Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Which way do they go!

As a knitter move along from using the knit and purl stitches they enter the world of decreases (and increases but that will be for another article) and the distinctive element of them called "lean" or slant.

Lean is nothing more than what direction a stitch slants.  Knit and purl stitches are neutral, meaning they do not slant.  When we look at a section of  fabric made purely of knit and purls everything is in nice neat parallel columns of stitches.  

Notice how, in the image to the left, each knit stitch builds from the one below and is essentially stacking into a straight line?  This is basically our "neutral".  It doesn't matter whether it is stockinette (as shown), garter, seed stitch, basket weave, etc., Since they are crafted from our foundation of knit and purl stitches only each column remains neutral.

Now I am sure you are asking yourself why are we talking about neutral when this article is about decreases?  To appreciate and truly read your knitting we have to be able to know what neutral looks like in order to see what the lean of a decrease looks like.  Some are very blatant while at other times they are quite subtle and will blend in quite nicely.

When it comes to decreases we have many types.  The most common decreases encountered are the basics which take two stitches and combine them into one as when using Knit Two Together (K2Tog), Purl Two Together (P2Tog), Slip-Slip-Knit (SSK), Slip-Knit-Pass (SKP), Knit-Slip-Pass (KSP), Knit Two Together Through the Back Loop (K2Togtbl), Purl Two Together Through the Back Loop (P2Togtbl), Slip-Slip-Purl Two Together Through the Back Loop).  Keep in the back of your mind you can also encounter Knit Three Together (K3Tog), Knit Four Together (K4Tog) etc.  Essentially when you see K#Together, with # being the actual number of stitches you will be combing you are performing a decrease.  With any of these decreases the number can be increased and that is what you will use.  Enough about the technical side and let's get to the good stuff... lean!

Lean has only two options, left or right.  As a left handed knitter it is important to keep in mind that knitting patterns, unless otherwise states, are written from a right handed knitters perspective to lean.  This means when a stitch leans to the right for them it will lean to the left for us.  Many left handed knitters, myself included, mirror knit.  We are perfectly happy with our knitting being a mirror image of what a right handed knitter would make.  Sometimes that works well.  Other times not so much.  There are times when decreases are used with the purpose of blending in the decreases or making them stand out as a design element.  Because of this it is important to not only know which direction your decreases lean but also what decreases need to be swapped out when you do wish to create a fabric as pictured.

Let's start with the two most basic decreases the K2Tog and the SSK.

In the image below is a piece of fabric knitted right handed.  On the left side of the fabric is an SSK.  For a right handed knitter an SSK is a left leaning decrease ( \ ).  On the right side of the fabric is a K2Tog.  The K2Tog for a right handed knitter is a right leaning increase ( / ). Notice how, because of their placement on their respective sides, they appear to flare outward while the fabric is decreasing inward.  This effect is also known as full fashioned.

            In the image below is a piece of fabric knitted left handed (boy was I glad to go back to knitting leftie!  It is just so much more comfortable for me.)  The fabric is set up exactly the same.  On the left hand side of the fabric is an SSK.  The SSK for a left handed knitter is a right leaning increase ( / ).  On the right side of the fabric is a K2Tog.  The K2Tog for a left handed knitter is a left leaning increase ( \ ).  Notice how even with the exact same placement as the right handed version we get a much more symmetrical result known as, you guessed it, blended.

To set them up comparatively we end up with: 

Set side by side the mirroring effect is clear.

Taking the comparison chart one step farther we can easily determine which decrease we need to swap for the other.  If the pattern calls for a K2Tog  right handed ( \ ) we can substitute an SSK left handed ( \ ) to create the desired left leaning result.  The more frequently substitutions are done the more habitual it becomes.  I started out with a notebook with everything written in it and referred to it constantly.  Now I see a K2Tog and simply work an SSK and vice versa when I do not wish to have a mirroring effect.  As you work various decreases write them down in your notebook and designate them as left or right leaning.   From this you will build yourself a reference you can utilize and find the right decrease to substitute when you need to!  The basic rule you can count  on is if a stitch leans to the left for a leftie it will lean to the right for a rightie and if a stitch leans to the right for a leftie it will lean to the left for a rightie.  Just by working a decrease for yourself and identifying the lean you will know how it leans when worked by a right handed knitter.  This then tells you which decrease you will need to substitute for the other.

For those who learned with a strong English Knitting background the Slip-Knit-Pass (SKP) and the Knit-Slip-Pass (KSP) are the decreases encountered more commonly than the K2Tog and the SSK.  These decreases are equivalents regarding their lean. The K2TOG leans the same as the KSP and the SSK leans the same as the SKP (see below).  Now that we know what is equivalent to what we can then look to see if a pattern has SKP and KSP in it we can then see we simply swap the two for their placement, just like we did with the K2Tog and the SSK, to end up with the desired lean or we can substitute a different decrease with the appropriate lean.

This may all sound a bit confusing and that is perfectly alright.  Equivalents and substitutions are things that come in time and through experience.  As I always say use your scrap yarn to play and practice.  Make a swatch and make a K2Tog and then a few stitches later make a KSP.  Take a look at them and see what direction they both lean.  Then do the same with the SSK and the SKP.  The little bit of time that it takes to make a swatch and compare the stitches will be worth the education you will gain from doing so!

Lastly, a few words on purl side decreases.  These are exactly as they sound; decreases made on the purl side of the fabric however the resulting lean is visible on the KNIT side of the fabric.  The three a knitter is most likely to encountered are the Purl Two Together (P2Tog) , the Slip-Slip-Purl (SSP) and the Purl Two Together Through the Back Loop (P2Togtbl)  The P2Tog is a quite common general use decrease. The SSP and the P2Togtbl not as common and are most likely to come up in lace patterns.  Purl side decreases, aside from P2Tog, are not used anywhere near as often as knit side decreases, so I am not going to go into too much detail.  I will leave the detail for a future blog.  Just keep in mind that they do exist AND produce lean on the right side of the fabric.

When it comes to decreases the best advice I can give you is to take some time and experiment.  Pick a decrease, make a stockinette swatch and make the decreases.  Look at the right side of your work and observe how the decrease leans, flip your work over and see the wrong side looks like and make a note of both.  The more frequently you examine your work, how the stitches are formed and how the completed stitch looks the more you will understand what you have created and how to use them in various ways.

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