Slip Stitches: Knitting of a Different Stripe

Learn how to create beautiful colorwork with slip stitches.Striped tube cowls have been very popular for the last couple of years, and with good reason. They’re colorful and fun—especially this slip stitches version—not to mention practical (the double layers trap air inside the cowl, keeping the wearer warm and cozy).

Learn how to create beautiful colorwork with slip stitches.

I combined several different slip-stitch patterns from The Art of Slip Stitch Knitting to create this tube cowl

Tube cowls also make great stash-busters, just combine whatever yarns you happen to have on hand—or even use different types of yarns altogether.  But the best part is, they’re so easy to knit: simply knit every round and pick up a new yarn when you’re ready for a change.  If you carry the yarns along the inside of the work instead of cutting and rejoining them, you can greatly reduce the number of yarn tails that will need to be woven in. The ends of the cowl can then be joined together using three-needle bind-off or by grafting. Or, if you prefer scarves, you can sew the openings closed and add fringe at each end.

And there are endless possibilities for varying the colors and width of the stripes.

This combination of easy knitting and creative potential makes a striped tube cowl a great option for those knitters who may just be venturing into colorwork. But if simple stockinette stitch stripes are just a bit too simple for you, and you’re still not quite ready to tackle working with more than one color at a time, I have the perfect solution: add slip stitches.

Learn how to create beautiful colorwork with slip stitches.

This tube cowl was knit using the slip-stitch polka dot pattern (see the instructions below for making your own polka dot pattern cowl)

What is a slip stitch? Pretty much just what it says: you slip a stitch from one needle to the other without working it. In knitting, there are many reasons to slip a stitch intentionally. In colorwork knitting, slipping stitches makes it easy to achieve the look of more complex colorwork techniques with little more effort than when working simple stripes. If you’re working a color stripe pattern and you slip stitches on the first round of a color change, the color from the previous round will be drawn up into the current round and it will look as if you’ve worked with two different colors on the same round. But you can do much more than imitate other colorwork techniques. You can also create effects that are unique to slip-stitch knitting.


Learn how to create beautiful colorwork with slip stitches.

The floats in the wave pattern are carried along the front of the work

When you slip stitches without working them, the yarn must be carried from one worked stitch to the next, spanning one or more unworked stitches. The resulting yarn strand, or float, is carried either behind or in front of the slipped stitch (or stitches). If you slip a stitch with the yarn in front, the floats that are carried across the front of the work become a decorative element. (Just make sure to bring the yarn to the back of the work again when you’re ready to knit the next stitch or you’ll end up with a yarnover increase.)


Learn how to create beautiful colorwork with slip stitches.

These floats were carried along the inside of the work only

You also want to make sure that the floats are just the right length to span the slipped stitches, but not too short (causing the fabric to pucker) or too long (resulting in a sagging, sloppy fabric ).

I first heard of slip-stitch knitting several years ago when I discovered Barbara Walker’s book, Mosaic Knitting. (Barbara coined the term because the resulting motifs reminded her of mosaic tiles.) The mosaic patterns in the book were beautiful, but I found them a bit too geometric and stilted for my taste. Or maybe it was the fact that the patterns were regulated by some fairly rigid rules: only two colors were used (a dark and a light color) and the colors had to be switched on every right-side row. Another rule was that the floats always had to be carried on the wrong side of the work (“no exceptions”).

Eventually, though, I discovered that there was much more to slip-stitch knitting than my initial introduction had led me to believe. As it turns out, mosaic knitting is just a small subset of slip-stitch knitting, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the rules I’d thought so restrictive were made to be broken—with amazing results. I began to see slip-stitch knitting in a whole new light. I saw that floats on the public side of the work could be used as interesting design features and be manipulated in any number of ways. Colors didn’t have to be switched every other row, or at all (many interesting textural effects can be achieved by working slip-stitch patterns with one color). And slip stitch patterns didn’t have to be confined to a stockinette stitch- or garter stitch-based fabric. In fact, there’s really no limit to the types of fabrics that can be created by combining slip stitches with other types of stitches.

Few books explore the creative possibilities of slip-stitch knitting as thoroughly as the recent book by co-authors Faina Goberstein and Simona Merchant-Dest: The Art of Slip-Stitch Knitting.

Learn how to create beautiful colorwork with slip stitches.This book takes slip-stitch knitting to a whole new level. Not only are there several great projects to knit (six full garments, two vests, and eight accessories), there are also forty different slip-stitch patterns, ranging from the classic and familiar to those that are unique to this book.

There’s nothing I love more than a good stitch dictionary, especially when it contains patterns that are new to me. I immediately wanted to pick up yarn and needles and just start knitting. Originally, my intention was to knit a small sampler (using only 4 or 5 patterns), but I just kept finding new patterns I wanted to try and my small sampler turned into a cowl. I’ll probably just keep going until I run out of yarn! For the sampler-turned-cowl, I cast on 48 stitches and used those patterns that had stitch repeats of 4, 6, 8 or 12. One of the patterns had a 10-stitch repeat, so for that pattern I increased 2 stitches (to 50) and then decreased back to 48 stitches when the pattern band was complete.  (For my cowl, I’m using Plymouth Encore Worsted in colors #9801 Dove, #9806 Regal Purple, and #9656 Cadet Blue.)

If you want to learn even more about slip-stitch knitting, Faina has created a video and written an article (with an accompanying hat design) for the Fall issue of Interweave Knits which combines slip-stitch colorwork and cables.

If you’ve never tried slip-stitch colorwork, start with the simple polka dot pattern below. Before you know it, you’ll be hooked!

The polka dot pattern is a great introduction to slip-stitch knitting. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 16″ circular needle
  • at least two colors of yarn (but use as many as you like), a main color (MC) and contrast color (CC)
  • stitch marker

Note: Slip stitches purlwise with yarn in back.

With MC, and using a provisional method, cast on a multiple of 4 sts. Place marker and join in the round.
Rounds 1 and 2 With CC, *slip 2, k2; rep from * to end.
Rounds 3 and 4 With MC, knit.
Rounds 5 and 6 With CC, *k2, slip 2; rep from * to end.
Rounds 7 and 8 With MC, knit.
Repeat Rounds 1-8 for pattern, ending with Round 6.

Block and join the ends of the cowl using three-needle bind-off or Kitchener stitch and MC.



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