M1, KFB, right-leaning, left-leaning – there are so many ways to increase stitches in knitting it can be confusing! Your pattern will always indicate which to use, but having a basic understanding of the finished appearance of each increase gives you the knowledge to make modifications to any pattern you desire.
We use increases in knitting to shape the fabric. When working a top-down sweater, directional increases shape the raglans for sleeves. In bottom-up sweaters, increases gradually widen sleeves or add waist shaping. With shawls and other garments, increases are used to build depth and width within the fabric.
There are two basic forms of increases, neutral and directional, that can be worked different ways to achieve different appearances. Today we will look at the most common increases found in knitting patterns, and we will show you how they look and when and where to use them.
Neutral increases are non-directional, meaning they do not lean to the left or right. The most common example of a neutral increase is the yarn over increase. If you’ve ever knit the basic dishcloth pattern, you’ve done a yarn over increase. The sample below is worked as K2, YO, knit to the last 2 stitches, YO, K2.
It is important to note that this increase creates an eyelet which is why we often see this used in lace knitting and as shawl and dishcloth edges, but it can make for a lovely, lacy raglan increase as well. Should you wish to eliminate the eyelet, simply knit the yarn over through the back loop on subsequent rows and you have a less lacy edge as seen in the photo below.
The backwards loop increase is most commonly used when you need to add a cluster of stitches at once, for a buttonhole for example, but can be used singularly as well. Similar to the swatches above, we’ve worked K2, Inc 1 with Backwards Loop Cast On, K to the last 2 stitches, Inc 1 with Backwards Loop Cast On, K2.
Another common neutral increase is to knit into the front and back of the same stitch, abbreviated in patterns as KFB. This increase is also referred to as a bar increase because of the horizontal bar under the increased stitch, which gives the appearance of a purl stitch. Because this bar is situated to the left of the stitch, it’s necessary to work the increase one stitch closer to the edge on the right-hand side than the left. In the swatch below we wanted to maintain a 2-stitch border on either side of the “bar” and so we’ve worked our increase row as such: K1, KFB, K to last 3 sts, KFB, K2. The kfb increase is perfect for increasing in garter stitch as the bar is nearly invisible and it is also often used when increasing stitches after working the ribbing on the body of a hat or sweater.
Directional increases lean left and right and are usually paired and worked at either end of a row, or on either side of a centered stitch. The most common example of a directional increase is M1L and M1R, make 1 left and right. In this increase you are making a stitch by picking up the horizontal bar in between the stitches and knitting it. How you pick it up and knit it determines the direction. For a right leaning increase, M1R, lift the horizontal bar between the stitches from the back of the work and knit this stitch through the front. For a left leaning increase, M1L, lift the horizontal bar from the front of the work and knit it through the back. We see this increase most often in sweater and shawl construction. Our swatch below is worked as: K2, M1R, K to last 2 sts, M1L, K2.
The last increase we will look at today is the lifted increase. Also a directional increase, lifted increases are considered to be the most invisible. Abbreviated in patterns as RL1 and LL1, lifted increases take a little practice but the finished effect is well worth the effort. For a right slanting lifted increase, RL1, with the tip of your right needle, lift the right leg of the knit stitch one row below the first stitch on your left needle. Place this stitch on the left needle and knit it. For a left leaning lifted increase, LL1, with the tip of your left needle, lift the left leg of the stitch two rows below the last stitch on the right needle from the back, place it on the left needle and knit through the front. These are perfect when working plain fabric like stocking stitch. This swatch is worked as: K2, RL1, K to last 2 sts, LL1, K2.
Once you decide which technique will look best for your project, there are many online video and photo tutorials to assist you with the visual aspect of increasing. A little practice with each one is all you will need to gain the experience to increase stitches with confidence.
Do you have a favourite way to increase stitches that we didn’t cover? Tell us about in the comments section, we are always looking to learn new techniques!
Happy increasing everyone and stay safe!