Infinity from Three: The Stitches That Make All Knitting Stitch Patterns

I’m going to make a provocative statement in hopes of unleashing a storm of controversy. Here goes.

Knitting only uses three stitches: knit, purl, yarn over. Everything—EVERYTHING—else is some variation on the Big Three.

Once you know these stitches and their variations, you can enter a whole new world of knitting stitch patterns. Cables, bobbles, nupps, entrelac, and especially lace patterns can all be formed from them.

Colorplay Crescent Lace Shawl

Colorplay Crescent Lace Shawl

Take, for example, the lovely Colorplay Crescent  Lace Shawl from Love of KnittingSpring 2016. It dazzles the eye with beautiful colors and two contrasting lace patterns. The colors require no work on the knitter’s part: a delicious gradient yarn shifts slowly from one bright color to the next.

The lace patterns are actually not much more complicated, though they look so different. A leaf-like pattern covers most of the shawl, then a chevronish pattern runs along the edge.


But both knitting stitch patterns involve the same stitches. There are only five stitches on the key:


K2tog and ssk are simply variations of the knit stitch. With k2tog, you’re working two stitches at the same time, creating a slant to the right. With ssk, you turn two stitches on the needle and knit them together, making the new stitch slant left. The yarn over (yo) forms an open space. (See the master glossary on KnittingDaily for complete instructions.)

Infinite knitting stitch patterns can be formed simply by arranging the decreases and yarn overs in different configurations. Compare the two charts below. charts

The left chart forms the leaf-like pattern. Yarn overs appear first in vertical lines, with plain rows between them to space them out. Then decreases and yarn overs get closer together, forming diagonal lines that meet in the center.

The chart at right vertically stacks ssk and k2tog—they make a sort of sawtooth effect. Numerous yarn overs create lots of holes. The wrong-side rows form purl ridges when viewed from the right side. There’s much more texture, and it’s delivered a lot faster,  in this chart. While the pattern repeats are only 12 stitches wide for both charts, the left one involves 18 rows to the right one’s 12 rows.

These two patterns could easily inspire even more knitting stitch patterns. Imagine adding another row of purl stitches to the chevron chart, or more vertical yarn over rows to the leaf chart. Now you can see why lace designers never get bored.

I’ll close with a challenge to all KnittingDaily readers—can you think of any stitch that isn’t just a variation of knit, purl, or yarn over? Leave answers in comments. You can also get your own kit for this lovely shawl in the Interweave store, with hard-to-find Frolicking Feet DK Gradients Yarn and a digital version of Love of Knitting.


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