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Read Knitting Patterns with Decreases

When a Knitting Pattern says Dec, what do you do?

Sometimes, when you read a knitting pattern, you will see the word Dec without any other explanation.  What does it mean?

The answer can differ based on the type of project you are making.


Occasionally, the pattern writer will give you guidance.  But more often than not, you have to figure it out yourself.


This hub contains some information about decreases in knitting, and in particular, a decrease in which two stitches on the old needle become one stitch on the new needle.

Basic decrease - 2 stitches become 1


General information about knitting decreases

When you work a decrease, only two things can happen: either the right stitch covers the left stitch (making a left-leaning decrease), or the left stitch covers the right stitch (making a right-leaning decrease).

So if you want to see a mirror image in your project (say in armhole shaping for a sweater, or in some lace patterns), then you probably want one of each type.

The most commonly used right-leaning Knit decrease is the K2tog (Knit 2 stitches together).

Here are the two most commonly used left-leaning Knit decreases:

  • SKP - Slip, Knit, Pass (Slip 1 stitch knitwise, Knit 1 stitch, Pass the slipped stitch over the knitted stitch)
  • SSK - Slip, Slip, Knit (Slip 1 stitch knitwise, Slip another stitch knitwise (don't do both at the same time), Slip both stitches purlwise back onto the old needle, then knit the two stitches together through the back loops)

Purl-based decreases are uncommon, but they do occur.

The most commonly used left-leaning Purl decrease is the P2tog (Purl 2 stitches together).

There are two commonly used right-leaning Purl decreases:

  • P2togtbl (Purl 2 stitches together through back loops).
  • SSP (Slip 1 stitch knitwise, Slip another stitch knitwise (don't do both at the same time), Slip both stitches purlwise back onto the old needle, then purl the two stitches together through the back loops)

Decreases in a sweater pattern


OK, so now we have described the most common decreases for knitting. Now what?

When you are working the armhole or sleeve cap shaping for a sweater, the pattern writer will just say "Dec 1 stitch at each end of row such-and-such".

These are good ways to work those rows:

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  • On the right side: Knit 1 stitch, SSK or SKP, follow the stitch pattern for the sweater until 3 stitches remain, K2tog, Knit the last stitch.
  • On the wrong side: Purl 1 stitch, P2tog, follow the stitch pattern for the sweater until 3 stitches remain, P2togtbl or SSP, Purl the last stitch.

If you follow that general rule, you will get a nice diagonal line of decreases where the armhole is shaped.

However, if you do not want that diagonal line (because it might detract from the appearance of the main stitch pattern for the sweater), then the following guidelines will actually hide the decreases:

  • On the right side: K2tog, work in the stitch pattern for the sweater until 2 stitches remain, SKP or SSK.
  • On the wrong side: SSP or P2togtbl, follow the stitch pattern for the sweater until 2 stitches remain, P2tog.

Notice that there are three key differences between these sets of instructions:

  1. Different types of decreases are worked at opposite ends of the knitted fabric.
  2. In the first set of guidelines, the decreases are worked one stitch from the edge; in the second, they are worked right at the edge.
  3. In the first set of guidelines, the diagonal slant of the decreases is quite visible; in the second, the decreases are almost invisible.

Decreases in lace knitting

On a lace knitting pattern, the pattern designer very likely has incorporated the lean of the decreases into the lace design, so most lace patterns will specifically tell you which decrease to use. Here is an example:

Row 2: K4. * K2tog. YO. K1. YO. SKP. K5. Rep from * until 9 sts rem. K2tog. YO. K1. YO. SKP. K4.

Notice how the K2tog and SKP "frame" the YOs (Yarn-overs). The differing slant of the two decreases provides symmetry to the lace pattern.


sophia minott on August 09, 2015:

Hi I'm sorry to be a pain but I would like to know how I would continue in pattern on the row 2 above decrease in lace knitting and continue in the pattern maintaining the pattern. I am disabled and have trouble when a pattern says increase or decrease and continue in pattern it all goes wrong for me. PLEASE PLEASE HELP!!!! Many thanks in adavance. I cannot get to a class so I'm dependant on someone giving me some online advice. I'm knitting a jumper for my disabled daughter and she likes raglan sleeves. Much appreciated

readknittingpatts (author) from Calgary, AB Canada on June 17, 2014:

Hi, Anna,

Glad I could help. Best wishes on your project!


Anna on June 17, 2014:

Dear Judy,

What a prompt reply, thank you so much! Yes, that particular instruction starts at the beginning of a pattern repeat. I think I should be losing 8 stitches per decrease round (I am knitting in the round and I decrease one stitch either side of a marker - I have placed five markers in total, but am explicitly told in the pattern not to decrease at the beginning of round marker - just at the other four). I begin with 460 stitches and then decrease to 260. So I think I will need to work 25 pattern repeats in order to get from 460 to 260.

Wow! This is going to take forever (although half as long as if I was just decreasing on row 3, I suppose, so that's v good!).

Again, I real am so grateful for your reply, thank you - have been itching to carry on with the work but was loathed to do it before I was certain that I was doing the right thing!

