Slip-Stitch Texturing Techniques
In the world of knitted fabrics, slip-stitch 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. I adore tailored clothing—suits, coats, and vests—traditionally made from woven fabrics. For several years, I wove rugs on a four-harness loom. I also worked making costumes for theatre before I began designing knits. My fondness for woven fabrics has carried into my knitwear designs. From a knitter’s perspective, I’ll describe some of these patterns and how they are made. I’ll also share some of my ideas for using these look-alikes in knitwear designs. Some of the swatches shown are edged and have buttons—adding finishing touches is part of my design process and helps me envision my yet-to-be-made garments.
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 slipstitch 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 some times 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.
CATEGORY 1: 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 in Figure 1, 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 in Figure 1, 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 in Figure 1, 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 in Figure 1 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 in Figure 2, 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.
CATEGORY 2: SLIP STITCHES AS DECORATIVE TEXTURE TYPE
The second type of pattern relies on a stitch slipped with the yarn in back (wyb), often over two or more rows. Now the strand, carried at the back of the work, is not seen at all: All the focus is on the slip stitch itself, which tends to elongate. Stitches can be moved or manipulated in a few different ways. Three examples follow, but there are many more patterns that use this technique to create a variety of textures. In the marled swatch (Figure 3), the slanting twill-like lines are formed by elongated stitches slipped over several rows.
The stitches are then moved to the diagonal and locked into place. On a background of reverse stockinette stitch, the twill lines are very pronounced. For a subtler version, you could work the same pattern on a background of smooth stockinette. Or try another simple knit/purl fabric for the base fabric and see what effects are possible. On the edges of this swatch, I used a favorite ribbing—a three-stitch rib in which the center stitch is slipped every row. The slipped stitches makes the ribbing very pronounced and visually coordinates with the main pattern. Marilyn’s Bed Jacket, seen below, uses a similar stitch pattern, creating a more sweater-like, as opposed to tailored, design.
Another example of a traveling slip stitch can be seen in the brown wool swatch in Figure 2. This fabric has a definite woven quality, such as one you might see in a coat fabric. Here, each slip stitch acts more independently, shifting from side to side in a rhythmic way over a smooth background. It would be interesting to try this technique on a more textured background as well! Note that the upper and lower edges curl slightly, but the body of the fabric is dense and solid. The woven honeycomb fabric in the orange swatch in Figure 2 has an elongated slip stitch passing over a group of stitches, rather than locking into the surface of the background. As you can see, the half stitch showing on the right side bunches up the fabric slightly, giving it depth. The background is a mix of stockinette and its reverse, which contrasts the two textures. I added an edging with garter ridges—the textured material reminds me of a vintage Chanel-style jacket, so I added vintage glass buttons for fancy detail.
Many real woven fabrics are striped or plaid. Consider color when working with the knitwear equivalents, especially when working with stitches that use the horizontal strand as a design feature. Contrasting colors will yield bolder effects, and subtler blends of color can mimic tweed woven fabrics. For my three-colored swatch (Figure 4), I used a very simple pattern called woven stitch: a four-row pattern where groups of two slip stitches are staggered every other row. Here, the colors change every two rows, and the look is that of a woven striped textile! For the edging, I knitted a smaller version of the main pattern, slipping just one alternating stitch. I added garter ridges at beginning and end of the trim and mitered the corner. My Border on the Extravagant jacket below uses a multi-color slip-stitch pattern to create the appearance of woven tweed.
Row gauge in these patterns tends to be tight, so when combining patterns vertically, or using one as an isolated motif, you need to match patterns that share similar row gauges. If row gauges are not matched, the pattern with the looser row gauge pattern will bubble (of course, you could use this as a design feature!). With wool yarns you may be able to steam out any small differences but try first in your swatch. Combining patterns horizontally in stripes or bands is easiest. If the stitch gauges are different, increase or decrease between patterns. In my red wool swatch (Figure 5), the slip stitches are combined with reverse stockinette in a checkerboard formation. Any gauge differences are evened out by the regular alternation of patterns. This arrangement works well when combining other patterns as well, in large or small areas.
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