Skill Builder: Decreases
Hello again, beginning knitters!
Just as for increasing, you have a bunch of options for decreasing! Skill Set: Beginning Knitting teaches the most important, most frequently used, and most fundamental decrease: k2tog.
Let’s take a look at some others that are handy to add to your toolkit. Taking a closer look at how these alternatives work helps you move along the joyful path of understanding the mechanics of knitting. Let’s go!
Pretty much anything you can do with the knit stitch, you can also do with the purl stitch. This means that purling two stitches together is a Thing, and it’s a good one.
Sometimes you’re working something in stockinette stitch and you’re directed to work a decrease on the WS row. And hats that are made in (k2, p2) ribbing often have decreases in the purl stitches when you get to the top of the crown. P2tog is your go-to for this sort of thing.
Just like a regular purl stitch, but you’re working two stitches instead of one
et voilà !
More than One
Both k2tog and p2tog are referred to as “single decreases,” since they decrease one stitch—that is, they take two stitches and turn them into one.
But these decreases have ambition! If you need to decrease more, you can work a k3tog, knitting three together—this maneuver takes three stitches and makes one out of them, decreasing two stitches in one go.
And it doesn’t stop there. Over the years, I’ve worked k3tog many times. I’ve worked p3tog, k4tog and k5tog reasonably often; and twice—in very special circumstances—a truly outrageous p7tog! Hot tip: It helps, with these multiple decreases, to have really pointy needles.
Leaning the Other Way
These “work stitches together” decreases have a property you may or may not have noticed: they lean to the right. You can see here how the stitch on the left is lying on top of the stitch on the right, so you get a right-leaning stitch:
It’s true of a p2tog also, but it’s basically impossible to see there! (This is very good news for reason I’ll explain at the end.)
I had to zoom in this close In order to photograph the two strands that show where the p2tog is worked. There’s no way you can tell which way it’s leaning!
Since k2tog leans to the right, you might be wondering, “Is there a decrease that leans to the left?” Yes! There is!
Although the direction a decrease leans doesn’t always matter, there are some types of projects where decreases are used to create a specific effect, and the direction of the lean becomes important.
For lace knitting in particular, decreases are used to create decorative lines.
And we often use directional decreases when making garments to create smooth and tidy lines—as you see below in this beautifully defined sweater neckline.
Ok, so if k2tog leans to the right, what goes left?
There’s actually a choice here! The two best ones are known as SKP and SSK.
SKP (Slip, Knit, Pass slipped stitch over)
SKP goes as follows: you slip the next stitch to the right needle knitwise (that is, as if you’re knitting).
Here on the right needle you see a stitch slipped knitwise
Then knit the following stitch.
And then lift the slipped stitch over, as if you’re binding off. This decreases one stitch.
Here’s the instant replay.
From left to right: the S of SKP Is the stitch slipped knitwise; the K of SKP is the second stitch knitted; the P of SKP is the slipped stitch passed over the knit stitch
SSK (Slip, Slip, Knit slipped stitches together)
SSK goes like this: slip the next two stitches, one by one, knitwise to the right needle.
Here you see two stiTches slipped knitwise onto the right needle.
Then return them to the left needle without twisting them. (This changes the orientation of the stitches so that the right legs are at the back, as shown in Lesson 2 of Skill Set.)
Then you work a move called a k2tog-tbl. The TBL stands for “through back loop”—meaning you put the needle into the backs of the stitches rather than the fronts.
Here comes TBL
Then knit the two together from there.
The right stitch is lying over the left one, so this decrease leans left
From left to right: the S and S of SSK are two stitches slipped knitwise; setting up for the k2tog with a TBL; the K of SSK shows the two slipped stitches knit together through the back loop
SKP and SSK are entirely interchangeable; both decrease one stitch and lean to the left.
Choosing between them is about cosmetics. When considering the use of these “directional” decreases, you typically see a k2tog nearby, and depending on how you knit, on how tightly you tension your yarn, one of these decreases might mirror the k2tog better than the other.
skp on the left and ssk on the right
Hot tip: Try both and see which you prefer. If a pattern calls for one version, you can swap it out for the other depending on which looks best to you.
And to answer the question I hinted at above: a left-leaning purl decrease does exist—the SSP—but if truth be told it’s a bit of a pain in the butt to do, and you really can’t tell the difference, so it’s just not worth it!
(Oh and BTW, there is another decrease that some people use for a left-leaner, k2tog-tbl. Although it has some applications, the end result isn’t the same as the two I’ve taught you, so it’s not a good general-purpose solution.)
The Key Takeaway
You don’t have to guess which decrease to use. If the type of decrease matters as with the lace and neckline above, the pattern will specify which to use. It doesn’t always matter. If the pattern just says “decrease,” keep it simple and stick with the Skill Set gold standard: k2tog.
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Sometimes getting back to basics is necessary! Thank you. I love how you have simplified in a organized explanation the different decreases. I am an advanced beginner and these always confuse me …. but not anymore!!!
Oh my, I’ve been knitting since SKP was known as “slip 1, knit 1, psso”.
For SSK I’ve never seen an instruction to put the slipped stitches back on the left needle – just insert the left needle into the front of the slipped stitches and you will automatically make your stitch TBL. Why the extra step?
It’s the same move and same result! When I’m teaching it, I’ve found that the step to put the left needle into the fronts of the stitches can be a little bit confusing/weird for newer knitters, so I make sure it’s explicit with that extra step. But heck yeah, once you have the hang of it, you can skip that step entirely!
Excellent! I learned so much, and thought the pictures were the best! I finally understand the SSK.
I think for the first time ever I understand which decrease to use and when!! Thank You!!
I’m surprised you didn’t do SSK as slip first K-wise, 2nd Purl-wise.
Oh, just recalled Patty Lyons did do a thing on that here. Maybe link to that for extra credit?
Hey Kate – thank you for this article – nothing new for me but super helpful for my husband who is a new knitter – and so saves my time LOL. However I have a big question: why do SSK rather than simply K2tog TBL? To me it looks just the same – I really cannot see any difference.
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