Everything you need to know about left-leaning decreases in knitting with 7 alternatives from easy to super invisible
Everything in knitting comes in mirrored pairs. It’s how this amazing hobby works. You probably know how to knit the knit stitch, and the corresponding stitch for the wrong side is the purl stitch. And similarly, knitting decreases also come in pairs. And since the standard knitting direction is from right to left, it’s precisely the left-leaning knitting decreases that cause knitters the most problems. And this tutorial is all about them.
What is a left-leaning decrease?
Per definition, a left-leaning decrease is a knitting stitch with a clear visual bias towards the left. When you decrease two stitches into one, you only have two choices: Either the left or the right loop lays on top. And as these two loops are drawn together in the middle, one will fade away into the background and the other will appear as if the stitch has a slant.
For a left-leaning decrease, the right loop will lay on top and lean towards the left. Typically, knitters will use it on the right side of a garment to create a neat decrease line. Socks toes, gussets, or raglan sweaters are common examples.
In the following tutorial, I will show you all the common (and not so common) ways to create a left-leaning decrease in knitting. Why so many? Because some are easier than others but maybe less neat. And as you advance through your knitting journey and you are comfortable with your knitting needles, you may want to come back to find a better option.
#1 K2tog tBL
By far the easiest way to create a left-slanting decrease is knitting two stitches together through the back loop. K2tog tbl doesn’t require slipping any stitches or doing manual adjustments. It will, however, result in twisted stitches that will be quite visible and may not be in line with your knitting stitch pattern.
For example, for stockinette stitch, it’s probably not a nice option. But for a design in bavarian twisted stitches, it can be a great choice. It’s very important to adjust the decrease according to your pattern. It’s not one for all.
#2 SSK – Slip, Slip knit
The probably most popular left-leaning knitting decrease for the right side is SSK. By slipping the stitches before you knit them through the back loop, you adjust the orientation of the stitches and thus avoid creating a twisted stitch. The resulting decrease line will be much more harmonic, while the whole technique isn’t overly complicated and very versatile.
The problem with left-leaning decreases explained
You might notice how both SSK and k2tog tbl will appear a bit sloppy. The loop that should lean towards the left is often a bit loose and doesn’t precisely follow a neat decrease line. Often it’s more of a zig-zag line. So why is that?
Typically, knitters will automatically tighten up the previous stitch (one row below), whenever they knit a stitch because they stretch it out a bit with their knitting needles. The friction of the yarn prevents stitches further down the needle from being affected.
The problem with decreases is that you work them through two stitches at the same time. For a left-leaning decrease, the stitch that ends up laying on top (so the one on the right) is two stitches removed and never gets the chance to get that final tightening touch. When you knit a k2tog (so a right-leaning decrease) this effect works in your favor as the stitch that lays on top is the immediate previous stitch and that’s why that decrease typically looks so neat.
And there’s another problem that is directly related to your knitting direction. When you string the two stitches you want to decrease upon a string, aka a stitch, you re-arrange their twist from flat to a 90° angle. But the typical knit stitch already has a natural twist. It comes from the back to the front, and from left to right. And since you knit from right to left, the stitch on the right always has a longer distance to cover to assume the same position.
As a result, left leaning-decreases always end up looking a bit sloppy. But there’s an easy way to combat that. Here are 5 more techniques:
#3 SSPK – Slip, Slip purl, knit
I already said that, through your knitting direction and the natural twist of standard English or continental knitting, a left-leaning decrease is bound to look a bit wonky no matter how advanced a knitter you are. When you are knitting an SSK, you intentionally twist both stitches in the other direction before. And then you knit them together through the back loop which untwists them again (and changes their order).
Sidenote: You can adjust any twisted stitch by knitting or purling it through the back loop. Check out this tutorial if you are looking for more knitting tips like that.
