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Decreases From the Flip Side

Ariel Barton shares her thoughts on decreases on the wrong side. Visit her blog at: www.livejournal.com/users/dragoncrafter

Single decreases from the wrong side

There's only one way to get a right-slanting single decrease while working from the right side: k2tog (knit 2 together).

However, if you want to do a decrease on the wrong side that will look like a k2tog from the right side, you have three options.

First, there's the fast efficient easy decrease: p2tog. It's the one that's usually used. Next, there's the slower (and, to my mind, utterly pointless) SSP: slip two as if to purl, insert left needle in both slipped stitches, and purl. Finally, you can "slip 1 purlwise, purl 1, pass slipped stitch over". Some people think this is easier than p2tog.

Any of these three options will produce a stitch that, when the fabric is turned around, looks like a k2tog. There are three ways to make a left-slanting single decrease from the right side. There's the SSK, SKP (slip 1 knitwise-knit 1-pass slipped stitch over), and then there's the k2tog tbl (knit 2 together through back loop). The SSK is considered (by many people) to be the best-looking choice. Some people think that the SKP is easier. K2tog tbl is probably the fastest if you're good at it, but it twists all the stitches, and is kind of hard for tight knitters.

However, there are fewer options for doing this on the wrong side: the obvious purl analogs of SSK and SKP produce things that slant to the right.

P2tog tbl (purl two together through back loop) is a lot like k2tog tbl. It produces twisted stitches, it's tricky if you're a tight knitter at all, and it slants to the left when viewed from the right side.

There's only one really good choice for left-slanting decreases worked from the wrong side: SSP tbl. This goes "slip 2 knitwise and insert left needle, as if to SSK, and remove right needle. P2tog tbl." It's easier (if slower) than a straight p2tog tbl, and it doesn't twist the stitches.

Some people have issues with their decrease tension. In a decrease, you're often pulling harder with your needles on the stitches than you would be if you were just knitting. This means that the two loops being decreased want to grow.

The first (rightmost) loop often does, by pulling a little bit of yarn out of the stitch just worked. This stitch is hanging below the right needle, with nothing in it but another loop of yarn; it can shrink easily.

The second loop, however, can't pull any yarn to itself. On each side, it's got a stitch which still has a needle in it. These loops can't shrink, so they can't give up yarn, so the second loop can't grow.

In addition to this effect, when you insert the needle into the stitch after the decrease, it does want to grow a little bit. It does this by pulling yarn from the stitch just worked, thus causing the second loop (in the decrease) to tighten up and look neat.

Thus, decreases where the second loop ends up on top (k2tog, SSP tbl, or p2tog tbl) often look neater than decreases where the first loop ends up on top (SSK, SKP, k2tog tbl, and p2tog). This should be the only difference in appearance between, say, a k2tog on the right side and a p2tog on the wrong side.

To compensate for this, some people advocate doing SSK as "slip 1 as to knit, slip 1 as to *purl*, insert left needle, knit 2 together." This twists the bottom (mostly invisible) loop, which tightens up the top loop. I don't do this, and whenever I say "do something as if to SSK", I mean slipping all stitches knitwise.

Double decreases

First off, I'm going to describe the theoretically-possible double decreases, as they appear from the right side.

A decrease consists of stacking two or more (in this case, three) knit loops and pulling a single loop through them.

Ignoring issues of tension, double decreases can be completely described by (1) the order of the three stitches, and (2) whether the stitches end up twisted. I'm going to look just at the issue of order, and treat twisted kinds as variants. This is like considering k2tog tbl as another way to make something that looks like an SSK. There are, mathematically, six possible orders:

- Left-center-right (LCR). This puts the left loop on top and the right loop on the bottom. It's made by knitting 3 together (k3tog). It slants very strongly to the right.

- Right-center-left (RCL). This can be done as SSSK, S2-k-p2sso, or k3tog tbl. That is, you do what you would do for a left-slanting single decrease, but do it with one more stitch. It slants very strongly to the left.

- Center-right-left or center-left-right (C**). These decreases put the center stitch on top. CRL is usually done by working *slip 2 as if to k2tog, knit 1, pass 2 slipped sts over.* You need either a magnifying glass, bulky yarn, or to be looking really really closely to tell the difference between CRL and CLR, so I'm going to treat them as identical. C** means "either CRL or CLR". This decrease doesn't slant at all. It is the decrease running up the middle of Branching Out (from knitty.com

- Right-left-center (RLC). This is done by working *slip 1, k2tog, psso.* On the right side, this is probably the easiest of the double decreases. This decrease sort of slants to the left. In some patterns, it's used that way, and you can use it to replace RCL, and you can pair it with LCR to get symmetric double decreases.

However, this decrease also looks sort of like an inverted V. This is what is used at the tops of, say, leaves. If you use it this way, it looks fairly symmetric. You can safely replace it with LRC, and you don't really want to replace it with RCL. (This will be relevant when we discuss wrong-side decreases.)

- Left-right-center (LRC). This is the actual mirror image of RLC. It's kind of rare to do this from the right side. Either it's being used as a right-slanting decrease, in which case LCR (k3tog) is a lot faster, or it's being used as a symmetric V-shaped decrease, in which case RLC is easier. It's used in Leaves and Waves (also from knitty.com) but I think in that case it could be replaced by LCR. If you really want LRC, the Leaves and Waves method is: SSK, slip the just-knitted stitch to left needle purlwise, pass next stitch over, and slip back to right needle, again purlwise.

So those are the five possible decreases. Here's how you do them on the purl side:

- LCR: p3tog or sl 2 purlwise-p1-p2sso.

- RCL: sssp tbl. Or p3tog tbl, if you don't mind twisted stitches and are a loose enough knitter to be able to do it.

- C**: I don't think I've ever actually done this one. I'd suggest: slip 2 as if to SSK, insert left needle through both stitches * from right to left* (this is sort of like slipping as to k2tog), then remove right needle and p3tog. This produces CLR, incidentally, not CRL.

- LRC: Slip 1 purlwise. Work SSP tbl (or p2tog tbl). Pass slipped stitch over. This is a bit slower than the right-side version, but not by too overly much.

- RLC: If possible, don't. If you want the effect of a left-slanting decrease, use RCL. If you want the effect of a centered, inverted-V decrease, use LRC. Deciding which is a judgement call that has to be made in every pattern.

If you must do RLC, you can borrow the moves from LRC for the right side: SSP tbl, slip the just-created stitch to left needle purlwise, pass next stitch over, slip back to right needle, again purlwise. This will, sadly, twist the last stitch, which is the one that ends up on top and is most visible.

There are also larger decreases out there, such the ones used to close off cables in closed-loop cabling. I'm not going to go into those, because they tend to be explained wherever they come up.