Two to the left, two to the right

Some of the most pleasing effects in knitting are made by directional decreases. Armhole decreases that point in mirrored directions look awfully professional, and the beautiful swooping lines of knitted lace depend on them.

Most knitters know of K2tog, or knit-two-stitches-together, which leans to the right. Its left-leaning counterpart SSK (slip-slip-knit) seems, from questions at the counter, to be less well known. So we thought a tutorial would be useful.

We cover both of them here, starting with SSK. If you’d like to work along with the pictures, cast on twenty or twenty five stitches, work a few rows of garter stitch and then change to stocking stitch for a few rows, keeping a border of four(ish) stitches on each side in garter stitch.

With the right side facing, knit across to immediately before the two stitches you’re going to work as the decrease (in our picture, the decrease will involve the sixth and seventh stitches of the row).

Put the tip of the right hand needle into the first of those two stitches as if you were going to knit it…

…and just slip it off the left hand needle onto the right. If you look closely, you’ll see that the stitch has turned so that it’s facing the other direction to all the others. (This is supposed to happen – it sets up the magic for later).

Now do exactly the same thing to the next stitch – slip it knitwise onto the right hand needle.

When you’ve done that, you’ve got two unworked stitches on your right hand needle, and both of them are facing the opposite way to the rest.

Now put the tip of the left hand needle through those stitches from left to right, coming out at the front. This puts you into the right position to work both of them together through their back loops.

Knit the two of them together through their back loops! The yarn wraps round the needle in the usual way…

…and the new stitch is drawn through.

This newly made stitch is the decrease, because you took two stitches and made just this one out of them.

When you inspect what’s happened, this is what you see: two stitches on the row below have turned into one on this one, and the right hand stitch is lying over the left hand one, so that the decrease points to the left.

When you look closely at the two legs of that upper, right hand stitch, you’ll see that its little legs are uncrossed, like the rest of the stitches on the row. The key to that was the reorientation of the stitches by slipping them as if to knit at the outset.

So that’s SSK – slip as if to knit, slip as if to knit, knit the two of them together through their back loops.

K2tog, or knit-two-together, leans in the other direction: to the right. Paired decreases are often found on different sides of a piece of work, like the two armholes of a jumper, so we’ve knitted across the row to a similar point at the other side of the row. When you get to a point six or seven stitches from the end, put the tip of the right hand needle through two stitches at the same time and wrap the yarn around the needle as usual:

Pull the new stitch through, and once again you’ve made one stitch where previously there were two:

When you inspect your work this time, you’ll see that where the two stitches merge into one, the left hand one is lying over the top of the right hand one – the opposite of SSK. This is the clever part: the two decreases face in different directions.

You can see the contrast clearly on our swatch. The picture below was taken after the following purl row, and at each side, a row or so below the needles, you can see the decreases, one on each side and leaning in different directions:

And if you work an SSK immediately followed by a K2tog, you get the paired decreases pointing right at each other, like they are in the centre here:

These aren’t the only ways to make right- and left-leaning decreases. K2tog is by far the commonest right-leaning one. SSK is our favourite left-leaning one here at This Is Knit, though you’ll encounter others at times, especially in older patterns. As long as you preserve the directionality, left for left and right for right, you can substitute your favourites at will. Indeed, there’s a vocal minority who prefer SSK with the second of the two slipped stitches slipped purlwise (slip as if to knit, slip as if to purl, knit both together through their back loops). They claim that the result lies more neatly – try it out and see if you agree with them!

Decreases are usually worked on a right side row, which means that most of them are knitted. But purled decreases exist, and they’re directional too, so we’ll return to that topic in a future post. We’ll also revisit decreases to talk about double decreases – the ones that make three stitches into one.

If you have any technique issues that you’ll like us to cover here, we’re delighted to take requests. Tell us via a comment below, and we’ll do our best to help!

3 thoughts on “Two to the left, two to the right

  1. Great tutorial, I always forget how to do this off the top of my head, takes a few minutes for me to remember when I come across it in a pattern. I have more problems with increases in patterns than decreases though. I never know which one to use if it is not specified in a pattern and sometimes, mine appear like little holes below the new stitch, so that topic would be good (unless you’ve done it before now?)

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