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A Formulaic Approach


Palm blog - April 18

I love it when knitting techniques click and a process that seems confusing, amorphous, and haphazard suddenly becomes clear, mathematical, scientific, and formulaic.


  • When knitting a basic hat, you often see decreases of the crown that follow a set pattern like this:

    1. (k2tog, k7)* across.
    2. knit.
    3. (k2tog, k6)* across.
    4. knit.

    You continue, decreasing one stitch between decreases every other row.

    I love the thrill of knowing I can use this decrease method for any hat simply by knowing my "divisible" (what my cast on number is divisible by - 8, 9, 10, 11, etc.) and adjusting the first row using this formula:

    (k2tog, k[divisible - 2])*

    It's not rocket science. But sometimes we just knit and follow patterns and don't really try and analyze the how's and why's of what's going on. I've made numerous hats, but I only looked closely enough at what was happening in this type of decrease recently when writing out notes for another Mom at school who had asked how to decrease a hat. (She'd only ever knitted a tube and then pulled all stitches together.) I printed out a free pattern that uses the above type decrease, and loaned her a book with another common decrease, but I was worried she might end up confused since she told me she already knew how many stitches she wanted to cast on (but hadn't told me that number). I wanted to make sure she'd be able to take my notes and the sample patterns and work with any number she had. Now she can! And now I have a handy formula for myself, too.

  • When working increases across a bottom, typically after a rib, I used to have to scratch out hash marks on paper in a hit or miss manner to plot increases evenly, until I realized you simply divide the number of total stitches by [the number of increases + 1]. The result is how many stitches you work between each increase. (You have to scatter any remainders across the row.)

    So, if you have 60 stitches and need to increase 9, you would (k6, inc)* across. If you have 62 stitches and need to increase 9, you would k7, (k6, inc)* across to last 7, k7.

    Simple. But the tendency is just to divide the total stitches by the number of increases, which gives you an increase at the end of the row rather than having nice symmetrical sets of stitches at the each side.

Someday, I'll pay enough attention to what's going on to figure out the formula for the first rows of turning a sock heel. It always baffles me where the numbers come from, so I feel hampered by having to have the same cast on number. Someday, it will click.

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