How to decrease in knitting

Decreases reduce the number of stitches in your knitting and narrow the shape, as Jim Arnall-Culliford explains.

How to decrease

If you’ve ever ventured beyond knitting a scarf or blanket since first picking up your needles, then you’ll most likely have already encountered decreases. Decreases reduce the total number of stitches in a row and narrow the shape of the knitting. Each type of decrease leans in a certain direction, affecting the column of stitches it sits within. When you decrease, you turn two (or more) old columns of stitches into one new column.

Left and right leaning decreases are often used in pairs and referred to as ‘twins’. The way they lean is determined by which stitch passes over which. For example, a k2tog (knit 2 together) will lean to the right as the second stitch on the left-hand needle ends up sitting on top of the first stitch. Stacked decreases, like those in raglan sweaters, create a visible line or pattern where the decreases sit on top of each other. K2tog’s twin, ssk (slip, slip, knit), is the other decrease used in a raglan decrease, as it leans in the opposite direction to the left – towards the k2tog decrease in this case.

Different patterns will call for different decreases, so it helps to have a library of them at the ready. We’re going to show you how to work some basic decreases: k2tog, p2tog, ssk, ssp, skpo and s2kpo.

K2tog & p2tog

Start with the basics

This is the most common and simplest way of decreasing in knitting. It reduces the stitch count by one and the stitches lean to the right.

K2tog and p2tog decreases

K2tog is the most common right-slanting decrease. Once you’ve mastered it, you can use the same idea to decrease more than one stitch at a time. However, the more stitches you decrease at once, the more pronounced the decrease will appear. The same applies to p2tog – the purl equivalent of k2tog. A p2tog worked on the wrong side of stocking stitch fabric looks the same as a k2tog on the right side.

K2tog

Step 1

Insert the right-hand needle through the first two stitches on the left-hand needle as if to knit.

Knit 2 together step 1

Step 2

Wrap the yarn as you would for a normal knit stitch and slide both loops off the left-hand needle.

Knit 2 together step 2

P2tog

Step 1

Insert the right-hand needle through the first two stitches on the left-hand needle as if to purl.

Purl 2 together step 1

Step 2

Wrap the yarn as you would for a normal purl stitch and slide both loops off the left-hand needle.

Purl 2 together step 2

Ssk

Leaning the other way

Slip, slip, knit is another common way of decreasing the stitch count by one, but unlike k2tog it slants to the left. It’s often paired with k2tog to create a balanced or even decrease, as it gives a neater finish than other stitches. In the same way as a ssk and a k2tog, a ssp worked on the wrong side is also paired with a p2tog and looks the same as a ssk on the right side.

Slip slip knit

Step 1

Insert the right-hand needle through the first stitch on the left-hand needle as if to knit and slip it to the right-hand needle.

Slip slip knit step 1

Step 2

Repeat Step 1 for the second stitch on the left-hand needle.

Slip slip knit step 2

Step 3

Hold the two needles point to point and slide the left-hand needle through the two stitches you just slipped.

Slip slip knit step 3

Step 4

Wrap the yarn around the right-hand needle (knit through the back loops) and slide both loops off the left-hand needle.

Slip slip knit step 4

Ssp

Turn it around!

Slip, slip, purl is a purled decrease that leans to the left when viewed from the front of the knitting.

Ssp is a slightly more awkward decrease to work than a ssk. It’s usually worked on the wrong side of the knitting and requires you to twist the stitches around to best position them for the decrease. It’s often paired with p2tog because that decrease leans to the right when viewed from the front of the knitting.

Slip slip purl

Step 1

Slip the first stitch from the left-hand needle knitwise, in the same way as for ssk, followed by the second stitch, again knitwise. This twists the sts so they are well positioned.

Slip slip purl step 1

Step 2

Slip the first stitch from the left-hand needle knitwise, in the same way as for ssk, followed by the second stitch, again knitwise. This twists the sts so they are well positioned.

Slip slip purl step 2

Step 3

Slide the right-hand needle purlwise through both stitches and purl them together.

Slip slip purl step 3

Step 4

Slide the loops off the left-hand needle.

Slip slip purl step 4

Skpo and sk2po

Take it further

Skpo is worked by slipping a stitch, knitting the next stitch and then passing the slipped stitch over. Like ssk, it leans to the left.

Sk2po is a closely related double decrease. You work it in exactly the same way, except you perform a k2tog instead of knitting 1 stitch. It gives a more symmetrical decrease than k3tog, but has a slight lean to the left.

Skpo

Slip, knit, pass over decreases by one stitch and leans to the left as with ssk, but looks more like a cast-off stitch.

Slip knit pass over

Step 1

Insert the right-hand needle into the front of the first stitch on the left-hand needle as if to knit.

Slip knit pass over step 1

Step 2

Slip the stitch to the right-hand needle.

Slip knit pass over step 2

Step 3

Knit the next stitch from the left-hand needle.

Slip knit pass over step 3

Step 4

Pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch and slide it off the end of the right-hand needle.

Slip knit pass over step 4

S2kpo

Slip 2 together, knit 1, pass over slipped stitch leans neither to the left or the right – it’s a central decrease and creates a straight line in your knitting.

Slip 2 together knit 1 pass over

Step 1

Insert the right-hand needle into the next two stitches on the left-hand needle as though to k2tog. Slide the left-hand needle out and leave the stitches slipped onto the right-hand needle.

Slip 2 together, knit 1, pass over step 1

Step 2

Knit the next stitch on the left-hand needle.

Slip 2 together, knit 1, pass over step 2

Step 3

Pass the two slipped stitches over the knit stitch and off the right-hand needle. You should now see a decrease in your work.

Slip 2 together, knit 1, pass over step 3

Decreases in lace

One of the key elements of lace fabric is the holes, commonly created by decreasing a stitch and replacing it with a yarn over. Unlike in some patterns, the way in which you decrease in lace is important. Rather than using decreases for shaping you’re using them to create the lace texture. This means that which way the stitches lean is vital to how the pattern looks overall. For every stitch decreased, a yarn over must replace it to keep the stitch count correct.

More tips on decreasing

You’ll sometimes see s2kpo called CDD, short for central double decrease. This is where you slip 2 stitches together, knit 1 and then pass over the slipped stitches. You’ll also sometimes see it written as a raised double decrease. It’s useful for the crown shaping in hats or the bottom of knitted bags. It creates a straight decrease, without leaning left or right, and keeps in line with the rest of the columns of stitches.

Obviously, there are many more different ways of decreasing than the six methods shown here, but these are the ones you will probably encounter most often.

Practice makes perfect! Try knitting a basic stocking stitch triangle using your newly learned decreases. Simply work a left-leaning decrease at the beginning of the right side rows, then work its right-leaning twin decrease at the end. Repeat this until you run out of stitches and then cast off.

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