French Increases & Decreases

Okay, I give up. Someone please explain to thick old me what the perplexing way of noting increases and decreases in French patterns means. Each is stated as a multiplication equation or something, like so:


Help! What does it all mean?

ps - on an unrelated note, I finished and felted my Aran Hot Water Bottle Cover and I am pleased as punch with the result. Just looking at it makes me feel so damned cool - it's felted AND aran! We're in S. Jersey visiting C.'s family right now, but I'll post photos and details as soon as we return.

Posted by jess at March 26, 2005 12:16 PM

Bonjour ! French [lurker] knitter here.

The way Phildar patterns are written is sometimes a bit cryptic ..

It would help if you gave more context (as in .. tell me what pattern you're reading and I'll translate the tricky bits for you if you want).

Let's say these were decreases.

Basically, they tell you to decrease 1 stich once (1x1)

Or 1 stitch six times (6x1)

or three stitches once (1x3)

Because 1x2 reads "une fois deux" mailles/augmentations .. whatever.

typically, you'll have something along the lines of "de chaque côté" meaning on each side mentionned before they state the number of repeats.

I'm afraid my explanations are as clear as mud.

Send me a mail if you're stuck barocline at

Posted by: Elise at March 26, 2005 12:56 PM

But if 1x2 means "une fois deux" mailles/augmentations, wouldn't that mean that you do it to two stitches once?

Posted by: Linda at March 26, 2005 2:18 PM

You're right, yet the pattern will sometimes call for another interpretation. That's what I meant by 'more context'.

All these 1x2, 6x1 and so on are just a way of avoiding repetitions in the pattern instructions in order to make them shorter.

If it says "diminuer 1x2 mailles" then you decrease two stitches once (the way you do so is generally explained at the beginning of the decreasing instructions or at the top of the pattern, where it says "Points employés". If it says "faire 1x2 augmentations" then you increase two stitches once (and again, whether you do a double increase or two increases has hopefully been stated earlier in the pattern). It could also be "rabattre 1x2 mailles" - bind off two stitches once.

When I wrote "une fois deux" mailles/augmentations" I meant the way to read 1x2 would depend on what came before or after it "une fois deux mailles" -> two stitches once / "une fois deux augmentations" -> "two increases once" and so on.

Gahh I don't think my muddled explanations will be very useful.

In general, French patterns look as if they were written in a way designed to save printing space ... they will explain things once and then assume the knitters will work out the rest for themselves. It isn't uncommon to find patterns for complicated arans that explain in detail how to knit a sleeve and then only tell you to do "the same, but reverse everything, taking symmetry into consideration" for the second sleeve.

I have plenty of Phildar magazines and others here. Maybe things would be easier for me to explain if I took one out and translated a small but typical portion of it.

Let's say you read :

A 21 cm (66 rgs) de haut. tot. faire de ch. côté à 1m. des bords 1x1 aug. puis:
1) ts les 12 rgs: 4x1 augm.
2) 3) 4) ts les 16 rgs: 3x1 augm.
4) ts les 20 rgs: 2x1 augm.

First, if I rewrite it without the abbreviations you get :

A 21 cm de hauteur totale (66 rangs), faire de chaque côté à une maille des bords une fois une augmentation, puis :
1) tous les 12 rangs, quatre fois une augmentation
2) 3) 4) tous les 16 rangs, trois fois une augmentation
5)tous les 20 rangs, deux fois une augmentation.

And if I attempt to tranlate it into English,

When piece measures 21 cm from beg. (after 66 rows), increase 1 stitch at each edge once with a one stitch seam allowance, then :
Size 1) Repeat that increase every twelfth row four times.
Sizes 2) 3) 4) Repeat that increase every 16 row three times.
5) Repeat that increase every 20th row twice.

What I find funny is that in the top "Points employés" section of the pattern I took this paragraph from, all the decreases needed were explained in details, but they said nothing about increases ! They assume we'll look them up somewhere else in the magazine or will do whichever increases we like. I seldom knit a Phildar pattern without a peak at "the Knitter's book of finishing techniques" or another such book.


Posted by: Elise at March 27, 2005 7:53 AM

wow, thank you, elise, for taking time to explain! i did notice that the phildar patterns save a lot of space on the paper this way. i am assuming when it says something like "6x1," i am just to spread the 6 stitches out evenly across the piece.

anyway, here is an excerpt of the pattern where i got stuck:

A 46 cm (102 rgs) de haut. tot. former le raglan en rab. ch. cote 1x3m. puis:

*2 rgs plus haut: 1x1m. et 4 rgs plus haut: 1x1m* repeter de * a * 5 fois au tot. et ts les 2 rgs: 6x1m.

