colourwork and crown decreases

I’ve been receiving several queries recently about how to read colourwork charts when shaping the crown of a hat, so I thought I’d write a quick post about it. A number of knitters seem to be making peerie flooers as their first colourwork project: so if this is you, and you find yourself bewildered by ‘chart C’ – worry not! I explain everything at the end of this post.

There are many different methods of shaping a hat crown, but in colourwork, the decreases are often made around a central stitch, to create that pleasing spokes-of-a-wheel effect characteristic of traditional Fairisle knitting. One way of doing this is to pair familiar right- and left-slanting decreases (k2tog and ssk) around a column of knitted stitches. Kate Gagnon Osborne’s popular Selbu Modern has a crown shaped in this manner, and its decreases are charted in a similar way to this:

This chart represents one repeat, or ‘wedge’, of the hat crown. The knitter works across the chart from right to left, and when s/he encounters a pink square, works a right slanting decrease, knits the next stitch (from the column at the centre of the chart), and then works a left slanting decrease. The knitter continues on to the end of the repeat (left side of chart), and begins again. Each time a decrease is worked, a square disappears from the chart. The pink squares reveal where two stitches turn into one, and the column of blank squares illustrates how the centre of the decreases lines up to create one spoke of the crown wheel. Effectively, five stitches are involved in making this decrease: two stitches are worked together on the right; two on the left, and one stitch is knitted from the centre column.

Another common method of shaping a crown involves three stitches rather than five, and is known as a centred double decrease (CDD). This decrease gives each spoke of the wheel a decorative raised or mitred effect. There are a few different kinds of centred double decrease, but for clarity I’ll just talk about my favourite one here. It is worked as follows:
slip 2 stitches together as if to knit; knit 1, pass 2 slipped stitches over.
Some designers, such as Alice Starmore, chart centred double decreases in a similar manner to this:

Here, the knitter begins the round at the centre of the chart, works across from right to left, and when s/he encounters a pair of pink squares, slips two stitches, knits the green square to the left, and passes the two slipped stitches over. This next crown chart is exactly the same as the previous one, except that the knitter begins at the right hand edge, and the slipped stitches are illustrated as pairs in the centre, rather than off to one side.

I have used this particular method of charting centred double decreases on my Fugue and Caller Herrin’ hats. These are busy designs where the visual continuity of each round on the chart is important to the knitter. Because of this, the k1 part of each decrease is represented – as it is in reality – as the stitch directly to the left of the two slipped stitches. For other designs, however, it is useful for the knitter to be able to visualise each wedge and spoke of the wheel separately, and in such cases the k1 part of each centred double decrease is charted as a separate column of stitches. Here is the same crown chart again, but this time with the spoke – the k1 part of the decrease – represented in the column of stitches to the right.

Here, the knitter begins the round at the centre of the chart, works across from right to left, and when s/he encounters a pink stitch (left side of the chart), slips it, together with the next pink stitch (right side of chart), knits one green stitch from the column, and then passes the two slipped stitches over. This way of charting has the distinct advantage of allowing the knitter to see, relatively easily, what each wedge and spoke of the crown will look like. However, an element of confusion is introduced by the fact that the pink and green stitches at the right hand side of the chart are, in effect, worked out of turn. Also, some knitters might find something slightly anomalous in the way the decreases appear on this and the previous couple of charts, because the stitches that don’t exist anymore are actually still there (represented by the pink squares).* Additionally, representing the slipped/ decreased stitches with a different colour or symbol can sometimes make a chart quite difficult to read – particularly in a design where several colours are in use.

My favourite method of charting a colourwork crown gets around all of these problems.
Here it is.

Here the knitter begins in the centre of the chart (the stitch to the left of the yellow ‘start of round’ line) and works across from right to left. When they encounter the edges of the chart on a decrease round, they slip two stitches, k1 stitch from the right hand column, pass the two slipped stitches over, and continue around. The stitches that are slipped and decreased simply disappear from the chart (as illustrated here by the arrows on round 16). This allows the wedge of the crown to appear as it actually looks, enables the knitter to see clearly what colour the k1 part of the decrease is worked in, and lends the whole chart greater visual clarity.


If you are a novice knitter making peerie flooers and I have merely messed with your mind in all the foregoing, just use the striped chart above as a guide (it has exactly the same stitch count as chart C in the pattern), and here is what to do:

Begin working from the chart on round 1, at stitch 1, (to the left of the start of round line)
Continue working, repeating the chart around, until round 4.
On round 4, *k 10 sts in pattern, slip 2 stitches, k1 stitch from the right hand column, pass 2 slipped stitches over, k11 sts in pattern.* repeat around
On round 6, you decrease again, by *knitting 9 sts in pattern, slipping 2 stitches, knitting 1 stitch from the column, passing the 2 slipped stitches over, knitting 10 stitches in pattern* and repeating around.
And so on – decreasing on every even round – until you reach the top of the chart, and return to the pattern instructions.

Here endeth the lesson.

Also, those generally interested in colourwork hats may be interested to know that you can now buy 3 of my patterns together as part of a collection I’ve called The Hats of Midlothian. (I was foolishly pleased with myself when I came up with this title, but when I, in a state of great excitement, told Tom, he remained completely nonplussed. Hey ho).

*It would be all too easy to boggle one’s brain with the question of when a slipped stitch ceases to be a stitch. I’ll leave the ontological knitting to Heather.