Advanced Approaches to Slip-Stitch Colorwork
Although slip-stitch textures worked in solid-color yarns are attractive and exciting, it is slip-stitch colorwork for which this technique is best known. By using two or more colors and basic knitting skills, you can achieve stunning fabric that gives the impression of requiring much more advanced skills and time-consuming work than it really does. Slip-stitch colorwork is easier to work than stranded (for example, Fair Isle) colorwork and can be worked in the round or in rows—no steeking required!
WHAT IS A SLIPPED STITCH?
We’re all familiar with a stitch that is accidentally left undone in the previous row. The working yarn simply did not go through the loop and dropped in front of or behind the stitch. In other words, that stitch was slipped from one needle to another without being worked. We call that stitch a slipped stitch and the strand of yarn a float. When you look at slipped stitches from the wrong side (Figure 1), you can see the floats that cross behind them.
FORMING A SLIPPED STITCH
You can slip a stitch intentionally three ways: with the working yarn carried in front (wyf), with the working yarn carried in back (wyb), and with the working yarn carried on the needle (wyon). These terms refer to how you move the yarn from the right needle to the left needle as you slip the stitch—does the yarn pass in front or in back of that stitch? The last position (wyon) is used for more advanced slip-stitch patterns, such as tuck patterns. Generally, all stitches are slipped purlwise, unless otherwise indicated.
READING SLIP-STITCH CHARTS
Charts are a useful method of communicating stitch patterns, especially for slip-stitch colorwork. A chart is a representation of the right side of the work in the form of a grid filled with symbols that indicate how each stitch shown as a square is to be worked. Let’s take a look at how to read the chart for Dunes (used in the Bath Abbey Hat) both when you work this pattern in the round and when you work it flat. The stitch key shows how to work each stitch both on the right side and the wrong side of the work. When working in rounds, every row is a right-side row.
Working Dunes in the Round
When you work in the round, as the Bath Abbey Hat is worked, you always read the chart rows from right to left. What makes slip-stitch charts unique is the way the slipped stitches are represented. You’ll notice the first four stitches on Round 1 are knitted with B (red). The next four stitches are shown in white with V symbols. This means you slip those stitches, carrying the working red yarn in back of the work. Because those slipped stitches were worked in A (gray) on the previous rounds, you are “pulling up” gray stitches into the red round. You would work these rounds as follows: Rnds 1 and 2 *With red, k4, sl 4 wyb, k4; rep from * to end of rnd.
Working Dunes in Rows
When you work back and forth in rows, you read right-side rows right to left, but you read wrong-side rows left to right (backwards, essentially). Also, as you work wrong-side rows, you must invert symbols to achieve the correct stitch on the right side of the work. That is, you purl a stitch on the wrong side to create its inverse—a knit stitch—on the right side. The same goes for slip stitches. If the chart reads sl 1 wyb, but you are on a wrong-side row, you work the symbol as sl 1 wyf, so that the float stays on the wrong side of the work. Just as for the Dunes chart in the round, you work with only one color per row, slipping the V stitches and “pulling up” the lighter stitches from the rows below.
WORKING WITH COLOR
One great advantage of slip-stitch patterns is that only one color is used throughout a row or round. Working with two colors in circular knitting allows for changing the color on any number of rounds; working with two colors in flat knitting requires an even number of rows between color changes. You need the even number of rows because you want to work the colors in multiples of right and wrong-side rows, so the next color is always hanging ready at the same place (usually the beginning of right-side rows).
MANAGING THE COLOR CHANGE
It isn’t easy to manage color changes at the edges neatly. If the colors swap frequently enough (every two rows), every second row you can carry the yarn up and hide it in a crease of a selvedge stitch. To create a nice selvedge, work as shown below.
CABLING WITH SLIP STITCHES
The Bath Abbey Hat includes two types of cables. Normally, cables are worked with the help of a cable needle. In this pattern, two of the four stitches in the cable were previously slipped and therefore are more flexible. I recommend working slipped-stitch cables without a cable needle, because the cable needle is more likely to fall out of the loose stitches anyway. For tips on how to work cables without a cable needle, visit knittingdaily.com and search “cabling without a cable needle” to find multiple tutorials. Otherwise, these cables are worked just as for traditional crosses with one color because slip-stitch colorwork requires that only one color be worked at a time.
SHAPING IN SLIP-STITCH PATTERNS [Crown shaping]
Placing decreases or increases in slipstitch patterns can be tricky. You need to maintain the integrity of the stitch pattern and at the same time avoid unsightly holes. It’s best to do all the shaping on rows in which you’re not slipping stitches that are involved in a decrease or an increase. In the Bath Abbey Hat, all crown decreases are strategically placed.
On Rounds 3 and 4 of the Crown Shaping chart, Stitches 1 and 2 were slipped. On Round 5, you would normally knit the stitches, so it’s a good place to work k2tog without disturbing the pattern. If you work k2tog on Round 6 instead, you would run into a problem slipping the resulting stitch on the following round, Round 7. It won’t look right. Keeping all this in mind, you choose a rate of decrease based on what is good for the pattern. For example, making more decreases on Round 5 and the next set of decreases only on Round 17 made a lot of sense for the shape and the pattern of this hat. The possibilities for working slip-stitch patterns are endless. Using modern yarns as well as gauge and stitch modifications lets an old technique manifest itself in fresh and stylish designs.
Slip-stitch master Faina Goberstein and her collaborator Simona Merchant-Dest co-authored The Art of Slip-Stitch Knitting. This book features more than fifteen projects that use slip-stitch techniques to create unusual and contemporary fabrics. It also offers more than forty stitch patterns and abundant how-to information. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll want to check out Faina’s video workshop Slip-Stitch Knitting.
Header image by Harper Point Photography. Originally posted on May 23, 2017; updated on August 21, 2019.