I hope you’ve all become whizzes (or at least mildly competent) at the basics — knit, purl, cast-on and bind-off — because you’ll need them for basically every project you ever make. Now we’re going to move on and try out some other techniques. Let’s go for some basic increases and decreases, then I’ll briefly explain knitting in the round. By the end of this column, you should be able to make a hat.
There are a few basic increases that work in different situations. The easiest to execute is the knit front and back, which is usually abbreviated in patterns as kfb (but we’ll get to pattern reading later). To do this, you start off like a regular knit stitch, but don’t transfer it to the right hand needle. Instead, you then knit into the back of the same stitch before moving it over. The only drawback is that it leaves a little blip in the work that kind of looks like a rogue purl stitch. How much that matters depends on the project and how much of a perfectionist you are. The Knit Witch has a good tutorial video for this:
Another one is the m1 increase. To do this, you lift the bar between two stitches onto the left needle, then knit through the back of the loop, making it twist and be relatively invisible. This one looks a little cleaner than the kfb increase, but can be trickier to maneuver, especially if you haven’t yet mastered knitting through the back of the loop. Check it out here:
The third kind is the yarn over. Unlike the other two, which can be used pretty much interchangeably, this one you should only use when the pattern calls for it. To do this, all you do is move the yarn to the front of the needle and make a knit stitch (for a purl, you would move it to the back). This creates an extra stitch, but it also makes a hole. Yarn overs, abbreviated YO, are used in lace knitting alongside different decreases to make pretty things.
The easiest decrease is the knit two together (k2tog). It’s exactly what it sounds like. You knit two stitches together into one, making a decrease that leans toward the right.
If you need your decrease to slant to the left, you will do a slip-slip-knit (ssk). You slip two stitches knit-wise, one at a time, from the left to the right needle, then knit back through both of them. It’s a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang of it it’s not so bad.
The third kind is called the PSSO, which stands for “pass slipped stitch over.” To do this, you slip one stitch knit-wise, then knit a stitch, then pass the slipped stitch over the one you knit, kind of like you do when you bind off. This will lean to the left like the SSK does.
Knitting in the Round
I was thoroughly confused by the concept of circular knitting until I actually sat down and did it. When you actually try it out, it’s not that tough. To do this you need either a circular needle* or a set of double pointed needles (DPNs). Cast on like normal (on DPNs, divide the stitches across all but one of the needles). From here, instead of turning the work around and knitting into the last cast-on stitch, you’ll work into the first cast-on stitch and go in a circle. With DPNs, you’ll use the last remaining needle to work the stitches.
Lost? That’s OK. It sounds more complicated than it is.
Using DPNs is a lot clunkier than a circular needle, but is necessary for smaller things like socks and gloves. Generally, for a hat, you can use a 16-inch circular needle, and for things like cowls or sweaters in the round you’ll do something bigger.
Please note that since you are always working on the front of the piece, patterns are different than on straight needles. To get stockinette stitch you will knit every round, and to get garter stitch you knit one round, purl one round.
There are other, more complicated ways to knit in the round, like magic loop and knitting with two circulars. Those are both good for small projects if you don’t like DPNs. If you’re feeling brave, check out the instructions at those links and give them a whirl.
Most patterns have a pretty standard set of abbreviations. I mentioned some of them above while I was explaining the stitches, but here’s a more comprehensive list:
K = knit
P = purl
M1 = make-one increase
KFB = knit front and back
YO = yarnover
k2tog = knit two together
SSK = slip slip knit
PSSO = pass slipped stitch over**
CO = cast on
BO = bind off
st st = stockinette stitch
If you remember those, you can follow most basic patterns. Here’s an example of a simple hat:
Materials: size 8, 16-inch circular needle, worsted weight yarn, stitch marker, tapestry needle.
CO 80 stitches.
Join in the round, making sure not to twist. Place stitch marker to indicate beginning of the round.
Work in 1×1 rib for ten rounds or until the brim is desired length.
Work in st st until piece measures 6″(or desired length) from cast-on edge.
1: [K8, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
2: [K7, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
3: [K6, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
4: [K5, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
5: [K4, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
6: [K3, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
7: [K2, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
8: [K1, k2tog] (repeat to end of round)
9: k2tog all the way around
(Note: when the rounds get too small to work comfortable, switch to DPNs of the same size or use a modified magic loop method.)
Break yarn, use tapestry needle to weave through the live stitches and pull tight, then sew in ends.
You should end up with something like this:
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments, and if you haven’t already, you should join Ravelry. It’s a great place to find free patterns.
*You can knit back-and forth on a circular, too. Instead of switching straight needles around in your hands, you just turn the circular and work back the way you came. I find it easier and rarely use straights anymore, but it’s a personal preference.
**Sometimes you’ll see SKP, which means the same thing. If you see SK2P it means you slip, then k2tog, then pass the slipped stitch over, decreasing by two stitches instead of one.