“Increase at the beginning and end of every RS row.”
Oh, yeah, sure. Simple!
You know how to increase, right? Everyone knows how to increase.
You just … well, this is where it all falls apart. If you ask ten knitters how to increase, you’ll get eleven answers, at the very least.
There are two main types of increases, and depending on the project, different strategies for placing them. Let’s sort it out.
Increase Type No. 1: Work Several Times into the Same Stitch
In the first group, we find KFB, PFB, KYOK and related increases. The Estonian nupp increases belong here, too. What they all have in common is that, by working more than once into the same stitch, you make one stitch into two (or three or four).
KFB—knit into the front and back of the stitch—is often the first increase a knitter learns. It’s easy to do, but that’s about the only thing going for it.
Problem No. 1: KFB creates a bump that looks a lot like a little purl stitch. It’s fine in garter stitch, but not very tidy in stockinette stitch.
Problem No. 2: KFB is asymmetrical. That bump always sits on the left of the stitch.
So if you work KFB at the very beginning and end of the row, in the first and last stitches, you get that pesky bump one stitch in from the start of the row, and the second one creates this funny sort of orphan stitch hanging off the very end of the row, which tends to pull up to the next row. The result is uneven and untidy.
If increasing the stitch count is all you care about, KFB gets the job done, but it’s not that great. It’s asymmetrical, it makes the edges inconsistent and—more on this later—makes seaming more difficult.
To make it symmetrical, you could work as follows:
KFB into the first stitch, and then KFB into the second-to-last stitch of the row.
This places that bump one stitch in from the edge on both sides, and it encourages the tendency of the edge to roll inwards, as you can see in this photo, in which you can’t really make out the edge stitch. But there’s still a bump, which you may or may not want to see.
Not-exactly-a-problem-but-an-observation-we’ll-discuss-later: KFB uses up a stitch.
All these things are also true of PFB (purl into the front and back of the stitch), which, in addition, is a huge pain in the butt to work.
There are double increases that use the same principle.
It is possible to work a KFBF—knit into the front, back and front of the same stitch—but the result is even more ugly and asymmetrical than the single version of the increase. I’m not even going to give you an image, that’s how little I like it. (Take that, KFBF!)
Much better is KYOK: knit, yarnover, knit into the same stitch. The Estonian nupp increases take this idea and go wild: you might kyokyokyokyok. The nupp is used to create a bobble; all those extra stitches are immediately decreased away on the following row.
The Estonian Nupp, or KYOK gone wild.
All of the KYOK family of increases are symmetrical, in that you start and end with a knit. They are definitely visible, but perhaps not in the way you might expect. The yarnover element doesn’t create much of a hole, but the base stitch, the one you work into so many times, gets pretty stretched out, and looks like a hole. This is why these types of increases are most commonly used in lace.
Note that if a pattern tells you to increase “in” a stitch, you can reasonably assume it intends you to KFB.
Increase Type No. 2: “Making” Stitches
You know, M1.
I like to tell knitters that the M stands for “magic,” in that you’re being told to conjure a stitch out of nothing. This category of increases doesn’t use up a stitch, it adds stitches where there was nothing before.
M1 is not a specific increase instruction. If the pattern simply says M1 without further definition—or with the oh-so-unhelpful “make one” as the only definition —then you are free to choose the one you prefer.
You can use M1L (make one left):
Using the tip of the left needle, pick up the strand that runs between the last stitch on the right needle and the first stitch on the left needle, from front to back, and knit that strand through the back loop.
There’s M1R (make one right):
Using the tip of the left needle, pick up the strand that runs between the last stitch on the right needle and the first stitch on the left needle, from back to front, and knit that strand through the front loop.
These increases are labeled “left” and “right” because they have slight leans in the base of the stitch, if you’re looking closely.
You can also purl these increases, in which case they are called M1PL and M1PR. They’re worked the same way, but you purl rather than knit the picked-up strand.
Being both a rebel and a pragmatist, I am a huge fan of the backwards loop M1—create a new stitch by using the e-wrap (backwards loop) with the working yarn, and place it on the right needle. I sometimes refer to this as M1Z for Zimmermann, because Our Lady Elizabeth Zimmermann refers to it in her writings. I like this increase because it’s quick, easy, and reasonably neutral, in that it doesn’t have much of a left or right lean. If you’re having to work increases into a ribbing or other knit/purl stitch pattern—increasing in seed stitch is the worst, amiright?—you don’t need to decide what the stitch needs to be until the following row; it’s just a loop.