But the slant-defining stitch still has a bit farther to travel, and that’s why crafty knitters invented SSPK. You only slip the first stitch knitwise (aka adjusting its orientation), while you slip the second stitch purlwise (so without adding any twist). This will result in a twisted stitch below and a balanced standard stitch on top and an overall harmonic look.
Note: SSPK can also be knitted without slipping stitches. This technique is called one-move SSK
#4 SSK & tbl
Personally, I am not a big fan of SSPK because while the resulting stitch will be a bit neater, the technique does not combat the overall neatness of the decrease line because the topmost loop will usually still be a bit loose. That’s why, in 90 percent of all cases, I will knit standard SSK.
But there is one important difference: I will purl the remaining stitch through the back loop on the return round. This obviously creates a twisted stitch. But that twist will help to balance the decrease line out and it will appear to be straight and much neater. Often, SSKs leave behind a sort of zig-zag line.
- Step 1: Knit a standard SSK
- Step 2: Purl the remaining stitch through the back loop (ptbl) as you come across it in the next row.
Note: If you are knitting in the round, you would have to knit the remaining stitch through the back loop in the next round.
#5 K2tog left
If you want it super neat and tidy, then knitting two together left is probably your best option. This is a super-advanced decrease that requires quite a bit of manual adjustment, a lot of dexterity in your fingers, and sharp knitting needles.
The result, however, is a tidy and very neat decrease line on the right side that is almost perfect.
Here’s my full tutorial on how to k2tog left.
#6 SKPY – slip, knit, pass over, yank
If k2tog left is a bit too difficult to knit for you, and I can totally understand that sentiment, you can also take a shortcut for almost identical results. I call this stitch SKPY without claiming to have invented it. I just couldn’t find any “official” name.
- Step 1: Slip one stitch knitwise.
- Step 2: Knit one stitch.
- Step 3: Pass the stitch you just slipped over the first stitch (just like when you bind off)
- Step 4: Find the stitch that is one row below the one you just knitted and yank it out.
- Step 5: Continue knitting as normal.
Note: There are many other ways to achieve a very similar result and you will find an abundance of techniques that manually yank the yarn one row below at one point or another. I personally just feel this is the easiest way.
#7 SSP – slip, slip purl
If 100 percent perfect is what you want, then you have to decrease on the wrong side with SSP – slip, slip, purl. Why does this work? Well, from a theoretical point of view, SSK is already perfect save for your knitting direction and the way you cannot affect the second stitch.
But, if you decrease on the wrong side, everything will be mirror-inverted. Of course, when you knit SSP, you can also only tighten up the previous stitch (i.e. the left stitch of the two). But as you turn things around, the left stitch will be the right stitch and that’s precisely the stitch that needs to be tight.
Other left-leaning decreases
Now, is that all? Did I show you all left-leaning decreases in knitting? Yes and no! From a theoretical point of view, a decrease is a sort of mini cable. And if you want a left-slant, it needs to be the right loop that comes out in front. This leaves you with 4 theoretical permutations.
- both stitches are twisted (that’s k2tog tbl)
- both stitches are untwisted (that’s SSK)
- the top stitch is untwisted and the bottom stitch is twisted (that’s SSPK)
- the top stitch is twisted and the bottom stitch is untwisted (no application I am aware of)
Of course, you could also twist the stitches the other way round but standard knitting stitch patterns do not require such a feat.
That being said, if you look online or in old books, you will find a lot of other names and ways to knit a left-leaning decrease. The outcome, however, will always be one of the four choices I listed above. The difference lies in the way you knit them and whether you adjust the tension through manual means (or knit them from the wrong side). It’s a bit like continental knitting vs English knitting. Both create knit stitches, but the way to get there is different.
The only exception is alternative #4 of this article where you add another twist one row above. Still, it bears remembering that we all knit with different tension and techniques. And a method that looks super tidy for me, might not be perfect for you, simply because you knit a bit differently. So, I urge you to try out a couple of different techniques on a swatch and see which one works best for you.