Slip Stitch Knitting: Learn It!
The simplicity of slipped stitches is deceiving. They can help you create gorgeously textured knitting and colorwork patterns. Designer Deborah Newton is a slip stitch knitting expert, and she’s here today to teach you what this simple stitch can do for you.
Slip Stitch Knitting: How It Works
In the world of knitted fabrics, patterns that resemble woven fabrics are unique in appearance. Some knitted patterns can look like textured linen, diagonally textured twills, jagged herringbone, honeycomb, or woven striped fabrics. And they are usually knitted in a unique way as well, often by using slip-stitch techniques.
SLIP-STITCH FAMILY OF PATTERNS
Woven fabrics are part of the slip-stitch family of knitting stitches, which is quite diverse. This article is primarily about solid-colored textured patterns, but there are also multicolored slip-stitch patterns: some woven-like, some very textured and funky, others with smooth surfaces. A subset includes the mosaic knitting patterns cleverly devised and charted by author Barbara Walker.
You can find slip-stitch patterns in many pattern dictionaries. I recommend the presentation in Volumes 1 and 2 of the Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker (Schoolhouse Press, 1998). All swatches shown here can be found in those volumes.
HOW SLIP STITCHES WORK
Very simply, knitting or purling some of the stitches in a row and slipping others will create a slip-stitch fabric. Stitches are usually slipped as if to purl, with yarn held either in back or in front. Sometimes a single stitch is slipped, and sometimes stitches are slipped in groups. Stitches are sometimes slipped for more than one row. Slipping stitches can shorten or draw up the knitting, causing these fabrics to be dense and flat. Some of these fabrics look great on the reverse. Both factors make these fabrics especially good for more tailored items. They are not difficult to work; the knitting, in fact, often flows rhythmically.
WOVEN-LOOK SLIP-STITCH PATTERNS
Generally speaking, two different looks of woven fabrics can be created. In the first, the yarn is held in front, or to the right side, as stitches are slipped, forming a decorative horizontal strand. In the second type, the yarn is held in back, or to the wrong side, and the slip stitch itself forms the unit of decoration by being pulled up vertically and repositioned, often diagonally, on the right side.
HORIZONTAL STRANDING TYPE
The patterns in this group carry the unused strand on the right side of the fabric as one or more stitches are slipped. Directions often use the term “wyf,” or “with yarn in front.” When the yarn is held over one stitch, the effect is very subtle. When held over more stitches, the horizontal strand is more evident.
With a smooth, fine yarn, as in the gray swatch shown above, the strands can merge visually and create a kind of brocade effect on the surface. Here, the strand moves one stitch to the left on every right-side row to form diagonal lines.
On the heather green swatch, I folded a corner to resemble a lapel because the reverse side of the fabric is good-looking, too. Strands moving over closely placed single slip stitches form a dense herringbone-type pattern. The diagonal lines change direction every inch or so.
The blue swatch, knitted in a Jacquard-type weave and ribbed and buttoned, is intended as a pocket. Can you picture the pocket positioned on a smooth or contrasting textured fabric, with a matching collar? Here, one slip stitch and its adjacent strand move on a diagonal line that shifts every ten rows.
The tan swatch is knitted with a lustrous cotton yarn in horizontal bands, the texture made more pronounced by the insertion of garter stitches between each stranded section. The arrangement shown is simple, but you could also vary the number of strands or leave larger sections of stockinette stitch (or a more textured pattern) between stranded areas to vary the look.
A variation on the horizontal stranded technique is shown in the purple swatch (top right), which is patterned to resemble quilted fabric. Strands carried across the right side are picked up and locked into a stitch several rows above, forming diagonal lines and a crisscross effect.
Try the easiest woven slip stitch knitting pattern, which I used recently when I designed a narrow, retro-style tie at the request of my nephew Reynaldo. Recalling firmly knit vintage ties, I tried a simple slip stitch knitting pattern, worked on a smallish needle in some satin-finish pima cotton. Here it is:
Linen-like Textured Stitch: (over an odd number of sts).
Row 1: (WS) Purl.
Row 2: K1, *sl 1 with yarn in front (wyf), k1; rep from *.
Row 3: Rep Row 1.
Row 4: K2, *sl 1 wyf, k1; rep from *, end k2 instead of k1.
Rep Rows 1–4 for patt.
Note that the strand held to the right side creates a bar that gives some flat texture, more subtle than knitted seed stitch, which this pattern resembles.
—Deborah Newton, Interweave Knits Winter 2008
This article originally appeared as a Beyond the Basics feature in Interweave Knits Winter 2008. There’s more to learn; Deborah goes into slip stitch knitting patterns as decorative texture and color, which is really interesting and attractive.
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P.S. Have you worked with slip-stitch patterns? Leave a comment below and tell us what you liked (or disliked) about this technique.