Thursday, May 17, 2007

Multi color knitting, 1 color at a time: slipped stitch patterns

We've already talked some about multi-color knitting created one color at a time--a kind of knitting called multiple pass knitting. Now we're turning to the second category of one-color-at-a-time color knitting--SLIPPED STITCH patterns.

Slipped stitch patterns come in two flavors. First, simple slipped stitch. This kind mostly has a certain amount of contrast color and generous amount of the main color. The second kind are more complex patterns, often called "mosaic knitting." Complex patterns generally have roughly equal amounts of both colors.
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A couple of decades ago, my mom made a multi-colored vest. While gearing up to write this series on color knitting, I dug it out. Mom never learned to knit with two colors at the same time, so I was curious how she'd made it. Looking carefully, that vest was made using a slip-stitch pattern--stitches from the row below (and sometimes, 2 rows below) were slipped up into the current row and left there. This created rows with two colors, although only one color was ever knitted at a time.

Below is a charted example: in this chart, row 4 is to be made by knitting the stitches shown in blue, and slipping the pink stitches indicated by the red arrows.
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Step 1 of this technique involves first knitting a blue stitch, then slipping a pink stitch, then knitting a blue stitch, and so on, down the line. This is the result on the needle: the slipped pink stitches are marked with a red dot. (Below.)
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Step 2: On the following row (row 5) all the stitches, both pink slipped and blue unslipped, are simply knitted. The slipped pink stitches (marked by a red dot) remain in the fabric in their slipped positions. (Below.)
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* * *
Simple slipped stitch patterns are probably the easiest of all methods for creating colored knitting. However, they're nothing to sniff at. As the French philosopher Descartes implied (commentary to his third rule) when something is fine just as it is -- simple and evident -- it need not be wrapped in complications to make it seem more desirable and important.

See for yourself: this illustrations shows an super-simple slipped stitch pattern; next to it is the quite gorgeous fabric it makes.

One thing: slipping stitches distorts the fabric (bunch it up, lengthwise), so these fabrics are denser than regular one-color knitting -- sometimes a LOT denser. Good for boxy winter garments, not so good for fitted summer clothes.

One more thing to take into account: if you want to make two color slipped stitch fabrics working back-and-forth, it will sometimes happen that your two colors of yarn will wind up on opposite edges of the fabric. This is more of a surprise than a problem--the solution is laid out in the green paragraphs about "out of phase yarns" in this post (scroll down for the green text).

The simple slipped stitch fabrics illustrated above usually involve slipping a few contrast stitches over a ground of main color. Complex slipped stitch patterns are made the same way--by slipping stitches of one color on the first pass, or the first several passes, then knitting these slipped stitches on a future row. However complex patterns differ from simple patterns:
  • they are generally geometric
  • they generally feature rather equal amounts of both colors
  • the stitches are more frequently (but not always) slipped over more than one row.
Complex slipped stitch patterns knitted in motifs are often called "mosaic knitting" and their most famous proponent is Barbara Walker. Ms. Walker's book by that name was recently re-issued by Schoolhouse Press, (Thanks, Schoolhouse!)

Mosaic knitting--whether in motifs or in all-over fabric--creates a firm, not very stretchy fabric, more like fabric woven on a loom than fabric created with knitting needles. (This is because the high number of slipped stitches take most of the "reserve" out of the normally loopy knitted stitches--more info at this link.)

All-over mosaic fabrics; heck, any mosaics, have a retro look. They are rather thick and heavy -- best for outerwear or sleeveless garments. How 'bout this dapper gent's vest pattern from Vintage Purls? (VP, posting from Kiwiland--New Zealand --collects vintage patterns and puts them on the web for free. Thanks VP!) How 'bout those colors in the fabric sample knitted from the pattern? 70's appliances, no?

Heads up: sock patterns are sometimes written in mosaic patterns, but even in thin yarn, they'd be pretty stiff and thick--more hiking than dress up.

--TECHknitter (You have been reading TECHknitting on: Slipped stitch color knitting)


Vintage Purls said...

"VP, posting from Kiwiland--New Zealand --collects vintage patterns and puts them on the web for free. Thanks VP!"

Hey, no worries TECHKnitter!
Thanks for your excellent Blog - I'm a regular reader.


Bobbi said...

Knitty's Via Diagonale is a great pattern for some "practice" with slip stitches.

