Knitter and author Judith Durant wants to take the guesswork out of shaping your knitting.
It might sound obvious, but how a knitter chooses to follow a written pattern has a big impact on the look of the finished product. So when you encounter that line in your knitting pattern telling you simply to“increase” or “decrease” the number of stitches you’re working with, how’s a knitter to know the right method to choose?
Enter author Judith Durant and Increase, Decrease, her book of 99 step-by-step ways to increase and decrease with as much subtlety or flair as you want. Judith kindly agreed to answer my questions about the origins of Increase, Decrease and what she hopes every knitter will discover.
I love the story you tell in the introduction of Increase, Decrease about how you used the same increase and decrease method for 30 years.
I’m actually a little bit embarrassed that I made that confession for all to see! But it’s a rather weird truth. Knitting, sewing, and cooking were all revealed to many girls of my generation when we were about eight or ten years old (how sexist we were back then!). And we were fortunate to have these skills reinforced through a course of study in public school called home economics. Completely amazed that one could take a few materials and create clothing, food, and stuff that’s fun to look at, I was hooked. I like to remember that the first thing I knit was a dishcloth, and the second was a royal blue fisherman sweater to go with the plaid pleated skirt I’d just sewn for myself. There was probably a step or two in between, but I don’t recall.
Sewing took center stage for me when I finished college with a degree in dramatic arts with a concentration in costume design. While knitting remained an on-again, off-again activity, there was not a huge call for that in the Broadway costume shops where I plied my trade. So while I was incredibly meticulous about the angle of each stitch I made by hand on the edge of headdresses for New York City Ballet dancers, for some reason that precision did not carry over to my knitting.
When I finally realized what I was missing out on with all the subtle and not-so-subtle knitting techniques that exist and are yet to be discovered, I was hooked again. Now I very consciously and carefully select the increase or decrease to use for each individual circumstance. And if it doesn’t give the desired effect, I rip out and try another.
How did you learn all the different methods (99 of them!) that you present in the book?
Landing the position of book editor at Interweave Press back in 1994, and continuing until 2000, I was very lucky to have worked with some of the best knitters around: Nancy Bush, Cheryl Oberle, Galina Khmeleva, Meg Swanson, Nicky Epstein, and, of course, my colleague Ann Budd, all within my first two years. And when we launched Interweave Knits magazine, I really learned what I’d been missing out on. So I’d say my real education came in the form of a series of grab bags filled with tips and techniques from scores of accomplished knitters.
When I set out to gather increasing and decreasing methods for the book, I was surprised that I did not already know it all. Working on this book confirmed my recently adopted motto: “The more I know about knitting, the more there is to learn.”
When a pattern doesn’t specify an increase or decrease method, what are the key questions a knitter should ask?
Situations that call for increasing and decreasing are varied and will have different solutions. The most common use of shaping is that of increasing or decreasing at the beginning and end of rows to widen or narrow a piece in even increments, such as for a sleeve or a triangular shawl. In general, I think it looks best if you work with stitches that lean in the direction of the widening or narrowing fabric. For example, if you’re decreasing to narrow a fabric on the right side, use a left-leaning decrease at the beginning of the row and use its right-leaning counterpart at the end of the row. If increasing for a widening fabric, choose a right-leaning increase at the beginning of the row and its left-leaning counterpart at the end of the row.
All that said, there are times you may want to use shaping techniques that slant away from the angle of the fabric. It’s up to you to decide what the desired finished look is, and to choose the technique that yields that result.
If you need to increase evenly across a piece, it’s best to choose a neutral increase, one that leans neither right nor left. As these increases are not meant to be part of the design, look for the most invisible method, and space the increases at even increments.
There are also times when increases are decorative, and these most often involve methods that leave an open hole or gap in the work. For a single decorative increase you’d use the yarnover technique, which leaves a small hole in the work. For multiple increases, you can choose to work a combination of yarnovers and knit or purl stitches into one stitch, you can knit into the front and back of the same stitch several times, or you can knit and purl into the same stitch several times; these will leave a larger hole or gap in the work.
The final section of the book is called “Combinations and Special Circumstances,” and it delves into techniques that yield some really beautiful and surprising effects. Can you talk about a particular favorite technique from the last part of the book and why you think it’s especially valuable for knitters?
Of course I think everything in the book is valuable for all knitters! But I’d say the best example of how your choice of method affects the end result is shown through decreasing a two-color circular pattern. Three methods are presented; two of them use the k2tog decrease, and one uses the ssk decrease. All three samples begin with the same number of stitches and a 3 light/3 dark striped pattern and decrease down to 8 stitches in the center. Depending on where you place the decreases, you can end up with three distinctively different color patterns. I have my preferred method, but as with everything in knitting, method is a matter of personal choice. More than anything else, I hope that I’ve successfully presented options that will enhance the knitting experience.