Occasionally my colleagues or I get a complaint from a new sweater knitter that “reversing all shaping” is too confusing (or, with some less polite knitters, too “lazy”) an instruction. Since I know this is a common instruction that pops up in many patterns, I thought I’d create a post explaining what it means.
Increases are generally more subtle than decreases, and typically with a kfb or an m1, you can continue doing just that. However, if your pattern’s author has specified a leaning increase, you will need to reverse it. So, an M1R becomes and M1L and vice versa. Raised (or lifted) increases are nearly invisible to begin with, but if you’re feeling nit-picky, a left-leaning increase is made by knitting into the stitch below the one you just knit. A right-leaning increase is made by knitting into the stitch below the one you’re about to knit. A YO increase can technically be wrapped in the opposite direction too, referred to as a reverse yarn over (rev YO), backward yarn over (BYO), or yarn forward (yfwd) – this last one is extra dangerous because it is something different in British knitting terms. As you can see by the lack of consensus on a name for this technique, it doesn’t get used often. To be honest, this one is a slight enough difference that I generally don’t bother.
Decreases tend to be more visible than increases, so reversing this one can be important. The most common decreases are ssk and k2tog, which are each other’s mirrors. An skp can also be used to mirror a k2tog, and the unusual KRPR (knit-return-pass-return) can be used to mirror an ssk. Skp and KRPR are softer decreases than their more popular cousins. With 3+ stitch decreases, mirroring is often less important because they are more often central decreases. The exceptions are k3tog and its reverse, sssk.
This part seems to confuse people the most, but is actually the most simple when you look at the piece as a whole. If the initial instructions tell you to increase (or decrease) at each neck edge, you continue to do so. However, pretend for example that you BO 3 stitches at the neck edge by working an immediate BO on the RS, and then knitting even to the end of the row. Now you’ll decrease at the neck edge on WS rows, by BO 3 stitches and then purling even to the end of the row. Ordinary decreases and increases can typically still be worked on the same type of row (RS or WS) as on the opposite side, just make sure you’re reversing the type of decrease and you’re still decreasing at the correct side (neck or armhole). If you were instructed to decrease at the neck edge and were decreasing at the end of the row on the left side, you will decrease at the beginning of the row on the right side in order to continue to decrease at the neck edge. This makes perfect sense when you actually look a the garment to see where your neck will go, but can be confusing if you’re just working the the abstract.
It’s really not as confusing as all that text makes it look, I promise! Doing it with the knitting in front of you will make so much more sense. For other confusing “pattern-speak” terms, this is a great resource. To review: