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Decreasing Gracefully

It’s a phrase that pops up pretty frequently in knitting patterns: “Decrease X sts across the row.”

It saves print space and keeps patterns concise, but if you’re not a whiz with quick calculations, it can seem a little discouraging…

With a piece of scrap paper, though, you can easily work out a simple plan for spacing out the decreases, without even breaking a sweat.

Casale (left) and Pinaretta (right) are two examples of patterns that instruct you to decrease across a row.

I like to approach the problem in steps, figuring out one thing at a time. When you break it down this way, it’s pretty easy and painless. And as Norah pointed out in one of our conversations on the topic, it’s not the end of the world if your decreases aren’t absolutely, amazingly, perfectly even. If your stitch count is still off by a stitch or two at the end of the row, even it out on the next row and forget about it.

Corbie, the pattern I’m using for my first example.

For this tutorial, I decided to work through two different examples, explaining the process as I go. Let’s get started with an example from this week’s free KnitBits pattern, Corbie. I’m going to follow the directions for a size 2 sweater, so imagine that I cast on 74 stitches for the back and have finished the K2, P2 ribbing, ending with a RS row as the pattern directed.

Here’s what the pattern tells me: “Change to MC and p the next row, dec 30 sts as evenly spaced across as possible – 44 sts.”

Here’s how I’ll decide to space my decreases:

1. If I need to decrease 30 stitches, that means I’ll be working p2tog 30 times. Every p2tog involves 2 stitches, so I’ll multiply 30 by 2 to get 60. Now I know 60 stitches will be involved in the decreases.

2. Now I’ll subtract 60 from my current stitch total, which is 74. That leaves me with 14 stitches that won’t be involved in decreases, but will need to be purled.

3. Here’s what the basics of the row will be: 30 sets of 2 stitches, and 14 stitches sprinkled in between them. Since I don’t like to decrease at either edge of my row, I know I’ll place a few of my 14 stitches at each end.

4. If I only put 1 stitch at each end, that would leave me with 12 stitches to distribute evenly between my 30 p2togs. 30 isn’t exactly divisible by 12, so I’d like to find a number that would divide more evenly. If I decide to put 2 stitches at each end, that leaves me with 10 stitches to distribute between my 30 p2togs.

5. If I plan to work one single stitch after every three p2togs, that will distribute my stitches very evenly and get me down to 44 stitches by the end of the row.

So, for this row, I would work it as follows: P2, [p2tog three times, p1] 10 times, p2.

The successful result of evenly decreasing across a row: the fabric lies flat, with no puckering.

Now let’s try a second scenario. Let’s say that I’ve cast on 82 stitches for a project and just finished working the ribbing, and the pattern instructs me to decrease 14 stitches across my next knit row, leaving me with 68 stitches.

1. If I need to decrease 14 stitches, that means I will be working k2tog 14 times. Every k2tog involves 2 stitches, so I’ll multiply 14 by 2 to get 28. Now I know 28 stitches will be involved in the decreases.

2. Now I’ll subtract 28 from my current stitch total, which is 82. That leaves me with 54 stitches that won’t be involved in decreases but will need to be knitted.

3. Here’s what the basics of the row will be: 14 sets of 2 stitches, and 54 stitches sprinkled in between them. Since the number of decreases is outnumbered by the number of single stitches, I don’t need to worry about keeping my edge stitches free. Instead, I need to divide the 54 stitches up so they’ll fit evenly between my decreases.

4. 54 divided by 14 is approximately 3.8 so I know that if I work 3 stitches before each decrease, I’ll have some stitches left over to put at each side. 14 times 3 equals 42, so that means I have 12 stitches left to distribute before I get to 54. Since I’ll already have 3 stitches before my first decrease, I’ll put 4 of my 12 stitches at the beginning of the row, and leave the remaining 8 stitches at the end.

So, for this row, I’d work it as follows: K4, [k3, k2tog] 14 times, k8.

Now that we’ve gone through two examples, let’s review the basic steps so you can apply them to your own situations:

1Identify how many decreases need to happen, and determine how many stitches are involved in each decrease. Multiply these two numbers to determine how many total stitches will be involved in the decreases.

2. Subtract the answer to Step 1 from the current stitch total. This tells you how many additional stitches still need to be worked, even though they’re not involved in the decreases.

3. Compare the resulting numbers from Step 1 and Step 2 to determine how many stitches will need to be divided up and spaced evenly.

4. Choose a dividing number that works out easily, placing any remainder stitches at both ends of the row.

Once you break down the individual steps and concentrate on just one part at a time, calculating even decreases becomes a quick and relatively painless task!


32 thoughts on “Decreasing Gracefully

    1. Yes, both examples were for flat patterns. But the same principle would work for a round of circular knitting as well!

  1. I have to confess I almost never do math to figure this one out. I use locking stitch markers. If the pattern says to decrease so many stitches evenly across the row, I get out that number of markers. I lay out the fabric and put one marker about halfway across. (It helps to divide the fabric in half visually.) Then I eyeball where the remaining markers should go, so many on each side, placing them about equally spaced apart. As I knit the row, I work a dec at each marker and remove it. I can do the math when I have to, but my brain likes this method better. 🙂

    1. I don’t use the stitch markers, but I basically do the same thing as Blue Peninsula. I mark the middle and figure how many need to be decreased in each half, then roughly figure how to divide this up as I’m knitting. Somehow it works pretty closely. I also had figured it didn’t really matter if I ended exactly or not. So I guess I’m doing OK! I often wondered if I was!!