Iris said...

Thank you for your excellent explanation of this technique. I just happened to swatch for Knitty's Arietta earlier today which uses mosaic/slipped stitch color knitting, and now I'm ready to get started.

You have a wonderful blog!

B said...

Is there some kind of "rule" like in stranded knitting as to how many stitches can be slipped in a row and how many rows they can be slipped? Can they be worked in the round?

--TECHknitter said...

Hi B--thanks for asking.

I'm going to answer your questions in reverse order, easiest question first. Yes--you can make slipped stitch patterns round and round on the face of the fabric--that's circular knitting. Put a marker for the round beginning, then knit and slip your way around that round as the pattern directs. When you come back past the marker again you have finished that round and begin the next. If the pattern is written for back and forth, you must transpose by knitting what you are told to purl.

As to your second question--over how many rows it is possible to slip the yarn: Some patterns--such as honeycomb--have you slip the yarn over as many as 6 rows. Whether this will be successful and attractive depends on the yarn and how you are knitting it--a firm yarn knitted at a firm tension will look rather bad slipped over too many rows. The fabric will deform in a puckery unattractive manner. A hairy sort of yarn, like mohair, knitted loosely (on largish needles) will look quite nice, even slipped over multiple rows. The fabric photographed in this post is a mohair yarn knit loosely and (I, at least think) it is gorgeous.

Although there is not a rule to help you as there is with the short-float rule of stranded knitting, there are lots of pattern books out there with slipped stitch fabric patterns. Poking through a book like this will indicate to you pretty quick the upper limits of how many rows you can reasonably expect to slip a stitch. Six rows is the most I can recall seeing in any pattern book, but look for yourself.

In sum, the answer to this question is that you have to experiment with different needle sizes to see which patterns will work with which yarn.

A different approach to getting your questions answered may be to find a slip-stitch pattern already written up--two commenters to this very post (Bobbi and Iris) have identified free patterns on-line which use slipped stitch patterns. If you give patterns like this a whirl, you'll gain experience pretty darn quick--you'll have a pretty clear idea of the limits before you're even halfway through with the project. (I went and looked, and the via diagonale pattern is made circularly, to boot!)

Thanks again for writing, and good luck.


B said...

Thanks! I have some pattern ideas in mind, so I'll have to experiment!

marjorie said...

I tried my first slip-stitch garment not long ago. It was the Family sweater from Morehouse Farm yarns (the pattern is also in Knitting in America), and I used the "kit" because I made it for my son and I didn't have to fuss with measurments too much. The sweater is fabulous (as is the yarn), and it was fun to try this. I did find, however, that it is easy to overlook mistakes until you've knit quite a lot. After a while, I took some time to scrutinize my work so I could fix an error quickly if I made it.

I just love this technique though, and I'll be using it again in a few weeks for a Jean Frost jacket.

prunila said...

Thanks! a very interesting article!!!

Kerstin said...

Thank you very much for the insightful comments on the way mosaic knitting behaves! I'm currently musing about knitting a sweater with this technique. The middle part of the body is done with mosaic knitting, while the sides of the body are done in ribbing. I now understand that this is to make up for the missing stretch of the fabric. It's so helpful to know the designers intentions!

I am, however, slightly confused about the many ways one can do mosaic knitting. E.g. slipping the stitches in the knit or in the purl row, or both; holding the strand of yarn in front or back; or if the slip stitches are knitted properly or tbl, to name a few variations. Every book seems to promote a different way.

I'd be very much interested in an explanation of these different techniques and the way this affects the patterns (especially in multi-colored patterns) and the fabric itself.

I truly admire your ability to make clear and concise explanations and state the why's as well as the how's. I'm a beginner knitter and this is just so helpful, as it is rarely found anywhere else!

TECHknitter said...

Hi Kerstin--The fact is, there are lots and lots of different ways to achieve a similar effect in knitting. The difference between slipping in front and slipping in back depends on several things--if knitting flat, you would slip differently depending on which fabric face you were working AND whether the "bar" of the slipped stitch is supposed to show or whether it is supposed to be hidden. So, for example, if the bar of the slipped stitch is supposed to be hidden, you would slip in the back when working the front fabric face, and slip to the front (towards you) when working the back fabric face. If this remains confusing, write again, OK? --TK