a comment!

For sweater shaping in general, you want decreases and increases that look like they are part of the fabric design—remember, these are not meant to create a stitch pattern, they are meant to widen or narrow the fabric. This doesn't mean the increases or decreases have to be invisible, it just means they ought not to be little divas and shout "LOOK AT ME! I'm a DECREASE!" One way to ensure that your shaping stitches support the rest of your sweater design is to work your increases/decreases so that they slant towards some sort of center line. This center line can be a side seam, for sweaters worked flat; or if the sweater is done in the round, the centerline can be a pretend "side seam" set off by markers. The slanting-towards-a-vertical-seam effect helps the eye move up and down, emphasizing the curve of your shaping.

M1R: Step 1 of Right-slanting M1 increase (see entire stitch)

For decreasing: I prefer to use an ssk before the "side seam," as it leans to the left—towards the "seam." After the "seam," I use a k2tog, which leans to the right, again towards the "seam."

For increases: A M1 serves well, provided you actually do a M1, twisting the loop as you knit, rather than a yarnover! For before the "seam," there's the lovely M1L, shown above; and for after the seam, there's the charming M1R, shown at right.

Special decreases for working in the round

If you are working in the round, you might want to try one of the beautiful "double decreases" out there, where more-than-two stitches are decreased down to one in the same decrease. This produces a single line of decreases, rather than a double line; the single line can give you a nice visual effect up the sides of your garment, resembling a fake seam. These double decreases can also give a bit more structure to the sides, helping the fabric to avoid sagging—particularly useful if the yarn is either very slippery or very heavy.

Here is one such double decrease suggested by one of the commenters (he/she did not leave a name so we could say thank you!):

If there are as many as Sandi has in her imaginary-sweater-in-the-round then a double decrease (sl, k2tg, psso) [at the "side seams"] would be pretty. That would create small triangles facing the waist.

A beautiful alternative to Ms. (Mr.?) Anonymous's suggestion would be a vertical double decrease: Slip 2 sts as if to k2tog, k1, pass 2 slipped sts over. This creates a non-leaning stitch that points upwards at the side of your in-the-round garment. Lovely.

Which one is the RIGHT one?

Ah, c'mon. You know me well enough by now… Everyone sing along with me: The Right Stitch Is The One That Is Right For YOU! Do a little swatch of a pretend side seam, try out the different decreases and see how they look with the particular yarn and pattern you are using. Then: Choose the one you like best! After all: It's Your Knitting, Not Mine. 

 You asked so many interesting questions during our discussions on waist shaping that I have made a file of them and will be answering them in future posts.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a comment, and look for your wise questions, and my oh-so-charming answers, in the weeks ahead. 


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


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36 thoughts on “Decreases and Increases for Sweater Knitting

  1. I have been going out of my mind knitting with Big Wool – even my LYS tells me my technique is correct, but there is nothing subtle about the ssk decrease. Any suggestions?

  2. Great instructions! I learned the hard way (creating lots of holes in the process!). The one thing you didn’t mention (maybe it was too obvious) was to increase/decrease in the stitch before the last one in the row, thus leaving a nice straight edge for seaming later.

  3. My favorite increase is EZ’s thumb loop make 1. You can twist it either way depending on how you need it and it doesn’t make as large a hole as a make 1 that you pick up from the running thread below. Just MHO of course. 🙂

  4. Hello to Big Wool. I have that same problem with decreasing using bulky yarn. To solve it I experiment with the way I slip the first stitch. Sometimes I slip as if to knit (saitk), sometimes as if to purl (saitp), and sometimes I saitk or saitp and then slip that stitch back onto the left needle and repeat again. Depending on the yarn this extra twist will hide that too-large stitch. If that doesn’t work, I go back to my completed knitting and hand tool the stitch by pulling and redistributing some of that excess lenght of the unsightly stitch back into the prior stitches. It all depends on the twist of a yarn; the more twisted, the less unsightly.

