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Dear Patty,

I recently knit a sweater that had a motif of decreases and YOs on the bottom of a short sleeve. The pattern told you to pick up the sleeve stitches, knit down to the top of the motif, put the sleeve stitches on a holder, then cast on and knit the motif separately and graft the motif to the sleeve stitches. I thought that was a lot of bother and just knit down, starting at the top of the motif chart and reversing the pattern. The motif doesn’t look quite the same reversed. Why?


Dear Jacque,

I have been where you are. As a new knitter, I had a lace cowl that had you knit the bottom half, then leave the stitches live, cast on again, knit the other half and graft the two halves together. Well, since I didn’t know how to graft (or what the heck a graft was!), I figured I’d outsmart the pattern and do EXACTLY what you did. I just worked the pattern backward, bound off, glanced smugly down at my finished work, and then promptly swore and cried. 

After I stopped swearing and dried my tears, I sat down to figure It out. The first thing I did was turn the words into a chart. This was the first step in analyzing what went wrong.

Four Elements

1) Direction of the stitches

2) What comes below the decreases

3) What comes between the YOs

4) What happens to the fabric edge

Let’s start by looking at a simple diamond lace. Seems so symmetrical that working it backward should work right? Nope!

Here’s the regular chart:

Here is the chart exactly reversed (Row 12 is now 1, Row 11 is 2, etc.):

As you can see from this swatch, flipping the chart changes the stitches: 

Direction of Stitches

The first thing you might notice is the direction of the decreases. Looking at the written instructions you might not notice it, but when looking at the chart, you can clearly see that in the original chart, the decreases are following the line of the YO, but when we reverse the rows the decreases are now moving away from the YOs.

So reversing the direction of the decreases would fix everything right? Not so fast. Time to look at what’s below and between.

What’s Below & Between

If we look again at the swatch, we can see that the YOs are a bit smooshed (the technical term) on the upside-down swatch. They are not nice, round holes. This has to do with what’s below.

In the original chart, the two stitches that make up the decrease are both stockinette stitches, free and clear of the previous RS row’s YO. But in the upside-down chart, the stitches that make up the decrease are stacked right on top of the YO. The poor bit of lace doesn’t know what you want from it—you just increased, and now you’re making that YO disappear by decreasing on top of it!

Next, we have the what’s between the YO:

Looking at the bottom of the swatch you’ll see just those two little twisted pieces of yarn between the YOs. But in the upside-down swatch, it looks like there’s a full stitch between each YO. The only time you see that little twist of yarn on the upper swatch is the side of the diamond when the two YO are stacked on top of each other. 

If we look at the chart, we can see this is caused by moving the decrease to the other side of the YO. What’s between is directly connected to what’s below.

Having to unravel half a lace cowl and really examining my lace helped me sooooo much with reading my knitting. Understanding what stitches made up a decrease helped me learn how to fix my mistakes.

But there’s one last magical feature we need to explore.

What happens to the fabric edge

In the case of that infamous cowl, the lace had a lovely scalloped edge … but not when I reversed the chart.

Fast forward to when I designed the Summer Swing Tee  with a scalloped hem.

For a matching sleeve scallop edge, I couldn’t pick up stitches and work that lace backward. It had to be knit separately and then sewn on.

Understanding the WHY opened up all sorts of possibilities for my knitting. It’s all about those decreases coming together.  

Once more … with popcorn

Let’s pretend this popcorn is our stockinette. 

When I bring the tops of the needles in to simulate decreases coming closer together, you can see that corn bow out, but weirdly, it doesn’t work in reverse. 

Look at the knitting—you can clearly see the effect of the decreases on the cast-on edge, and a very different effect on the bind-off edge. As the decreases come toward each other (either right and left decreases coming together or a central double decrease) it pushes the bottom of the fabric down.

Looking at the charts, we can see the difference between the charts. In the real chart, the central double decreases pull those YO in and bows the edge out. But the upside-down chart has a very different effect on the edge. If you look closely, you can see when the lace starts—it pushes the stockinette down a bit.

Become a Shape Shifter!!

Once you unlock the awesome power of decreases, you can use them to create lovely effects.

In Hudson Valley Cardi, using right- and left-slanting decreases that come together, moving into central decreases, makes a straight hem that looks curved. By adding increases at the side, you still get a straight-cut garment.

And a straight neck looks like a curved neck without having to do any shaping!

What if you want to add a bit of zing to an A-line top? In the Roselle Tee, instead of decreasing stitches at the side, put the decreases in the middle to come toward each other. Boom, you get a shirt tail hem with no short rows and no fuss.

So are mistakes ever mistakes, or just knitting discoveries you haven’t made yet? Perhaps instead of “I fail hard so you don’t have to,” my teaching motto should be “Go ahead and fail—that’s when the fun begins!”