Will tweet a link to your blog now to all my knitting followers.


readknittingpatts (author) from Calgary, AB Canada on June 17, 2014:

Hi, Anna,

Assuming that from the point where it says to continue in pattern you are about to work a Row 1, then yes, you would work the decreases on Row 3 and Row 6 of the pattern.

It is a bit of a drag that they don't tell you how many rows will have decreases - after all, counting the number of stitches on your needle every so often until there are just 260 stitches is just a pain.

You can calculate it, if you're comfortable with math. How many stitches are you starting with? How many decreases occur in a decrease row? How many stitches do you end with?

FOR EXAMPLE: if you are starting with 300 stitches and ending with 260 stitches, and there are 2 decreases in each decrease row, then there will be (300-260)/2 decrease rows, or 40/2 decrease rows, or 20 decrease rows. Since decrease rows are only every third row, you will have worked 20x3 or 60 rows to get all of the decreases done.

Does this make sense??


Anna on June 17, 2014:

Hello there,

I have a pattern that I love, but just can't fathom it out! I am currently just at the beginning of it, and have what I suspect may be quite a silly question (sorry!). I would be so grateful for some advice:

The instructions state: ‘Cont in patt, dec on every 3rd row as folls…’ until 260 sts remain. It does not state over how many rows the decrease should happen.

The pattern repeat is 6 rows long 1, 3, 5 and are a lace pattern, rows 2, 4 and 6 are knit rows. Would you think that 'decrease on every third row' means decrease just on row 3, or on row 3 and row 6 of the pattern?

Thank you very, very much for any advice you can offer me!


readknittingpatts (author) from Calgary, AB Canada on April 24, 2014:

Hi, Manon,

That is how I would interpret those instructions.


Manon on April 23, 2014:

I have a question, my pattern says ....ending on a 3rd row of pattern. My 3rd row being on RS when I carry on my next pattern would start row one on the WS correct?

readknittingpatts (author) from Calgary, AB Canada on December 23, 2013:

Thank you very much for your kind words, Gigi.

Gigi on December 23, 2013:

I can't thank you enough for this really clear explanation, but also the work-throughs so that if the reader still feels lost reading the explanation, he or she can go through the work step by step reading your guides to R and W sides. This has helped me take my rather amateur knitting to the next level, thank you SO much!

readknittingpatts (author) from Calgary, AB Canada on April 29, 2013:

Hi, Little Miss Muffet,

Here is the translation, starting with Row 1 being the first row with a decrease.

Row 1 (RS): Decrease 1 stitch at beginning and end of row (2 decreases in total).

Row 2 (WS): No decreases.

Row 3 (RS): No decreases.

Row 4 (WS): Decrease 1 stitch at beginning and end of row (2 decreases in total).

Row 5 (RS): No decreases.

Row 6 (WS): No decreases.

I must admit that it is very unusual to see decreases happening every third row.

The way to wrap your head around it is to think of the other ways that they might say it. For example, "decrease every row" means to decrease on Rows 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. And "decrease every 2nd row" means to decrease on Rows 1, 3, 5, 7, etc. So "decrease every 3rd row" means to decrease on Rows 1, 4, 7, 10, etc.

If you are working in Stocking Stitch (K 1 row, P 1 row), then of course working decreases on every 3rd row, or on every row, means that you'll be doing P2tog or P2tog-through-back-loops decreases on the Purl rows.

Hope this helps.


Little Miss Muffet on April 29, 2013:

When the pattern says "decrease 1 st at each end of the needle every 3rd row" does that mean, for example, 1st row (right side-knitting), 2nd row is purling (wrong side) and 3rd row (right side again) is the 3rd row, and then the second decrease

judithobee on March 01, 2011:

Hi, Giselle,

Thanks for your comment - especially that wonderful feedback in your last paragraph.

I agree with you that a P2tog is easier than a K2tog (and also the 3's).

I *think* that the reason most decreases are done on the right side is that it is usually a Knit-type row, and most knitters are more comfortable with Knitting rather than Purling. Perhaps the feeling is that it is better to make the wrong-side row, usually a Purl-type row, as easy as possible. But that's my guess!

And, of course, the decrease that slants opposite to a P2tog is a P2tog through back loops, which requires a bit of contortion to make it happen!

There may be a more official reason, but I'm not aware of any.

Giselle Maine on March 01, 2011:

Awesome hub! Thanks for the very helpful info here. I wouldn't have thought about what way the stitches lean if I was following a 'DEC' command in a knitting pattern, so your article was extremely helpful.

I did wonder about something additional you mentioned: In your knowledge/opinion, how or why did it come about to be more usual to work decreases on the right side of the work? Because when I make up my own patterns (which happens a lot - I love making up the pattern as I go), I always work the decreases on the wrong side of the work if in stocking stitch, because P2tog is so much easier to work going in with the needle than K2tog. (If you have tried P3tog vs K3tog the difference is even more pronounced). However, your article showed me that I shouldn't just rely on a simple P2tog as a 'catch-all' decrease but rather pair it with one of the other wrong-side decreases to create a symmetrical effect.

Sorry about how long this comment is - but I was just so thrilled to have the decrease info finally made clear. Would love to hear your thoughts on the origin of right-side vs wrong side decreases. Anyhow, great hub, and VERY WELL WRITTEN - a complicated issue made clear & easy to read.

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