    2. I thought this was much easier to understand, than the knit bit. I have been knitting for 54 years, and unless I see a visual tuturial, even though I have no problem reading patterns. visuals are much easier than math. Thank bluepeninsula. CB

    3. Me too! I can do the math and have done it that way, but find it easier to divide in half or thirds and visually mark of the correct number of spaces and mark with stich markers. Works every time!

  2. Isn’t it a good pattern designer’s/writer’s responsibility to do these sort of calculations and include them in the pattern? It couldn’t take more than additional line or two of text. I mean, it’s great to be able to do this and many other things on your own but, personally, I would be irked if a pattern (a paid pattern) included the instructions ““Decrease X sts across the row.”

  3. This is great! Thank you! Now how about the phase “increase evenly across the row”. I have trouble with that one too.

  4. I have always divided the number of times I have been asked to decrease into the total number of stitches on my needle, that gives me the number of stitches between decreases. If it isn’t an even number I fudge it somewhere in the row. Is this going to get the same results as your method?

  5. I am wondering why, if the designer and tester have figured this out to make samples, isn’t it just written in the pattern? Especially a purchase pattern. Your example looks like it would take less space than the sentence about doing it. Just curious.

    1. Exactly! Why not just include the instructions in the pattern, seeing as they’ve already made the article and have the answer. Duh.

  6. I have to agree with bluepeninsula on this one. I used to ask Hubbby to do the math for me, because every time I add two and two I end up with seven. Then one day I needed Hubby’s expertise but he was out pickin’ an’ grinnin’. So I decided to improvise and did exactly what bluepeninsula suggested. I may have been off a stitch or two or maybe three, but whatever it was that I was knitting ended up looking just fine and nobody could tell that I suffer with math-heimers (also known as mathphobia).

    I asmire people who can work with numbers and create amazingly precise things – I’m just not one of them. Numbers scare the living bejeebers outta me. So, I rely on my eyes (even though they’re beginning to fail me) or Hubby or anybody else who can add two and two and NOT come up with seven.

    Thank you for trying to help, though. I will keep this info nearby (on my ‘puter) and if I ever decide to seek a cure for my condition, I’ll have your kind instructions to help me.

  7. Thank you for the very clearly written instructions. I think this could be applied to increases also. I have printed this out for future use.

    1. Marilyn, I bow down to you and your formula. I couldn’t figure out how to decrease for my pattern to save my life. Bless you. Ellen

  8. Thank you for serendipitous decreasing info. I need it !”- ) Bit by bit is the way I manage . . . sometimes only a little bit. Thanks again for the great breaking into bits for understanding the bigger picture.

  9. I love your idea bluepeninsula! I hate the math and usually just visually estimate as I go (no markers for guides, just judge where the middle is). Of course I never come out exactly even so your marker method is perfect for the likes of me. Can’t wait to try it!
    PS: that having been said I’m going to print a copy of Amanda’s decrease methods to keep with my knitting at just in case……

  10. This was incredibly helpful. Every time I tried to do the math, it never came out correctly – I wasn’t multiplying by 2. This is much quicker than the visual methods described in other comments, with the added advantage of knowing how you will end the row before you get there.

    As with all knitting, there are no wrong ways to knit. We can pick and choose what works best for each of us depending on the project and our personal knitting styles. This is an incredibly useful tool to have. Thank-you very much for sharing this.

  11. Thank you! I have not encountered this lately but I am sure I will, so I have saved your instructions in an app and I’ll be able to refer to it every time I need it!

  12. The author of this post is trying to explain something that a lot of knitters find challenging, and I think it was explained wonderfully!

  13. Thanks so much for the MATH! I’m working my first “real” pattern, and have pages and pages of lllll slash marks to figure it out. UGH! However, I’m still stuck on one set of instructions and have not found any pattern corrections for this specific step, but the instructions say:
    Decrease 45 evenly across row. The total number of stitches across the row is 65.
    I was positive this had to be a pattern mistake, but evidently it’s not. How do you figure this out?
    Booklet 319 Linsey Geometry: Pattern “monge”; My stitch count up to this “Dec Row 4 (RS) instruction is correct, but this part throws it all out of skew. Should I just “infringe” into either side of the decrease portion of the row (before and after both markers) to steal the stitches needed to make 45 decreases? I’m stumped in Vermont!

    1. It sounds like you’re making lots of progress on your first real pattern! I think the best person to help you will be Donna, at Shoot her an email describing exactly which part of the pattern you’re on, and she’ll be able to help you get the row sorted out. Then you’ll be on your way!

      1. Thanks so much! It’s fantastic to get help with this!
        With Appreciation –

  14. Hi Amanda,

    Thank you so much for the explanation. I must confess that I always eyeballed the decreases-I just didn’t want to take the time to figure it out (kind of like swatching!) I really appreciate your tutorial. It was very easy to understand and my decreases (I’m working on the Mamere sweater) came out perfectly. Now I feel a little more like a professional knitter!

    All the best to you!

    Denyse McClure

  15. Thanks for the explanation. Most of the time I just eyeball it, but sometimes there is a large decrease and eyeballing it doesn’t work as well. This will help me a lot. Again, thanks.

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