The Power of Patty

Jogless Stranded Colorwork

Jogless Latvian Braid

Totally Twistless Tubular

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About The Author

Patty Lyons is a nationally recognized knitting teacher and technique expert. In her pursuit of training the mindful knitter, Patty is known for teaching the “why” in addition to the “how.” She specializes in sweater design and sharing her love of the much-maligned subjects of gauge and blocking.

You can find Patty at her website and on Ravelry.

Do you have a problem you’d like Patty to tackle? Write to her at



  • Oh my word, Patty! You’ve done it again. I love the WHY so much and this just shows the brilliant cleverness that is embedded in a well-designed pattern. The popcorn! Genius! Thank you for another well illustrated and completely sensible post. LOVE!

  • What about of you rotate your chart to upside down? And knit as written? Instead of reversing the order of the rows?

    • Give it a try. Same problems (that’s why I mentioned, it’s not fixed by reversing the direction of the decreases). It’s still the issue of what the decreases are made of. It also won’t work with central decreases. No short cuts I’m afraid.

      Designers are just knitters. We are all looking for short cuts. If there were a way to avoid a graft, we’d do it.

    • I wondered about this as well, as long as it is a symmetrical motif and doesn’t impact on the edge shape?

  • Amazing! I’ve always seen knitting as a math puzzle, but hats off to you! What an amazing ability you have to be a yarn detective! Thanks for sharing!

  • I wondered about rotating as well, as long as it is a symmetrical motif and doesn’t impact on the edge shape?
    Sorry, trying to reply to Angela but the website won’t allow!!

    • Apologies – the site took ages to show my comment and I can’t work out how to delete this subsequent one!

  • Brilliantly explained!
    I’ve just ordered your book and am so excited to receive it Patty, I learn so much from your posts.

    • I love Patty’s book! I keep it next to my knittng chair so it’s always at hand for when get stuck in a pattern. I’m so glad that she decided to put her wisdom in a convenient form.

    • Patty’s book has joined the pantheon. I keep it next to *Knitting Without Tears*.

  • Oh my word!! Where were you 3 years ago when I battled with a similar problem. I can now unravel that jersey, wash the wool & start again – this time with no pain or nasty words floating around in my head.

  • Your analysis of the composition of knitting astounds me. It sometimes makes my head hurt trying to follow every step as you unravel (literally) what is happening as stitches become fabric and fabric becomes garments. I am ever so grateful you write these columns (and your amazing book) to help us solve these mysteries!

  • Genius. Thanks!

  • My mind is doing mental gymnastics translating what you have brilliantly pointed out – this is a good thing. The “science and logic” of knitting, or “what the heck happened!” Thank you for keeping my mind limber.

  • Amazing and so informative!

  • I’ve recently experienced this. I chose a yoke pattern from my Japanese Knitting Bible but wanted the top to be top down as I was using stash yarn and not really sure how it was all going to play out. I tried turning the pattern upside down, changing the direction of decreases, and a few other things that never worked. I just made the yoke as per pattern and made sure it fit, picked up edge stitches and worked down from there. I love the result.
    Did you essentially discover there is really no way to get the desired result from the other direction?
    There is still a part of me that wants to sit down with that eyelet pattern and play around with stitches until I make it work, lol.

  • brillant!! Thanks for the very clear visuals and explantion

  • Brilliant. This is exactly the sort of thing I wonder about when I am knitting lace (yes, I am a weirdo but I have fun being a weirdo) so I enjoyed every bit of this immensely.

  • I always enjoy your columns, and learn SO MUCH. I first tried “just knit it upside down” on a scarf that turned out to be a disaster. I had just knit top that had instructed me to “knit the left side as the right, reversing the shaping” and figured if it works side to side surely it works up and down. NOPE.
    Thank you.

  • Could you get the correct lace on reverse effect by working the sleeve cuff in double-knit lace?
    I love the styling of the Harbor Springs sweater, although the link says Hudson Valley Cardi!

    • oops. That’s totally my fault. For some reason when my brain things Harbor Springs (location name that starts with H), my fingers type Hudson Valley (location name that starts with H). D’ooh

  • Patty thank you so much, you are an amazing teacher.

  • Thank you for this! I save your articles, I can’t aways “see” or follow your explanation in my head. I’m looking forward to winter, I’ll work through the explanations by knitting “with” you. Lace, cables, and pretty short rows frustrate me, and the only way through is a deep dive.

  • It seems almost every lace edging is bottom up — I have found myself doing extensive searches for lace edging that is top down when I’ve made a plain shawl that needs a nice lace edging. Often I opt for the sideways version which is challenging but makes me feel like I’ve climbed a mountain and planted a flag of victory. I am in awe of how you explaing the why of all this. Thanks for another brilliant column.

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