Ask Patty: Decreases in Reverse
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?
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.
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!”