Thursday, September 20, 2007

Right decreases, the good twin--part 1 of right and left leaning decreases

Includes 4 illustrations
Welcome back to TECHknitting. I hope you all had a lovely summer, and that everything you wished for yourselves and your loved ones came true during these past few months. For me, the end of summer means my knitting batteries are recharged and it's back to illustrating knitting tricks for a second season. I hope you'll read along through this upcoming fall and winter, as more tricks desperate to escape my mind try to leap off the screen to infect yours.

Traveling through the knitting sector of the blogosphere, I read lots of complaints about left leaning decreases, especially "slip, slip, knit," abbreviated "ssk." A lot of you are complaining that your (left leaning) ssk's are sloppy--you're complaining that they don't look like much like your neat and tidy knit 2 together's (k2tog, right leaning). (Click HERE for sketch illustrations of both.) So, I thought you might like a series on right and left leaning decreases, with a focus on improving the left leaning ones.

Today's post, the first in the series of four, provides background material--it's all about the main right leaning decrease, k2tog. The second in the series will examine ssk as well as the left leaning decrease called "slip 1, knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over" (psso). The third and fourth posts will have illustrations and instructions for two new ways to make left-leaning decreases.

One thing before I dig in. The fact is, that loose ssk (or psso) might not be as bad as you think. Knitting while you are creating it doesn't always look a whole lot like knitting once you are wearing it. Those loose, bumpy, left leaning decreases on your needles will eventually even out and look a great deal more like the tight and tidy right leaning decreases you admire, while the right leaning decreases will relax to bring the appearances even closer. The appearance won't be identical, but it'll be a whole lot closer than it is on the needles. As the great Elizabeth Zimmerman put it in the opening pages of her magnificent book, Knitting without Tears:
"I used to think that people in the Olden Days were marvelously even knitters, because all really ancient sweaters are so smooth and regular. Now I realize that they probably knitted just as I do, rather erratically, and that it is Time, the Great Leveler, which has wrought the change--Time and many washings."
I am quoting the greatest-knitter-of-us-all to absolve you if you aren't inclined to wrap your mind around all the complications I am going to dig into. If you can live with ssk (or psso, or any other method of left-leaning decrease you know) then you will find that these left-leaning decreases only improve with age. If you choose to, you will be justified in resolutely ignoring the lumpy left-leaning decreases on your needles, knowing that in the fullness of time, they WILL look better--and you can skip the rest of this post and read a different blog for today.

you're still with me, if ignoring lumpy bumps isn't in your nature, or if you just like to fool around with things, here we go...

Knitting, as you know, is connected in the rows AND in the columns. You can rip it out row-wise, or you can create runs by ripping it out column-wise. This means that anything you do to any knitted stitch in any given row not only has the potential to affect the stitches on either side of it in that row, but also has the potential to affect the column in which that stitch lies. In fact, it is the column effect of stacked decreases which is the most eye-catching --isolated single decreases can be done any old way, really, without making much of a difference to the finished fabric.

Used in pairs, or in matching columns, right leaning decreases and left leaning decreases are meant to be twins. And, in a purely mechanical sense, they are. Each performs the same function in mirror image. Either type of decrease removes one stitch from the knitted fabric, eliminating one column of stitches so there is now one column of stitches where two columns were before. In the illustration below, a right leaning decrease causes two bright green columns to become one dark green column, while a left leaning decrease causes two bright blue columns become one dark blue column.

Just at the spot where the two columns are bridged to become one, the little scar of the actual decrease appears (outlined in red). This scar marks the two stitches bridging over the two old columns. The topmost stitch must slant either right (green) or left (blue) causing the resulting fabric to look as if the left column leaned over and ate the right column or vice versa.
When these little decrease scars are stacked atop one another, a pattern appears: the column in which the decrease consistently lies appears to be eating all the columns slanting away below it. This is the familiar line of decreases which provides the spiral shaping to a hat crown knitted bottom-up, the decreasing diameter of a sleeve knit from shoulder to cuff, the lines of decrease on either side of a raglan shouldered sweater knitted bottom-up, or the line on either side of a v-neck knitted bottom-up. (The sweater below is clearly a mutant: regardless of whether it was knit top-down or bottom-up, some of the shaping lines (red) would have had to be knit as stacked increases, not decreases, but I think you get the idea...)
A continuous line of right leaning decreases are easy to make, and they look lovely and tidy as they slant off rightwards with no sloppy malformed stitches. Right leaning decreases are the good twin--the column of the decrease features regular, even stitches. The only difference between the right-leaning decrease column and the surrounding columns is its slant--the stitches of the decrease column and the stitches in the surrounding fabric look the same. In fact, in a right leaning decrease column, the stitches are generally so even that is difficult to tell which of the stitches is in the actual decrease row, and which in the "plain" row(s) in between the decrease rows.

By contrast, the stitches of the column in which a left-leaning decrease appears look different than the surrounding stitches, and not just because of the slant. The stitches in a left-leaning decrease column are looser and sloppier--its easy to tell which is the decrease row and which the plain row(s) between decreases--the decrease row is the one sporting bumpy loose eye-catching yarn loops. In comparison to right leaning decreases, left leaning decreases are the evil twin.

As stated above, the situation is actually worst just at the moment you are knitting the left-leaning decrease--it isn't actually all that much of a difference once the garment has been worn and washed a few times. But if this aspect of knitting is still driving you "knuts," then to solve this problem, we'll start by looking at the good twin, right leaning decreases.

To make the right leaning decrease called knit 2 together (k2tog) you insert your right needle "knitwise" (from left to right) into the second stitch (green) on your left needle, and then thread it through the first stitch (red) on your left needle, also knitwise, as shown below. This leaves the two stitches on the tip of your left needle impaled on knitwise on your right needle, as shown below.
The standing yarn is brought into position to create the next stitch and the red and green stitch are knit together from this position, with the green stitch which caps the leftmost column on top. The green and red stitches are knitted together with the new stitch (blue). Because the green stitch from the left column is on top, it appears that the left column leaned over to the right and ate up the rightmost column, as shown below.
Let's think about that sequence again. To make a right leaning decrease, the stitch (red) which lay on the very tip of the left needle was squeezed to the back of the fabric as the second stitch (green) overlaid it. In other words, when the two stitches were knitted together, that first red stitch was forced to the back for all time, as the second, dominant green stitch came to the front of the fabric. If you take the time to knit a quick k2tog right now, turn it to look at the back (reverse stockinette side) of the fabric. You will see a surprisingly large lump where the excess yarn from the first stitch (red) now lays on the back of the fabric. Closer examination shows that very much of the bulk of this second stitch has been squeezed to the back of the fabric. Turn your k2tog over again to expose the fabric face, and you will see that the right arm of the second stitch stitch (green) lays very near to the surface of the knitted fabric--that first red stitch has been so thoroughly squeezed backwards that very little of it comes between the right arm of the second (green) stitch and the fabric surface. The red stitch has been "disappeared."

None of what you've just read is going to change anything about the way you knit k2tog. The real point of this post was to provide the background for the next post. The next post is about the mechanics of slip, slip, knit (ssk) and slip 1, knit 1, pass the slipped stitch over (psso). Until next time...

You have been reading TECHknitting on "right leaning decreases (k2tog)."