Fitting a stitch pattern into garment shaping is a challenge every sweater knitter and designer faces. Since each size has different shaping, and since the stitch pattern spans over a large number of stitches, there’s no quick and easy answer for how to work every increase row. So it’s ultimately up to your tastes, how you like to incorporate shaping. But I can give you some tips for making it as easy as possible for you.
My first suggestions is to make a nice, big swatch in the stitch pattern. Try for around 6″ square or at least two repeats of the stitch pattern. Not only is this necessary for finding the right needle size to use, it’s also a good way to get familiar with the stitch pattern before working shaping in it.
Next is to work the body, which usually has less shaping, before making the sleeves. This will also give you time to get familiar with the stitch pattern, and it’ll give a little experience working light amounts of shaping at the armholes and neckline.
When it comes time to work shaping, I like to view the stitch pattern like it’s covering a big piece of fabric that you’re cutting the piece out of, getting little fragments of the stitch pattern at the corners where there’s not enough room for a full repeat. Some might instead prefer to work the increased sections in stockinette or reverse stockinette stitch. In either case, the orientation of the stitch pattern is established when you start the piece. You add on additional repeats to the outside of this as the piece grows, or cut into it as the piece decreases. If there’s not enough room in a corner for the stitch pattern, you can just work it in stockinette stitch.
Increasing every 6th row in seed stitch.
Decreasing every 6th row in moss stitch.
If the stitch pattern uses increases and decreases, like a lace pattern, you have to be careful that the shaping isn’t negated by an unpaired decrease or increase in the pattern. In most lace patterns, every decrease (like a k2tog or ssk) will have an increase (a yo) and every double decrease (like a sl1-k2tog-psso) will have two increases to balance it out. So when you’re adding on to the outside of the stitch pattern, make sure that you’re only adding matched pairs of increases and decreases.
A simple lace pattern, first worked even, then decreased every 4th row 3 times, then increased every 4th row 3 times. Note how the decreases cut into the stitch pattern at the sides and how the increased stitches are worked in stockinette until there’s enough room for elements of the stitch pattern.
Alternately, if you’re feeling really comfortable with the stitch pattern, you can create the shaping with an unpaired increase or decrease in the stitch pattern – like a yarn over at the outer edge without a decrease to balance it out. But this may not be convenient every shaping row.
Another simple lace pattern that happens to work evenly with increasing every RS row. At the beginning, the outer yarn overs provide the shaping. In the second half, these yarn overs are balanced out with decreases, and additional increases built into the garter stitch border provide the shaping.
You may also get some good results by taking some graph paper and drawing the stitch pattern out for the whole piece at its widest, then drawing the outline of the piece you’re shaping to see how the stitch pattern can be built into it.
In general, knowing how to work shaping in a stitch pattern comes with experience, both with the concepts of shaping and with the stitch pattern itself. At some point in your knitting career, you’ll make the jump to seeing a stitch pattern as a visual pattern, not just as a series of instructions, and that will make it easier to tinker with at the edges. If you’re not there yet, start slow with a plain or less shaped garment, or perhaps with a patterned hat. It’s great to challenge yourself in knitting, but there’s no reason to be frustrated when there are so many great projects to knit!
– Kirsten Hipsky, Design Manager