Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Increasing in seed stitch (and decreasing in seed stitch, too!)

Seed stitch (sometimes called moss stitch) is a stitch pattern which arranges knits and purls checkerboard-fashion so that every purl is surrounded by 4 knits, and every knit by 4 purls.

seed stitch arranges knits and purls checkerboard-fashion

Increasing and decreasing in a very regular stitch pattern like this is disruptive, and several recent e-mails to TECHknitting blog have asked how to do this smoothly.

No doubt there are several different methods, but my own little trick is to run a single column of knits, and increase or decrease along that line.  Stated otherwise, pushing the stitch pattern discontinuity up against a continuous column of knit stitches smooths and hides the irregularity.

Increasing seed stitch in circular knitting
Here is a schematic of what this would look like when knitting circularly, with the increase running along a single increase line, as it might be for a sleeve knit in the round.

circular knit seed stitch: increasing
along the center line, schematic

In the above schematic, the work is laid flat so you can see it, but in the real world, this sleeve will have been knit into a continuous spiral--a cone-shape, open at the bottom.  You have to use your imagination to "zip it shut" into a circle, along the red dotted lines.  In other words, for a circularly-knit sleeve, you would actually have knit this around and around, connected at the dotted lines.  The continuous column of knits running down the schematic center is actually the sleeve underarm "seam."

Below is a photo of what an increase along a center line for an underarm looks like "in the wool."

circular knit seed stitch: increasing
along the center line, "in the wool"

How to make the increases
The little red loops stand for the increases, and you can use any kind of increases you like. I personally use backwards loops slanting in different directions, as detailed here, but many kinds of increases will give a perfectly lovely result, such as kfb (knit front and back) or the nearly invisible increase.  Using a yo (yarn over) will result in holes, however, so yo's are not a great choice.

This all sounds very simple, and ultimately it is, but a lot of confusion typically surrounds increasing in pattern, so let's run through increasing one more time, in more detail, OK?

The surprising fact is that when you come to make the increases, you can just make whatever kinds of increases you prefer, not worrying about whether the stitch to which the increase gives rise is ultimately going to be a knit or a purl.  That's right--when you make the increases, you just make them however you like. Only on the FOLLOWING row do you have to worry about working that increased stitch as a knit or a purl, according to the checkerboard pattern established by the surrounding stitches.

Stated otherwise, a loop added to the fabric in the form of an added stitch does not take on the character of a knit or a purl until it is worked on the FOLLOWING row.  (If you are curious why this should be, a fuller explanation about this particular mystery of knitting is found in this post.) So the bottom line is, just make a pair of increases, and on the row or round after the increase, then work those new stitches as whatever they ought to be (whether knit or purl) as required to keep the checkerboard pattern going.

Increasing seed stitch in flat (back-and-forth) knitting
So far, we've shown the trick of increasing along a center line, such as would occur in circular knitting of a sleeve.  However, many patterns call for seed stitch to be worked flat (back-and-forth).  Here is what the trick looks like when knitting flat (back-and-forth) and the increase is along the outer edges, instead of down the middle.

flat knit seed stitch: increasing
along the edges, schematic

Above is the schematic, and below is the final result "in the wool." The seam (red dotted lines) has not yet been sewn shut, and the sleeve is laying flat.

flat knit seed stitch: increasing
along the edges, "in the wool"

Rate of increase
In both situations illustrated in this post, I tried to cram lots of increases into a small sample, so the increases are worked every fourth row.  However, an increase every 6th or 8th row might be more common for a sleeve, for example.  Nevertheless, although the RATE may differ, the METHOD remains the same.  Just work your increases on either side of a center line (if working circular) or one stitch in from the edge line (if working back-and-forth), at the rate required.  Then, on the NEXT row, worry about whether the increased stitch should be worked as a knit or a purl, according to the seed stitch pattern established by the surrounding stitches.

Variation--more than one knit column separating increases
I have chosen to have a single center column of knits, or a single column of knits along the fabric edge.  There is nothing to stop you from running two or three or more columns of knits, instead.  In fact, for a situation where there will be seaming, remember that the edge stitches might be completely consumed in the seaming process, so an extra knit column along each outer edge might come in very handy. Consider all this ahead of time, and adjust the stitch count, if necessary, so as to allow for the all-knit column(s) as well as to provide an odd or even number of stitches, as circumstances dictate, so that the stitch pattern is uninterrupted.

DEcreasing in seed stitch
All of the above relates to INCREASING in seed stitch, as might occur in a sleeve started at the bottom increasing from wrist diameter to shoulder diameter.  Sometimes, however, you might be working the other way around, such as a sleeve started at the shoulder, and required to DECREASE to the wrist diameter as the sleeve is worked.

Luckily, DEcreasing in seed stitch is exactly the same theory, except that you simply work two stitches TOGETHER at the required rate, rather than form an increase. It is a nice touch to employ symmetrical decreases such as the right leaning k2tog and the left leaning SSK (or the left-leaning SYTK).

