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Knitting Tutorial: The Leanings of Decreases

Horizontal lines calm. Vertical lines elongate. But oh, diagonal lines -- diagonal lines intrigue. One of the tools knitters can use to create diagonal lines in knit fabric is the slant inherent in the various decreases. A knit 2 together (k2tog) puts the left stitch of a pair on top of the right and so slants from left to right, while an slip, slip, knit (ssk) puts the right stitch of a pair on top of the left and so slants from right to left.

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When shaping a neckline, we can use the slant of a decrease to underscore that shaping, using a k2tog at the neck edge of the left front and an ssk at the neck edge of the right front. The decrease pairs that reduce the stitch count at the four shoulder points point toward the neck because the same column of stitches is placed on top of those to left (ssk) or right (k2tog). Notice on the sweater in the photo above that the decrease pairs are in the same order for both raglan lines: Stacking k2togs creates a left-slanting diagonal line, and stacking ssks creates a right-slanting diagonal line.

Bias Fabric

Work the same decrease (with an increase to balance the stitch count!) across an entire row, work a stack of these rows, and the resulting fabric will bias, or slant diagonally. To counter the bias of stacking the same decrease and to square up the fabric in a project, alternate the decrease choice every other RS row.

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Another way to make fabric itself slant is to add and subtract stitches at the ends. Add one at the beginning and subtract one at the end, and the fabric biases to the right. Decrease at the beginning and increase at the end, and the fabric biases to the left. In this case the fabric will bias no matter which decrease you use, but choosing one that slants in the bias direction emphasizes the slant. In the photo at far right, notice the diagonal possibilities created by stacking sections of biasing fabric.

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Decreases in Stitch Patterns

Knowing the slant that decreases put on things (hahaha ;-) can help us better understand stitch pattern instructions and the resulting fabric.

One can use the biasing nature of stacking rows of same-slant decreases to shape a piece, slanting diagonally in and then out to form a V-shaped scarf. Or one can incorporate bias squares with unbiased squares to make the fabric zig and zag. E.J. Slayton's Tilting Blocks Stole in the spring issue of Creative Knitting magazine takes this simple stitch pattern and transforms it into something lovely to wear on a spring day when you're out and about.

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Ripple stitch patterns provide another example. Put together the bias swatches from above and ripples result from stacked decreases (and compensating increases!) spaced evenly across the fabric width. The photo at left gives you an idea of the end result with k2togs as the first decrease of the pair and ssks as the second; the photo at right illustrates the reverse. If you change the order, you will change the look of the end result.

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These are just a few examples of the influence our decrease choices play on the end result that comes off our needles. The next time you find yourself working an ssk or k2tog, think about how that increase affects the final look!

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