How to decrease in knitting

A step-by-step tutorial on how to decrease stitches evenly in knitting for beginners. Left- and right-leaning variations for every project.

Once you are past your first little scarfs or potholder, you may want to learn how to shape fabric. Maybe you want things to get narrower. And then your regular knit and purls won’t get you anywhere. That’s why this tutorial will show you exactly how to decrease in knitting.

A decrease is a special technique that allows you to reduce two (or more) stitches into one. This will enable you to create more elaborate forms (like for the crown of a hat) or design beautiful patterns when paired with an increase (a technique famously employed in lace knitting).

a knitted swatch decreased with k2tog and ssk on both sides

While this may sound fancy, you probably already know how to decrease. Huh? Well, at its core a simple bind-off is nothing else but repeatedly decreasing stitches until there are none left.

Let’s show you how to do a simple decrease first, followed by a bit of theory and plenty of alternatives so you can do it as evenly and inconspicuous as possible!

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Instructions: How to decrease in knitting

how to decrease knitting stitches evenly shown with a swatch in green yarn

The easiest possible decrease in knitting is called k2tog - knit two together. It's nothing else but doing a simple knit stitch through two loops at once instead of just one. The result will be a slightly right-slanting stitch.

Active Time 1 minute
Total Time 1 minute

Instructions

  1. With yarn held in the back, enter your right knitting needle into the first two stitches on your left needle at the same time from left to right.

    inserting the needle into the first two stitches on the left needle at the same time from left to right
  2. Wrap the working yarn around the right needle counter-clockwise.
    wrapping the yarn around the needle inserted through the stitches counter-clockwise
  3. Pull the yarn through both stitches at the same time.

    pulling the yarn through the two stitches toward the front
  4. Drop the two loops off the left needle to finish the decrease.

    step 4 having dropped the two stitches off the needles to finish the decrease

Notes

Try to work as closely to the tips of your needle as possible for neat results. A good tension on your work yarn and scraping the right needle across the left needle as you pull through helps.

In case you find it too hard to work this decrease, it sometimes helps to loosen up the stitches a bit before you work them. You can also do it as follows:

  1. Knit one stitch
  2. Pass the stich back to the left needle
  3. Pass the second stitch over the first one (so the one you just slipped); a bit like when you bind off
  4. Slip the remaining stitch back to the right needle

The result will be the exact same decrease.

Left- and right-leaning decreases

a knitted swatch decrease evenly on both sides
A swatch with a right-leaning decrease used on the left side and a left-leaning decrease used on the right side to create balanced decrease lines

The simple knitting decrease I showed you above is called a right-slanting decrease. But what does that mean? It means that the resulting stitch, the stitch that ends up being on top, leans towards the right.

If you were to knit the same decrease in every second row or round at the exact same spot (e.g. 4 stitches removed from the left edge), you would end up with a balanced right-leaning decrease line. If you use it on the other side, the line will be a little bit less harmonic.

comparing a right- and a left-leaning knitting decrease close-up
Showing the two standard ways to combine stitches to illustrate the resulting slant of the prominently visible top loop.

In knitting, all simple decreases have a slant. That’s because one of the two stitches will end up on top. It can either be the left or the right stitch. And that stitch is drawn to the middle and will appear to have a slant in that direction. And before you string them on a new stitch, you could possibly twist one or two of the loops you want to decrease.

Sounds too academic for you. No worries. It’s just to illustrate that there are quite a lot of theoretically different ways to decrease. What matters to you is, that each of them will appear a bit differently and will shape your fabric in a different way.

a swatch with the most common knitting decreases - left and right-leaning alternatives
Different ways to decrease knitting.

In the beginning, the simple decrease from above is all you need. But later on, when you knit more advanced projects, you might want to pick an alternative because it either looks better or has a different effect. Let’s show you some alternatives:

SSK – Slip, Slip, knit

a knitted swatch decreased with ssk on the right side

By popular acclaim, the best (easy) left-leaning decrease in knitting is SSK. While a bit more difficult to knit than simply knitting two stitches together through back loop (the easiest way to achieve a decrease with the right stitch coming out on top), the results speak for themselves.