Once the excess stitch has been removed on either side of the center line, or on either edge of the row, continue to work the remaining stitches in checkerboard pattern as required by the surrounding stitches. Stated otherwise, the LOCATION of the decreases is the same as the location of the increases: if working circularly, one on either side of a center line of knits; if working back and forth, one decrease on each end of the indicated decrease row, one stitch in from the knit column(s) along each edge.

Does this look familiar?
When you get right down to it, this trick of shaping on either side of a column of knits is really just an adaptation of a method widely used in circular-knit raglan sweaters: if you have ever knit a raglan sweater in the round, this is the shaping which is done on either side of the 4 raglan seams, keeping the center column(s) in all-knits.  The difference here is that the shaping (increasing or decreasing) is done in pattern of seed stitch, instead of stockinette, and the column of knits is used to disguise the stitch pattern discontinuity resulting from shaping.

You have been reading TECHknitting blog on increasing in seed stitch, and decreasing in seed stitch, too!


knottygnome said...

Do you have a photo of the back with a purl column rather than knit? i'm not sure i'd always want the standout look of the knit column and i'm curious to see if it would be less noticeable were you to use purls instead.

Kathleen C. said...

Thank you for this! I recently ran into this exact problem making a pair of mittens and couldn't figure out how to make the thumb gusset increases pretty. This makes it quite clear. It does mean that a pseudo-seam appears on the side of the gusset, but that can easily look decorative in this case.

Veronik said...

When I knit seed stitch in the round, I cast on an odd number of stitches - the jog is then concealed because the last stitch of the previous round is right next to the first stitch of the new round, which looks seamless. For my increases, I work a yarnover between the last stitch and the first and work 2 stitches into it on the following round (k1/p1 into the next stitch, or p1/k1 - whichever is appropriate). For decreasing, I opt for a double decrease.

Cheryl S. said...

Very nice! I have also modified patterns to do double decreases. Don't remember what I did for the increases.

=Tamar said...

I just want to say thank you for your wonderfully clear articles.

azteclady said...

Oh this is great! Very helpful, than you!

Michele said...

I know how hard it is with crochet to make increases and decreases look nice and flat, so I can only imagine how tricky this is with knitting.

I thought my readers might find it useful so I included it as part of this week's Tutorial Thursday. I linked to your site and this post here - Tutorial Thursday

TECHknitter said...

Hi Knottygnome--when the decreases are done on either side of a purl column, the purl column does recede, and this LOOKS as though it will hide the shaping. However, in my experience, at least, when you wear the garment, the purl column has the potential to stretch out and reveal all.

Yet, perhaps at a tight gauge, the purl column wouldn't stretch as much, and would therefore hide better? If you try this on a swatch, write back and say what you think.

Thanks for writing, TK

Rose Fox said...

Hi TK,

Any chance of a post on how not to DESPISE knitting seed stitch and 1x1 ribbing when one knits English-style? Moving the yarn front-and-back-and-front-and-back is exhausting and vastly annoying. I expect it's easier for Continental knitters but I have yet to get the hang of Continental-style knitting. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


TECHknitter said...

Hi Rose--something that has helped me to knit faster and more efficiently is to sit in front of a mirror and watch myself knit. The more motions I can cut out, the faster and less wearing is the knitting. Each flapping, twisting, shuttling or other motion deleted from my knitting translates to less wear and tear on me. It feels fake-y and strange to consciously change the way one knits, but it really pays off in the long run.

New York Built said...

I agree with your advice on reducing added motions, hense wear and tear, from my own journey with joint pain. I learned how to knit and purl backwards by looking in the mirror at the moment to moment actions, not the motions my hands were doing in reverse.

Best improvement made to my knitting...after your exquisitely rendered examples of knowledgable knitting. I learn something every time I dip into your blog.

Claire St. Pierre knockoff! said...


Christals Creations said...

I just found you while looking for quick way to make tassels for my sons hat. I am a novice knitter and your instuctions were fab.Thank you. :o)

cooraclare said...

I just discovered your wonderful blog. I rediscovered knitting after a long hiatus, too. Thank you for sharing!

jadis said...

thanks for your awesome articles & art, TK! i'd also be curious for your advice on how to increase evenly across 1x1 ribbing...thanks!

Anonymous said...

Another way to do this-although you would have to rework every pattern-would be to decrease two st at a time by knitting(or purling,as the case may be)three st together,eliminating the column.

Beverly Tilton said...

I do a centered double decrease and it seems to work quite well.

Virginia said...

I'm a bit unclear on one point - is the line (or lines) of knitting in addition to however many stitches the pattern calls for? That is, if instructed to cast on 59 stitches would I simply convert the first and last stitch in the row to knit (if knitting flat) or would I cast on 61 stitches, adding the two lines of knit stitches?

Thanks for this post. I'm struggling with shaping in an Aran sweater with lots of decreases/increases and I think this technique will help a lot.


Mary Vaughan said...

Please could you advise as how to work 3 sts tog in moss I Knit three or purl three?

TECHknitter said...

Hi Mary--If this is a series of lined-up decreases, then you can use the the tricks of this post to establish a line of decreases. If it is a random decrease in the middle of the material, it depends on which will look less intrusive in the fabric. I suggest trying both and see which you prefer.

Jessica M said...

Wonderfully clear instructions. Thank you.