Shaping Lace: Decreasing

One of the most-asked questions in knitting land is: How do I do shaping in lace? Great question, as lace already has decreases and increases all over the place! How do you add extra decreases or increases without messing up the prettiness?

Papyrus Lace from Lace & Eyelets

One easy way is to use changes in needle size to accomplish your shaping—this way, no extra increases/decreases are needed. Let the gauge do the heavy lifting, in other words.

If, however, you are using a pattern where gauge changes aren't suitable, then you have to figure out how to add the increases and decreases into the lace pattern itself.

Lace patterns are (usually) formed by paired increases and decreases: for every yarnover, somewhere nearby there is a decrease. It helps to use a pencil to lightly circle the paired decreases/yarnovers in your pattern so you can clearly see which stitches "belong together."

These pairs are critical in terms of maintaining both the integrity of the lace pattern and the overall stitch count of the row. Always keep these pairs together. If you don't have enough stitches to work an entire pair, then forget about working the pair and treat the stitches as though they were plain stockinette.

Example: Decreasing

Let's use this simple lace pattern as our example:

Row 1: *K1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
Row 2: Purl.

When you "pair up" the decreases and yarnovers, you can see that this pattern has two halves to it:

K1, yo, k2, ssk —— and then —— k2tog, k2, yo.

To work the first half properly, you need five stitches; to work the second half properly, you need four stitches. So besides noting where the "pairs" are, you also need to note where they are in relationship to each other. It helps to break the pattern up into sections, with one yarnover/decrease pair per section.

Now we're ready to start decreasing. For simplicity, we're only going to talk about decreases at the beginning of Row 1.

Notice that a decrease at the beginning of that row will use up both the k1 and the first stitch of the k2, "stepping over" the space where you normally would work a yarnover. The solution? Forget about the yarnover AND its mate, the ssk, treating the ssk as two stockinette stitches. In fact, while you work your decrease, you are going to treat that entire first half as five stockinette stitches, as follows: 

    Ssk——the initial k1 and first half of the original k2,
    k1——the second half of the original k2,
    k2——the original ssk,
    k2tog, k2, yo; and then continue on with the second half of the repeat and the rest of the row.

After the first decrease row, you no longer have enough stitches to work the first half of the lace pattern (you have four, you need five), so work them as stockinette. (However, you can continue to work the second half—the next four stitches—in the lace pattern.) On subsequent rows, work decreases as needed in that stockinette block until you arrive at a row where you have to use the first stitch of the k2tog (in the second half of the repeat) for part of the next decrease. On that row, you'd then treat all four of the second-half stitches as stockinette.

Here are the decrease rows written out for clarity's sake: 

    Row 1: *K1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 2 and all wrong side rows: Purl.
    Row 3: Ssk, k3, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 5: Ssk, k2, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 7: Ssk, k1, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 9: Ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 11: Ssk, k1, k2; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.
    Row 13: Ssk, k2; *k1, yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo; rep from * to end.

And you can take it from there yourselves!


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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6 thoughts on “Shaping Lace: Decreasing


    Recently I submitted a comment requesting that the magazine issue that your patterns for sale originate from be mentioned with the pattern. I wanted to avoid purchasing a pattern that I already own since I keep all my issues. I just noticed today that this is being done—you guys really ROCK!!! Thanks so much.

    Comment by: M. M | May 12, 2008

    Okay, I am a bit confused by the detailed lace decreases for clarity’s sake. How do you make decreases at the end of the row? It appears to only be on one side of the garment. Do you purl two together on the wrong side?

    Comment by: Lana | May 12, 2008

    Hey, could you also cover how to seam together the pieces of a lace sweater? I have a lot of trouble getting a nice seam when the pieces have all these holes.

    Comment by: Cathy Dowd | May 12, 2008

    This is so timely for me. I have a stalled top because I didn’t plan the whole thing first. I started a lace pattern in the round, intending to change to plain stockinette with a bit of the pattern going up the center when I got to the part where I join the sleeves to the body. If I continue on the same number of stitches, isn’t the st part goint to be wider than the rest of the body?