The idea behind is simple. By twisting the stitches before you decrease them, you change the orientation of the resulting (and prominently visible) stitch that defines the lean. And the result will be a bit more pleasing decrease line.

Here’s my full SSK tutorial

Now, here’s the problem. Because you knit from left to right, whenever you knit a stitch, it will also affect the previous stitch one row below a bit. Typically it tightens it up a bit (as you pull out the active stitch a bit). But for a left-leaning decrease that never happens because the affected stitch is “buried” below.

And this has led generations of knitters on the hunt for even neater alternatives. If you are interested, then definitely read my guide to the best left-leaning decreases in knitting.

P2tog – Purl two together

Now, I don’t know if you know how to purl yet. But there are two basic ways to pull a loop through a stitch on your working needle. From behind or from the front. And as I hinted above, instead of knitting two stitches together to decrease them, you can also do the same on the wrong side.

The easiest purl decrease is called purl two together and it basically boils down to inserting your knitting needle into two purl stitches at the same time instead of just one..

Here’s how to knit p2tog

Why would you want to decrease on the wrong side? Two reasons really. Some patterns have a lot of purl stitches on the right side and then you actually have no other choice if you want a balanced decrease line. On top of that, due to your individual tension and knitting style, you may notice that one of them is actually neater (or less neat).

SSP – Slip, Slip, Purl

close-up of a knitted swatch decreased with the ssp knitting stitch as seen from the right side
The right side of a swatch decreased with SSP on the wrong side

A very good example of this issue is Slip, Slip, Purl. Just like the above-mentioned SSK, it’s the corresponding left-leaning decrease for the wrong side. And you knit it in a very similar manner.

You will, however, quickly notice that it will appear decidedly different – despite resulting in the (technically speaking) exact same stitch. For me, SSP will look a lot better on the right side than any other left-leaning decrease. So, if I am knitting flat and I want the neatest decrease line possible, that’s the decrease I will turn to

Here’s how to knit SSP

Naturally, you don’t have to do that and you may find that it doesn’t look all that neat for you. A lot of knitters find that SSPK – slip, slip purl, knit – looks better for them.

K3tog – knit three together

A swatch where I decrease with k3tog (knit three together) on the left side
A swatched decreased with k3tog on the left side

Later on, you can also explore the world of double decreases. It sounds much more difficult than they really are. In fact, one of the easiest patterns for beginners, the mitered square, makes use of them with fascinating effects.

In the most simple way, a double decrease works exactly as a k2tog. But instead of inserting your needle into two stitches at the same time, you work through three stitches.

The truly special part about these knitting decreases is that some of them don’t have a slant, meaning they are centered. Quite special and this effect can be used in some fascinating advanced lace patterns.

Other knitting decreases

different knitting decreases all in one swatch ontop of each other

Now, this is far from all the possible decreases in knitting. But these 5 stitches will cover probably 99% of all patterns. Theoretically speaking, there are at least 16 different combinations for a standard decrease. But most of them don’t have any practical applications.

Also, you will quickly notice that some books and patterns will use different names for the exact same stitch. In this case, my knitting glossary will be a good help.

And there is another thing you should be aware of: Often, there is more than one way to achieve the exact same results and these different techniques often come with different names.

For example, if you scroll back to the top, you will find my alternative way to produce a k2tog. Some tutorials will call that SKPS – slip, knit, pass over, slip back. But the result will not be a different stitch. It’s a bit like walking in a straight line to your friend’s house or once around the block. Either way you end up in front of their doorstep.

So, what’s the point? Well, some techniques might be easier. Also, the knitting process often applies force to the adjacent stitches. And this may influence the neatness (or lack thereof) of the resulting decrease. Particularly when it comes to left-leaning decreases, this is a hot topic. In most of my tutorials here on my blog, you will find alternative ways to knit things. So, definitely check out my free knitting school for more details.

Anyway, that’s how to decrease in knitting. Feel free to use the comment function to ask your questions.

how to decrease knitting stitches for beginners - a step by step tutorial with 4 alternatives

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