    Good luck. Lana

  5. The picture of M1right is NOT. It is a picture of a lifted increase. To do a M1right, you lift the yarn between two stitches from back to front, and knit into the front, twisting the stitch.

  6. I wish someone could tell me why my left-leaning decreases zigzag, e.g. when shaping the toe of a sock, but the right-leaning ones do not. How do I make a nice smooth line of decrease?

  7. What I am looking for is an invisible decrease, something the opposite of a M1 increase. Sometimes, such as when I have made a mistake and the easiest way to fix it is just to decrease the extra stitch, I don’t want a decrease that leaves texture on the right hand side.




  8. Just remember that when you lift a ladder on M1L, to knit it through the back half (twisting the stitch) so that there is no hole to be seen. But my favorite increase is also EZ’s backward loop.

  9. A nice variation on doing a Make 1 (commonly made by lifting the strand between stitches and knitting into it so as to twist it) is to do a Yarn Over in one row, and then in the next row knit into it to twist it at that point. It lies flat and doesn’t pucker the fabric the way a regular M1 because it has added an extra length of yarn to the area to be twisted. To make a right slanting M1 to match your left slanting, use the left needle to pick the loop up from BEHIND, and then knit into the front of it to twist it. In my version using yarn-overs in one row and twisting on the next, I can either do my yarn-over backwards, or adjust the way it sits when I come to it and then knit into its front.

    Thanks for the great articles, Sandi! Your shaping series has nicely detailed all the points I try to cover when I’m teaching a sweater design class! Are you going to go into bust shaping, or has that been an earlier topic that I missed?

  10. Any chance of some illustrations or photos to show how these increases and decreases will look on the garment ( for relative beginners like me)!

    Thanks, Bec

  11. Fine yarn increasing – I always try to increase three stitches in from the edge (twisting stitch as previous comments). That is if pattern allows and doesn’t spoil patterning, sometimes increase can be done on previous or next row if there are plain sts in that pattern row. Julia Smith P’boro England

  12. This series has been a great gift to me. I am so glad to have this information, just when I am about to start knitting sweaters for adults.
    Thank you Sandi and Interweave!

  13. I am just learning to knit and everywhere there are patterns that increase (hats , socks, scarves etc) So there is NO SEAM so which one to use?? Is there a video??

  14. I just discovered this fab double decrease. it was abbreviated k2 tog c,:

    sl2 as for a k2 tog; then insert the lh through the front of those sts while at the same time inserting the rh through the back of the next st to be worked; wrap the working yarn around the tip of the rh and pull through all 3 sts.

  15. Just wanted to say thanks for this series. I’ve been making sweaters for more than 40 years, but each lesson in the serious has provided at least one new piece of information that will make my future sweaters even better.


  16. Hi, Is there nice a way to double increase to shape while knitting circular? The one you showed for double decrease is fantastic.
    Thanks for everything:)

  17. Lisa, is the EZ increase like a cast on stitch?…I am very new to knitting and have done this and can only figure out doing it one way but it seems to look OK as long as I always do it in the right places. I still need to learn all these other methods tho. I wish I had needles and yarn here at work to experiment! Laurie

  18. Nancy F.,

    It’s because your right st in the SSK (the one on top) isn’t tugged down. You slip it, which stretches it, but the yarn pulled through tugs on the left st and doesn’t do much for the right one. Let Me Explaiknit ( has a great discussion on decreases–and really, everything else. The one I’m thinking of is probably about the end of last year.


  19. I’m sure others have discovered this trick, but as a fairly new knitter, I use mnemonics to remember that s*L*ip s*L*ip knit slants *L*eft and knit 2 togethe*R* slants *R*ight.

  20. Hi Sandi-
    I am really curious about trying out steeks to make a sweater knit on circular needles into a cardigan.I have read several explanations on the web, but am still a bit nervous…
    any advice/tips?

  21. Hi Sandi-
    I am really curious about trying out steeks to make a sweater knit on circular needles into a cardigan.I have read several explanations on the web, but am still a bit nervous…
    any advice/tips?

  22. Sandi: I’m wondering if one could do a decrease row below the bust to take in fullness like a dart does in sewing. If you do the decreases like you are doing in a sock gusset??? I’m having trouble figuring out how that would work, though. Any ideas? Thanks for all the great suggestions and ideas—I learn something every post!

  23. On the SSK and K2T paired decreases — I always had to think about which way each one would lean, until I took a look at the middle character of each stitch name. The SSK leans left like the center diagonal of the letter ‘S’. The K2T leans right like the center diagonal of the number ‘2’.

  24. Thank you so much for all of this wonderful useful info. I’m a beginner who is stuck between intermediate &advanced. My question is how do you do a slip stitch at the beginning & end of a row? I can’t get a handle on that & it’s quite frustrating. I have lots of books but they never show this for these two areas, I’ve looked.

  25. Thank you for all of these wonderful posts on shaping for sweaters. I’ve already started using them as I knit up the Apothecary raglan from another interweave publication–Knitscene. I am between sizes, but using these techniques for shaping, I’ve managed to create an in between size by keep the bust larger (with a small needed decrease), bring in the waist considerably (to flatter my hourglass shape) and bring out again for the hips. It is part of my fearless knitting for this year, as it is my first sweater (the first big item for myself, not as a gift as well), and because I couldn’t find the yarn I needed, my first attempts at dyeing my own self striping yarn. Thank you for giving us all the confidence to modify these very personal knits to make them look more as if they were made for us.

  26. OK, others have also noticed the second picture is of a lifted right inc (new st is to the right of the original st). Lifteds are my fave increases – very elegant and inconspicuous – same way it is done on a knitting machine.

    As for the inequity between lines of K2togs vs SSKs, try this (in Knitting Tips & Trade Secrets):

    “none of the left-slanting decs…will produce a truly straight dec line”. The solution given is to K2tog on RS rows, but work SSP on WS rows, in place of the SSK on RS rows.

    BEWARE – there is a trick to doing SSP correctly, and I’ve even seen it wrong in published books. You slip a st kwise, slip another st kwise, then you must put both slipped sts back on the LH needle, remove the RH needle, and come at the slipped sts from underneath and behind to purl them through the backs of the sts properly. (If you don’t do this, and instead purl the sts tog in the normal way, you’ll get a dec that leans to the right instead of the left, and sts will be twisted.)

    I believe this method (using SSP instead of SSK) puts the enlarged st in the back, and makes the dec look equivalent to the K2tog line.

    Diana – are you trying to slip a st at *both* the beg and end of *every* row? I’ve had students mistakenly do this when trying to do a slip st selvedge, and it doesn’t work for very many rows! Otherwise, it should be no different from slipping a st any other time. You could take a look at this post on my blog and see if it clears things up for you:

  27. For Ana G: there is a somewhat less fussy way of achieving the same centered double decrease. You slip 2 stitches together as if to knit 2 together, knit the next stitch on the left needle, then pass both slipped stitches over the knit stitch (like you’re casting off). I find it faster to complete than the method you outlined.

  28. Thanks to these wonderful posts about shaping I am knitting fearlessly this year. I chose a sweater vest for my first sweater in the round, and I have added shaping to give it a more fitted look. I have finished the hip-to-waist dec and am now ready to begin the waist-to-bust inc. I tried it on for size and it’s looking good. For my left-handed decreases I am using Dave’s technique I read about on the blog NonaKnits. Use the improved SSK but on the next row knit thru the back of the stitch coming out of the decrease. Check it out. There is a good discussion about several different left-leaning decreases with a picture. Thank you for this discussion. I already feel like a more accomplished knitter.

  29. I’m having problems with this Decrease 1 st each end of needle on next and folllowing (8) alternate rows.
    I started with 111 stitches and after decreasing i end up with 75.

    Do I count every 8 rows of stocking stich and then decrease or what. Cause when i counted 8 rows and then decrease I ended up longer sweater then I should.
    Please let me know while I’m asking around. My email is My name is Maureen and thanks