Heck, you could also work a yarnover and then on the following row, knit or purl into the back loop to twist it. This achieves exactly the same result.
Yarnover, then twist the stitch on the next row.
The observant/persnickety amongst you might observe that with this method you’re actually just creating an M1R or M1L in two steps, rather than one. This is true. Which means that my glib statement above that this increase doesn’t really have a lean is a bit of a fib. It does, but for most applications, it really doesn’t matter that much.
Some even more particular types than I like to point out that there are actually two different versions of M1Z, depending on which way you twist the backwards loop, corresponding to M1R and M1L. You can see this in the images above: the first and second versions look different, as the loops I’m working into sit differently on the needle.
This is a hair that I’m not particularly interested in splitting. Try them out, see what you think. Some even choose to alternate between a standard yarnover and reverse yarnover and work into them on the following row different ways, to close up the hole. This is one of the reasons I like this one, as it’s flexible and easy to make it look the way you want.
If the pattern just says M1, you can use your choice of M1L, M1R, or M1Z. If a pattern is so persnickety as to require a purlwise increase, it’s likely to tell you, but again, the M1Z allows you to hedge your bets.
There are two other increases that qualify as M1 increases, but are often broken out to be their own thing: LLI/RLI, which are known, variously, as the Mother/Grandmother Increases; KLL/KRL; Left Lifted Increase/Knit Left Loop and Right Lifted Increase/Knit Right Loop. Phew!
I really love these two, and I don’t know why they’re not more common. They’re smooth, they’re tidy, and they’re a lot less visible. These are best used if spaced out vertically; if you need to increase every other row in the same place, they’re not the best choice. These increases distort stitches, so if repeated too frequently it can start to get tight and look messy. Otherwise, I think they’re amazing.
The lifted increases often are relegated to their own category, but they firmly qualify as making stitches. The L one has a left lean, and the R one has a right lean.
Right Lifted Increase
RLI: Use the tip of the right needle to lift the right leg of the stitch in the row below the first stitch on the left needle, and place it on the needle so that it’s right-leg forward. Knit into this strand. This increase is also known as the mother increase, as you use the stitch below, the immediate ancestor of, the first stitch on the left needle.
Left Lifted Increase
LLI—Use the tip of the left needle to grab the left leg of the stitch two rows below the one on the right needle, and place it on the needle so that it’s right-leg forward. Knit into this strand. Also known as the grandmother increase, as you use the grandmother of the first stitch on the right needle—that is, the one two generations ago.
On Which to Use
I’m quite happy to interchange any of the increases in the “magic” or “make one” category, but I feel very strongly that the two categories (KFB and M1) are not interchangeable.
It’s all in that offhand observation I made above: KFB and its related increases use up a stitch.
So if the pattern has you work a row like this:
K1, increase, k to last stitch, increase, k1.
If you tried to use KFB, you’d fail. The increase would use up that last stitch and make a mess of your counting. Also, your bumps wouldn’t match: the first one would be two stitches from the edge, the second one right on the edge. And edge bumps are nasty.
You could, of course, shift the increase over by a stitch, so that you’re doing k1, kfb, k to last 2 sts, kfb, k1.
Which has you work the increase one from the edge, but even then it’s still not symmetrical: the first bump is two stitches from the edge, the second is one stitch away.
Could you fix this? Absolutely. But do you want to? If the row has more than two increases placed in specific positions for a particular effect, then it’s going to take a bit of jiggery-pokery to line everything up, in terms of placement of the bump, but also the number of stitches to work between the increases. And of course you may not want the look of the bump.
As I mentioned, I’m generally happy to interchange any of the M1, with a few small caveats: I don’t like to stack lots of LLI/RLI right on top of each other as it can create vertical puckering. M1L/M1R would be a better choice in this situation. And if there are a lot of increases worked in a single row, then M1L/M1R can tighten the fabric, since you’re asking a lot of the strand of the row below. M1Z would work better.
And Where to Place Them
If you’re going to be seaming, increase placement can make the task significantly easier. Mattress stitch uses the bar—the strand that runs between two stitches—and so you do best to leave the first two stitches alone, so the bars are readily found. Place the increases 2 stitches in from the edge, like so:
K2, m1, k to last 2 sts, m1, k2.
Or, if you insist:
K1, kfb, k to last 3 sts, kfb, k2.
If the edges are going to be exposed, not seamed—a shawl, for example—then placing the increases one stitch from the edge is fine.
Decreases, because sometimes you’re going the other way. And yes, I will explain what the term “fully fashioned” is all about.