How to Increase and Decrease Knitting to Give Your Project Shape

Learning to increase and decrease will instantly elevate your knitting skills!

Do you struggle with increasing and/or decreasing techniques in your knitting?

Perhaps you know that these techniques are the only way to give your knitting shape. You know that to knit anything that comes in a shape other than a rectangle or a square, you’ll need to know how to increase and/or decrease.

Projects requiring increasing and/or decreasing include:

  • Hats
  • Mittens
  • Socks
  • Sweaters

And if you’ve been shying away from such projects because you struggle with these techniques, help is here!

Let’s learn together how easy it can be to increase and decrease your knitting.

What Are Increasing and Decreasing?

Increasing and decreasing refer to ways to change the stitch counts of a particular project.

In other words, if you cast on and knit 40 stitches, an “increase” of 5 stitches will take you from 40 stitches to 45 stitches. Obviously, adding more stitches to your stitch count will make the project begin to widen at that point.

A “decrease” will do the opposite. Using the previous example, if you have 40 stitches on your needles, and you decrease by 5, you’ll have 35 stitches. Decreasing makes your project begin to narrow at the point in which the decreases start.

As a beginning knitter, you may have found yourself increasing or decreasing without meaning to:

  • You may have accidentally knitted into a stitch twice, thus increasing your stitch count.
  • Or you may have accidentally allowed a stitch to drop off your needle and decreased your stitch count.
    (Incidentally, this is not really considered a “decrease” method. Although you will find knitting patterns that have you drop stitches on purpose.)

I’ve done both of these, by the way. And not just as a beginning knitter! *cough* 😏

How to Increase

Knitters often come across these three common ways to increase a stitch count. The method called for in a pattern generally depends on the way the designer wants the completed project to look.

These three common ways are the yarnover (YO), the knit into the front and back of a stitch (KFB), and the make one (M1).

1. Yarnover

This is the easiest way to increase a stitch, but it’s usually used in lace projects. All you have to do is take your working yarn and wrap it around your right needle. Yes, that’s it!

While the yarnover couldn’t be easier, you shouldn’t use it unless your pattern calls for it. Why? Because it leaves a hole in your knitting, and unless the pattern is designed for holes (ie., lace), you don’t want that in your project!

2. Knit into front and back of a stitch

This is usually called “knit front and back” for short, and abbreviated KFB or KF&B. What you’re doing in this increase is knitting into a single stitch twice. This creates two stitches out of one.

Here’s how to excecute this increase:

  1. Knit a stitch as usual, but don’t drop it off the left needle.
  2. Place your right needle tip into the back of the stitch on the left needle and knit it.
  3. Only then will you drop the stitch off the left needle.

This is a very easy increase, but be careful. The KFB appears in your knitting kind of like a purl and knit stitch next to one another. This might mess up the look of your project, depending on what the stitch pattern is supposed to look like.

But if it’s in your pattern, use it fearlessly! The designer has already planned for the way it will appear.

3. Make one

This is the trickiest of the most common increases. But it’s by no means impossible! And, if you need a quick and easy coverup increase, this is going to be a lifesaver.

What kind of “coverup increase”?

Oh, you know… the kind that might come, for instance, from realizing that even though you counted your cast-on stitches THREE TIMES, you’ve only just realized — 10 rows into your project — that you somehow still managed to miscount, and you’re off by one.

Not that I’ve ever done this. *cough* 🤦‍♀️

How to execute the make one:

  1. Find the little bar of yarn between the stitch on your left needle and the stitch on your right needle. This is, perhaps, the trickiest part of this increase, particularly if you’re using very thin yarn on tiny needles (like with socks) and/or your stitches are tight.

    (I’ve found that sometimes I need to stretch the left and right needle away from one another just a bit, to find that little bar.)

2. Once you find it, you’ll slip it onto your left needle.

3. Then you’ll knit it. Presto!

Another tricky part is that if you don’t knit that little bar of yarn carefully, you could wind up with a small hole in your project.

The trick here is to see how the yarn is lying on your needle. Knit it properly, and you’ll have no hole and a nearly invisible increase.

The video below demonstrates all 3 methods!

For more help with knitting techniques, peruse the library in this category!

How to Decrease

The three most common ways to decrease are knit (or purl) 2 together (K2tog/P2tog); slip, slip, knit (or purl) (SSK/SSP), and pass slipped stitch over (PSSO). Again, the way the designer wants the finished project to look determines the decrease they use.

Decreases usually are either left-leaning or right-leaning. K2tog leans to the right. P2tog is usually worked on the wrong side of a project; when viewed from the right side, it looks identical to the K2tog.

Meanwhile, SSK leans to the left. SSP, like P2tog, is usually worked on the wrong side. From the right side, SSP will look just like SSK. PSSO also is left-leaning, and in fact it looks very much like SSK.

Here’s how to work these three decreases.

1. Knit/purl two together

This method is really quite simple:

  1. Insert your right needle into the next two stitches on your left needle (rather than just the next one).
  2. Then knit the two at the same time, as if it were one stitch.

Voila: you’ve decreased one stitch!

Purl two together works exactly the same way: Insert your right needle into the next two stitches on your left, and purl them at the same time.

2. Slip, slip, knit/purl

Here’s how to execute this decrease:

  1. Slip two stitches from your left needle to your right needle.
  2. Insert your left needle into the front of two stitches you just slipped.
  3. Knit them together.

SSP is the same, except that you’ll insert your left needle into the back of the two stitches you just slipped. Then you’ll purl them together.

3. Pass slipped stitch over

This name is actually an abbreviation in itself. The full name for this technique is “slip, knit, pass slipped stitch over knitted stitch.”

Yeah, that’s a mouthful. That’s why I shorten it to “pass slipped stitch over”!

The full name, of course, describes exactly what you’ll do:

  1. Slip a stitch from left needle to right needle.
  2. Knit the next stitch on the left needle.
  3. Then, with your left needle, grab that slipped stitch and stretch it up and over the knitted stitch.

You can do this with purled stitches as well. Slip a stitch, purl the next, pass the slipped stitch over the purled stitch.

The video below demonstrates all 3 techniques (with both knitted and purled variations).

Now that you know how to increase and decrease, a whole new world of knitting projects can open up to you!

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  1. Phew Nicole hon , this is quite a mouthful or should I say brain full no wonder the scientists are telling us to knit in order to stave off alzheimer’s 🙂 but learning a
    lot looking forward to next episode 🙂

    Lots a love

    1. I’m so happy to hear this! 😊 I think there’s nearly always something new to learn with knitting. I know I certainly don’t come close to knowing all there is to know!