Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

When we knit a close-fitting sweater or cardigan, at some point the pattern will tell us to shape armholes. Usually, the instructions will be somewhere along these lines: “bind off 4 sts at beg of next 2 rows, 3 sts at beg of foll 2 rows, 2 sts at beg of foll 2 rows and 1 st at beg of foll 2 rows”.

If we follow the instructions precisely, we’ll end up with a piece that looks like a staircase:

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

We still make the necessary shaping, but the edge doesn’t look nice and could be a bit tricky to seam when the time comes to put the pieces of the sweater together.

It could be even a bigger issue if we are making a sleeveless top with the armhole edgings exposed.

All of these issues are easily solved by a little trick that allows us to turn that staircase edging into a lovely slanted edging.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

A while ago, I made a tutorial about left-slanting and right-slanting sloped bind off (you can read that tutorial here), and then I’ve got a request to explain how to combine these two bind offs to make a neat shaping at both sides of the work.

In this tutorial, I’ll walk you stitch by stitch and row by row through every step of making a shaping that we often do when we form armholes.

Let’s take the example mentioned in the first paragraph as our guideline. This piece of instructions is taken from “Filati Handknitting” magazine.

So, how do we “bind off 4 sts at beg of next 2 rows, 3 sts at beg of foll 2 rows, 2 sts at beg of foll 2 rows and 1 st at beg of foll 2 rows”?

Let’s cast on 25 stitches and pretend it is the back or the front of our sweater. Work a few rows in stockinette stitch to give our swatch some body before we get to shaping.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

The first part of instruction tells us to bind off 4 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows. This step will be easy. We’ll bind off stitches as usual and we’ll only set up that lovely sloped bind off in the second row.

Why we won’t bother turning the first decrease into a sloped one? Because it is useful to form a sharp corner with the first decrease. This way we’ll know exactly where the side seams should end when we join the front and the back pieces later on.

ROW 1

We’ll start the first row by binding off 4 stitches. There are no tricks here. Simply knit two stitches separately, pass one of these stitches over the other, knit the next stitch and repeat the process until you bind off 4 stitches. Then knit all stitches to the end of the row.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Because our swatch is worked in stockinette stitch, we’ll knit all stitches in every right-side row and purl all stitches in every wrong side row, but if your actual project is worked in a different stitch pattern, follow that stitch pattern instead.

If you have a selvedge stitch at each side of the work, treat them like regular stitches and bind them off the usual way. We’ll have to ignore selvedges while we are working on the shaping.

ROW 2

In this row, we’ll make the second 4-stitch decrease to bring symmetry to our shaping.

Bind off 4 stitches. I prefer to work in the pattern, so I’ll purl stitches before binding them off (that is, purl two stitches separately, then pass one of these stitches over the other, purl the next stitch, etc.).

Then purl all stitches but stop when you get to the last stitch.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

To make sure the decrease that we plan to do in the next row forms a slope instead of a step, don’t work the last stitch of this row. Leave it on the left needle and turn the work.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

The next set of decreases will be “bind off 3 stitches at the beginning of the next 2 rows”.

ROW 3

We’ve already set up the work for decreasing at the beginning of this row. Now, bring the yarn to the back of the work, then slip one stitch from the left needle to the right needle and pass the unworked stitch that we have left from the previous row over the slipped stitch. Watch how to do it in this part of the video tutorial.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Then bind off two more stitches = 3 bound off stitches in total.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Work in stockinette stitch to the last stitch of the row. We’ll leave the last stitch unworked (just as we did in the previous row) to set up a smooth transition for the decrease we’ll make in the next row.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Turn your work.

ROW 4

Bring the yarn to the front of the work. Slip one stitch from the left needle to the right needle and pass the unworked stitch over the slipped stitch. Then bind off two more stitches to get three bound off stitches in total. I bound off stitches as purls, so my bind off edge looks quite “purl-y” on this side of the work.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Purl all stitches to the last stitch, and leave the last stitch unworked on the left needle.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Turn your work.

We’ve made half of the shaping and by now you probably understand the logic behind making sloped decreases at each side of the work. And, we definitely see the result of our effort – neat shaping at the left and the right side of our swatch.

Let’s continue. The next part of the instructions tells us to bind off 2 stitches at the beginning of the next 2 rows.

ROW 5

Now we do the same thing we did in Row 3, but this time, we’ll bind off two stitches instead of three.

So, bring the yarn to the back of the work, then slip one stitch from the left needle to the right needle, pass the unworked stitch over the slipped one and then bind off one more stitch = 2 stitches bound off.

Then knit all stitches to the last stitch (because we know that we’ll be decreasing again in the next row).

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Leave the last stitch on the left needle and turn your work.

ROW 6

You’ve probably guessed what we are going to do in this row – with the yarn at the front of the work, slip one stitch to the right needle, pass the unworked stitch over the slipped one, then bind off one more stitch and purl all stitches to the last stitch of this row.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

Turn your work.

We only have to do two more rows of shaping before we can relax 🙂

The last part of the shaping is done by binding off 1 stitch at the beginning of the next 2 rows.

ROW 7

Because we need to bind off only one stitch, we simply slip one stitch to the right needle and pass the unworked stitch over the slipped one. Then we knit all stitches and leave the last stitch unworked to set up the transition for our last decrease – the one that we’ll make in the next row.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

ROW 8

This is the last row of shaping. We bring the yarn to the front of the work, then slip one stitch to the right needle and pass the unworked stitch over the slipped one to decrease one stitch. Then we purl all stitches and because we don’t plan to make decreases in the next row, this time, we purl all stitches to the very end of the row.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

That’s it. We’ve just formed neat lines of shaping at both sides of the work.

Perfect Way to Shape Armholes

No “staircases”. All decreases flow one into another creating a smooth edge that is easy to seam and is beautiful enough to show off on an open armhole. All we had to do is to leave one stitch unworked before each decreasing row. Easy!


If you like this tutorial, you will LOVE e-books and charts
in the Library of Free Knitting Resources

The library is free for everyone
who is subscribed to 10 rows a day newsletter.

If you are a subscriber, you’ll find the password at the bottom of each newsletter you receive from me on Fridays.

If you are not a subscriber, please type in your name and the best email to reach you in the form below, and I’ll send you the password to access the library.


Here are a few more things you might like:

Happy knitting 🙂


How to Make Slanted Decreases on Both Sides of the Work | 10 rows a day
How to Make Slanted Decreases on Both Sides of the Work | 10 rows a day
How to Make Slanted Decreases on Both Sides of the Work | 10 rows a day
How to Make Slanted Decreases on Both Sides of the Work | 10 rows a day