Mathematical Monday: Increasing and Decreasing Evenly

Filed in Uncategorized by on February 8, 2010 1 Comment

I confess. I was an English major in College.  But I’m not going to let that stop me from writing on Mathematical Mondays because the truth is I like math. I love watching numbers do their thing.  (I’m already working on an entire post just about the number 72 in knitting-it’s awesome.) Anyway, the world would pretty much fall apart without math. It is the orderly foundation upon which all the beautiful, cool stuff in the world rests. And so it is in knitting.

The nice thing is that you don’t need to know Calculus to knit. You need to know Arithmetic. Yep, the stuff from elementary school. Well, and maybe a little Geometry.  But that’s about it, and besides, you’re allowed to use a calculator whenever you want. Don’t get me wrong, you can use more advanced principles while designing, but for general, confident knitting, you don’t need to go there unless you want to. I’ve actually had students ask me, when I teach some of the foundational mathematical concepts found in knitting,  if I was a math major.  First, I laugh my head off, then I explain that knitting is a gorgeous type of functional math that you can see working in your hands. And you don’t have to be afraid of it.

So, let’s talk about one of those phrases in knitting instructions that can make many knitters gnash their teeth: “Increase (or Decrease) x stitches evenly across row.”  Dontcha just love that kind of precision?  Well, in the pattern publisher’s defense, it’s a space-saving thing, and we want patterns to be published, so it’s up to us knitters to accept this verbiage and change it from a source of frustration to a flash of brilliance. The objective of this instruction is simply to avoid having all the increases or decreases in one place and distorting the fabric in an undesirable way. That’s all. These increases or decreases don’t have to be the same number of stitches apart, nor do they have to be perfectly symmetrical across the row. They just need to be spread out. 

Here’s how to do it:
Option A: Visualize the row in sections and increase or decrease in each section as needed.  Work any extra stitches as usual.

Example:  Your row has 47 stitches. You need to increase 9 stitches evenly across this row.

  1. Divide 47 by 9. Answer is 5 with a remainder of 2
  2. Mentally divide your row into 9 sections of 5 sts each, with 2 leftover at the end. There is a section for each called-for increase, with the remainder stitches staying out of the whole process.
  3. Turn each 5-stitch section into a 6-stitch section with the increase of your choice. Work the last 2 stitches as usual. 
  • If using a Make 1 type of increase, which creates a stitch where none existed before, the row instructions you could write out for yourself might read: (K5, make 1) 9 times across row, end k2. 
  • If you desire to use a Knit into the Front and Back increase, which requires the use of one of the 5 stitches and turns it into two, the instructions might read: (K4, KFB) 9 times, end k2.
  • You can be very elegant and make the remainder stitches symmetrical. In that case, the instructions might read: K1, (K4, KFB) 9 times, end K1. See, there are still two remainder stitches, I’ve just split them up to be bookends instead of leaving them together at one end.
  • This concept works the same way for decreases. Each section is just reduced by 1 instead of increased. If you were asked to decrease 9 stitches evenly across a row of 47 sts, the instructions might read: (K3, K2TOG) 9 times, end K2.

Option B: Go buy Cheryl Brunette’s book Sweater 101 and learn her More-or-Less Right Formula. It’s a nifty variation of the above method. 

Okay, that seems so long-winded, I know. Sometimes, that’s why I think some knitters are afraid of math. We remember how heavy those textbooks were and how many WORDS it took to explain this stuff. Now you can understand that space-saving thing and why that (formerly) maddening phrase came into existence in the first place. But, the good thing is that once you practice this, all the words will go away and you can re-write it in your own secret code in just a few strong strokes.  I promise. This is definitely one of those moments where the phrase, “If I can do it, anybody can do it,” really is applicable.

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