Doodling with needles

Stacked increases & decreases

I do a lot of different crafts, but I nearly always have some knitting on the go.  When I don’t have anything that I’m making, I swatch to try out new techniques.  I call this doodling.  I just let my swatch develop as it wishes and make a few notes when it seems to be working, or becoming interesting.  I find knitting endlessly fascinating because of the infinite variety of fabrics that can be produced.  And all with – basically – two types of stitch, one of which is just the other reversed.

My latest discovery is stacked increases and decreases.  They create Missoni-like distortions in striped fabric.  The best known hand-knitting pattern using this technique is probably Fox Paws which appeared in 2014.  Although I’ve had Fox Paws in my Ravelry favourites list for some time, I didn’t know how the intricate, almost fractal design was created.

The thing that started me down this route was looking for a scarf pattern which would suit the pure silk, self-striping Debbie Bliss yarn I bought at the Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show last autumn.  It seemed a shame to just knit a plain, stripey scarf, so I looked at slipped stitch patterns and other ways of making a more complicated colourwork design without stranding.  I stumbled across a bold Knitty scarf called Ribbon Candy (by the same designer as Fox Paws, Xandy Peters) and a blog called The Interior of My Brain in which the author, who has knitted several stacked increase/decrease patterns, explains the design principles behind them.  Those principles are quite mathsy, which suits me down to the ground.  I’m hooked.

In short, humps are created by stacking increases on top of each other using the KYOK (knit, yarnover, knit) double increase.  The KYOK is all worked in the same stitch, like a Kfb (knit in the front and back) would be for a single increase but only in the front leg of the stitch.  So far, so ordinary: one stitch has become three stitches.  But bigger humps can be made by working 4-stitch, 6-stitch or 8-stitch increases, as follows:

  1. Work a KYOK, then slip 2 sts back to the left needle (purlwise, ie without twisting – this is written as SB2). Now you have one st of the 3 produced on the right needle and 2 on the left one.
  2. Repeat step 1 one or more times, which means you are working a new KYOK in the yarnover from the previous KYOK. One repeat will give you a total of 5 sts (4-st increase), two repeats gives 7 sts, three gives 9 sts and so on.
  3. Finish by working a final KYOK and then knitting to the end of the newly created stitches.

To avoid fabric distortion, stacked increases need to be balanced out by stacked decreases in a subsequent row (or rows) to get rid of all the extra stitches, and they need to be placed judiciously if a harmonious design is to result because they produce downwards-pointing humps.  The multi stitch decreases are worked over a number of repeating steps, just like the increases:

  1. Knit to the correct starting point of the decrease.
  2. K5tog (or slip 2 sts together knitwise, K3tog, pass slipped sts over).
  3. Slip 2 sts back to the left needle, K3tog.
  4. Repeat step 3. the required number of times.

The Interior of My Brain provides a couple of useful equations for working out how many repeats (r) are needed to achieve a certain number of increases (i) or decreases (d).  They are:

r =  (i – 2) / 2             for increases, and

r = (d – 4) / 2            for decreases.

To increase, the pattern instructions would be (KYOK, SB2) x r, KYOK, Kr and to decrease they would be Kr, K5tog, (SB2, K3tog) x r.

So, for example, to create a 6-stitch increase hump:

i = 6, r = (6 – 2)/2 = 2, to achieve this knit (KYOK, SB2) twice, KYOK, K2

and for a corresponding 6-stitch decrease downwards-pointing hump:

d = 6, r = (6 – 4)/2 = 1, to achieve this knit K1, K5tog, SB2, K3tog.

The only other things you need to know are:

  • Keep changing colour, probably every other row, to make the stacked increases and decreases show up properly and produce the characteristic distorted stripes. Change colour on right side rows, as usual.
  • Every other row is worked plain (normally knit), with the increase/decrease rows alternating between the plain rows.  The increases/decreases could be on right side rows or wrong side rows.  Garter stitch works fine, but for stocking stitch you need to think about whether the knit side or the purl side is to be the right side.
  • Increases can be worked on top of increases in a row two below to make more complex designs. The same with decreases.
  • Similarly, increases and decreases can be worked in the same row (in different areas of the stitch repeat) to create a more interesting pattern.
  • Attention should be paid to where in the row the increases/decreases occur as well as how soon (in terms of how many rows) after the companion decreases/increases they occur.

Armed with this info, I started doodling and this was the initial result.

Stacked increases 1

Much of it is rather lumpier than it ought to be, because I’m still working out how to make decreases fit into the gaps between increases properly. And the acrylic yarn I use for my doodles isn’t as forgiving as wool.

Later, when I pulled out the (straight, single pointed) needle ready to start again, I had a moment of realisation.  The top edge wasn’t anything like straight, instead it looked more fractal, like a Koch curve.  The bumps produced by the stacked increases, and the corresponding valleys from the decreases, massively distort the working edge although the fabric evens out after a few more rows have been knitted.  This explained why I was struggling to slide the tight stitches along the needle – they want to follow a curve and I was forcing them into a straight line.  Things became much easier when I switched to a circular needle, with the added bonus that it’s now possible to see what’s happening because the fabric has more space to arrange itself on the needle’s cable.

For anyone who prefers to learn a new technique by following a pattern rather than doodling, it’s worth having a look at the free Stack Overflow cowl and mitts patterns.

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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