Reversing Shaping

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.


You can see how much less noticeable the increases (near the arm) are than the decreases (near the hip).


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.


Decreases are more obvious.


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.


Don’t mix up your armhole and neck edges!

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:

reverse shaping


7 responses to this post.

  1. Great explanation in the charts! Thanks.


  2. Posted by Mia on October 24, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you so much. I am a new knitter and am struggling with the ‘short cut’ method of leaving out instructions in many of the patterns. As a long time experienced seamstress, I am actually quite appalled at the poor communication of instruction in some knitting patterns. In sewing, patterns that assume their reader is at ‘a certain level of experience’ is a poor pattern. If, as an experienced seamstress you already know how or what, then you ignore what you don’t need and carry on, but to not include important instructions in a clear manner in an instruction manual ( a pattern), is not alright. You tube and the internet is wonderful for tutorials, but I still feel a clear well explained pattern would encourage, rather than discourage new knitters.


  3. Posted by Maureen F ANderson on May 30, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I agree. The pattern I am working with has beginning-of-row bind-offs that translate to end-of-row bind off when reversing the instructions and I am having a difficult time getting everything to match the other side. Fortunately, I am starting out with only ten stitches and it is not so frustrating to begin over (and over) again. I agree that many knitting patterns assume a certain level of experience and it does show a bit of laziness on the designer’s part.


    • “it does show a bit of laziness on the designer’s part”

      I strongly disagree with this. As an advanced knitter, I find it tedious when a designer feels the need to take up pages and pages spelling out every little (obvious to me) detail. Every designer has a style which speaks to a certain variety of knitter, and there are generally plenty of knitters who prefer that style. If you don’t like a designer’s style, there are plenty of other options. No need to insult their work ethic.


  4. Posted by Sally on September 1, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    I can reverse shaping but I have a border pattern on the front of a cardigan , no instuctions just ‘reverse pattern and shaping’ do I do pattern on the purl row or at the start instead of end of knit row did a couple of practice but it didn’t look right


    • If the pattern was worked on knit rows the first time, it will likely still be worked on knit rows. You may (depending on the pattern) have to work a purl row first. As for where to work the border, usually you’ll want it to be the mirror image of where it was worked on the first part. For example, if you worked the border on the first 10 stitches of your rows on the one side, you’ll want to work it on the last 10 stitches on your reversed side.


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