    I could just jump in and try, couldn’t I? But I’m not as fearless as I thought. Any advice?

    Comment by: Merna S | May 12, 2008

    what about the other way, increases? I understand having less of the lace and looking OK, but if you’re adding MORE, what do you add so it doesn’t look funny?

    Comment by: Emma A | May 12, 2008

    this is a great subject! I too would like to know how to seam a lace item, have had similar problems as Cathy. ALSO, how do you know when just changes gauge is suitable, and when you need to decrease. As a intermediate knitter I’m not sure I’ll know until I’ve done rows and rows and they look bad and have to be frogged! MaryL

    Comment by: | May 13, 2008

    Seaming lace would be a great topic! I hate seaming anything -my knitting looks great-my seaming is a struggle and I’m never satisfied.

    Comment by: Shirley S | May 13, 2008

    Sandi –

    Great job as usual! I have a question though. If I need to add in a new yarn when making lace, how do I do that to make it look seamless and pretty – I don’t want any weird bumps if I’m using tiny, pretty yarn!

    Thanks for any help you can recommend 🙂

    Comment by: cfbandit | May 13, 2008

    Thanks for the Lace post. Am a new knitter, but intrigued by lace. Just finished my first lace shawl. What a relief from garter stitch. Any and all info regarding lace is welcome.

    Comment by: Susan T | May 13, 2008

    I’m going to FORCE myself to read this again and understand it! as this is exactly where I became stuck when attempting to decrease a lace styled pattern cardigan last year! (I flung it in back of cupboard vowing never to look at lace again, but maybe if I UNDERSTOOD what I was doing, I’d manage rather better!!). Thanks for an interesting article and for taking the trouble to write it out in full for the more nervous of us (me!) to feel we can tackle! Sue

    Comment by: | May 14, 2008

    Thank you! This topic has been timely for me, too! However, here’s my question: When you bind off in a lace stitch, do you knit each stitch as it appears in the pattern (ie: k1, bo1, k2tog, bo1, yo, bo1)? I hope this makes sense– When I did this on the current pattern I’m working on for the sleeve shaping, the stitch count comes out okay, but the shaping looks kind of crazy. Thanks!

    Comment by: kathy g | May 14, 2008


    I really enjoyed the lace shaping article. Would the same principles apply when decreasing a pattern that includes diamond-shaped “bobbles”? 25 years ago, in England, I threw such a project into a closet in sheer frustration with the arm hole shaping! And now it has been returned to me by my Mum! I’d love to solve this mystery…Thanks!

    Comment by: Heidi P | May 14, 2008

    I can’t even look at that picture — all those copyright notices are making me dizzy. So this article won’t help me very much.

    Comment by: Kathy F | May 15, 2008

  2. Sandi – I am working on the back of a lace pattern summer cardigan and found your information very helpfful – after ripping out about 3 inches of shoulder shaping now 3 times since it didn’t really look right. I’ve heard the tip about simply using plain stockinette stiches for the “extras” until you reach the pattern stiches, but this gave me way too much border than I wanted – from 2 stiches to 5. But in looking at your explaination it is getting clearer – except when you commented on “ignoring the yarn over” The pattern is 1st row K3 {K1P1K1 in one stich, K1} K2 and then 2nd row P2 [YO, P4 together] end with P2 and 2rd row – K Across. So are you saving to simply knit the YO stich when you come to it? My decreases are on every 4th row. ChristinainCT

  3. Hi Sandy,
    thanks for the tips but still not able to get any help from a few posts i asked for help from, so wondered if there was any way to get more help, or some answer to how i manage to finish this lace sweater.?? for some reason am not able to comprehend the proper way to get the pattern to do the right thing for me and stay correct with the lace so feeling very frustrated and upset because feel so helpless with not being able to work it out. But my brain wont compute it properly, and no one else has been able to help me out. Had written the pattern out for a member, but it looks like she is either not able to work it out, or has not the time for my trivial problem.
    would really appreciate any help and wondered if i cut and paste the pattern would it be of help, providing i can do that.

    Thanks for any help and assistance. MirandaJ.