So from what I can see, this means...

Once the piece measures 46cm (102 rows), for the raglan, bind off 3 stitches on each side. Then:

*2 rows higher up: bind off 1 stitch (on which side? both?), and 4 rows higher (higher than what? the first decrease row or the last one I just did? won't this be uneven?) bind off 1 stitch* (on which side?). Repeat from * to * 5 times total, then (?) every 2 rows bind off ? 6? stitches???

I'm supposed to start with 65 stitches and end up with 27, meaning in the end I will have decreased or bound off 38 stitches. I have 44 rows in which to do this. Every way I try to decipher it I come up with fewer than 44 rows. Can anyone illuminate?

Posted by: jess at March 27, 2005 8:22 AM

I'm quite sure that the "de chaque côté" applies to all subsequent binds off (bind offs ?).

As you said , you start by binding off 3 stitches on each side.
Then, the way I understand it (but I find it confusing too !):

2 rows higher up, bind off 1 st. on each side. 4 rows higher than the decrease you've just made, bind off 1 stitch on each side.
Sounds uneven, but I can't see why they'd take the trouble to explain things this way if they just wanted us to bind off one stitch every two rows.

You repeat this sequence 5 times total, then you stop doing the 4-and-two rows trick and simply bind off 1 stitch on each side every two rows (this decrease you do six times).

So ..
3 on each side : 6 st. decreased
1 on each side every two&four rows five times = 20 st decreased
1 on each side six times = 12 stitches decreased

38 stitches decreased total.

I'm not sure the number of rows is right. I'll try to write it down on paper because the way I manage to work out this sort of things is mostly by drawing it on graph paper .. what's the use of patterns then, you may ask !

It's getting a bit late over this side of the Atlantic so I'm not sure I'll do it tonight, hope you won't give it up because it sounds confusing to a native speaker too - I often dive into the patterns without reading them in details so I'm probably not very good at explaining this sort of things.

Posted by: Elise at March 27, 2005 4:40 PM

I drew it out there. I only drew the left side of the raglan but I think it works.
In red I wrote the number of stitches decreased (sorry my 1s look like 7s). In green the number of repeats of the 2/4 rows thingummybob.

1 square = 2 rows or two stitches
So I end up with 42 rows and 19 stitches decreased on the left side, but if you add the 1st row on which the initial 3 stitches are decreased and one extra row at the end you get 44 rows.

Hope that helps.

Posted by: Elise at March 27, 2005 5:22 PM

I think Elise took a great deal of trouble to explain brillantly everything. Still I am unsure about the "decrease" stuff (rab. is bind off not decrease), but then I am a beginner (I've never knitted a raglan yet).

I have listed all the knitting glossaries I know of on my blog's linkbar (see under "glossaires" at ) as well as other useful resources (see under "référence"), some of which might illustrate the stitches in French better than the geeky 3-D rendering you found. For instance,

Checking other English speaking Phildar knitters' blogs might help, specially if they have tackled the same pattern.
In the past months, passioknit has gone through the inavoidable learning curve about deciphering Phildar patterns:
And then, of course, the expert Phildar knitter would be fluffa!

Hope this help.

Posted by: Urraca at March 28, 2005 9:52 AM

ack! you are my HERO, elise! i just got home from a too-long trip on the greyhound bus and what a great surprise in my inbox. i actually understand now. thank you for helping me to solve this mystery.

e-mail me with a snail mail address where i could send you a little thank you :)

Posted by: jess at March 28, 2005 9:58 AM

Urraca is right about how unusual it is to bind off stitches instead of making visible decreases for a raglan, but I think that's because of the yarn this pattern calls for and the pattern itself.

I think I've found the pattern you're working on (it's taken from tendances hiver 04-05, isn't it ? #15, a white jumper with a wide open neck that curls over itself ?). The yarn is Steppe - I haven't tried it yet but I'm not sure the decreases would be very visible anyway since it looks like a "bouclette" sort of yarn, and if I'm right in thinking this is the jumper you're knitting, it's all in reverse stockinette stitch so traditional decreases would maybe look a bit weird seen from behind.

If this is the pattern, "sweet georgia" knit this jumper last year :

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Posted by: hyhudglehy at January 28, 2009 6:40 PM

Hi, I just buyed some yarn at Lidl supermarket. it had a pullover pattern included, but I don't understand explanations at all. I think they're written following french pattern style. Is there someone who can have a look at the pattern (I took a photo) and can explain me how to knit the pullover?
thank you very much!

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