If you’ve been knitting for very long at all, you’ll have encountered multiple kinds of increase and decrease stitches. You may also have come to realize that each one has a lean to it. (For instance, your first hat may have used k2togs for all of the decreases, which creates a sort of swirling crown, since the k2togs all lean in one direction.) Perhaps you’ve even come to understand that for every right-leaning increase or decrease, there’s a corresponding left-leaning version. To prevent fabric that leans one direction or the other, increases and decreases are often deployed in mirrored pairs, such as a k2tog (right-leaning decrease) paired with an SSK (left-leaning decrease). Or m1L increases paired with m1R increases. The trouble many knitters have is remembering which stitches lean which direction. So here’s an invaluable tip I picked up from Barry Klein once upon a time:
A stitch will always lean in the direction the working needle is pointing when you work that stitch. Stop and repeat that to yourself a couple of times, and point with your index finger like it’s your needle. When you insert your working needle into the front of your stitch(es) — as with a k2tog or m1R — you insert it from left to right. The needle points to the right and the resulting stitch will lean to the right. Conversely, when you knit through the back of your stitch(es) — as with SSK or m1L — you insert the working needle from right to left. The needle points left, and the resulting stitch will lean left.
Once you have that lightbulb moment, reading charts becomes much simpler. For instance, the “\” symbol leans left (“my needle will be pointing left, so I’m working into the back of the stitches, which I do when I SSK!”) and the “/” symbol leans right (“my needle will be pointing right, so I’m working into the front of the stitches, which means a k2tog!”). With the m1’s, you do have to think a tiny bit harder: “If I want it to lean left, m1L, that means I’m knitting into the back, so I will have picked it up from the front.” And vice versa. But you’ll have it memorized in no time flat.