I'm so addicted to slip stitch knitting! It’s fast, complex looking, incredibly vast, and simple to do.
Slip Stitch is defined as a stitch passed from one needle to the other without being worked.
Slip Stitch knitting uses slip stitches to create designs or texture, or both.
Note - Mosaic knitting and Brioche knitting are subsets of slip stitch knitting, but they are not covered in this article.
A slip stitch is probably the easiest technique in all of knitting, and certainly one of the fastest and most useful. It can be used to create a dense fabric, as an alternate way to work stranded colorwork, to create a decorative design on a fabric or as part of a structural role.
Stitches can be slipped knitwise or purlwise. When slipping stitches, always slip them purlwise unless instructed otherwise by the pattern. When you move a stitch from the left needle to the right needle purlwise, you do not change the orientation of the stitch. This means that a “normal” stitch has two legs, and the right leg rests to the front of the needle and the left leg rests to the back of the needle. The needle goes through the middle of the two legs. When you slip a stitch purlwise, it ends up on the right hand needle with the right leg still resting to the front of the needle. To do this, insert your right hand needle into the first stitch on your left hand needle from right to left, as if you were going to purl the stitch. Don’t purl it. Just move it from one needle to the next. (If the pattern says to slip knitwise, you will insert needle from right to left as if to knit and you will form a twisted stitch.)
In addition to slipping knitwise or purlwise, you can slip more than one stitch at a time, you can slip the same stitch again on the next row which stretches it, creating a visible vertical strand and compressing the fabric, you can slip a stitch so it draws diagonally or horizontally.
There are two very different applications for slip stitch knitting:
First, in a single color, slip stitches are used to either create dense, thicker fabrics which are durable and wonderful for coats, hats, mittens, placemats, outerwear sweaters, or just highly texturized sweaters. The purpose of slipping the stitch is to create a visibly decorative pattern.
Yarn can be held in the back, (wyib) as you slip the stitch to let only the slipped stitch show. When working with a single color, it is used when you want an elongated vertical stitch slipped over more than one row. Yarn can also held in the front (wyif) as you slip the stitch which carries a horizontal strand across the bottom of the stitch being slipped. This provides a woven look and takes on a very interesting look when worked in more than color. (See Plectics above).
When you use more than one color, you can create all types of designs by slipping a stitch from one color to a future row. The West Village Cardigan for children for example (below), uses three types of slipped stitches, one in a single color on the body and multi color slip stitch motifs on the hem and cuffs.
In either single or multi color slip stitch, when you slip a stitch up more than one row, you will compress the fabric, making it denser with more rows to an inch than you would get without slipping the stitches. These type of slip stitch patterns are designed to manipulate the stitches to create a highly textured fabric.
The second application, involves keeping the row gauge the same, and does not pull a stitch up to another row. It is used as an easy way to work Fair Isle. When working Fair Isle, the stich is slipped with yarn in back. You can work any Fair Isle pattern as written by working with only one color at a time. You work each round twice: first you work it in the first color of the first square on the chart, knitting only those colored stitches and slipping the stitches on the chart that are in the second color. Then you drop the first color, pick up the second color and work that round again, slipping the stitches that you just worked on the previous go around. If you are working flat, back and forth in rows, work on circular needles so you can slide the work back to the beginning to begin knitting the same row again in the second color.
One word of caution however, you will not be able to catch long floats with this technique, so look over the charts before you begin to make sure the colors change frequently. If you have sections of only one color that are 1" or more, you want to avoid this way.
You will also still need to spread your stitches out to keep the floats on the back from pulling tightly. This method is fun to do, but doesn't solve all of the tension and disappearing stitch problems of traditional Fair Isle knitting. It can make your Fair Isle a little more uniform and yarn more manageable. It's a great way to work your first Fair Isle piece.
Overall, slip stitch knitting is easy enough for beginners to do, and when I was designing Plectics, I almost classified this Easy. It’s definitely a good sweater for a confident beginner. It uses single color slip stitch at the cuffs and hem, and multi color slip stitch at the yoke. It's a fun and fast pullover!
Traveler's Sweater (below) uses one color throughout and you can see the amazing texture that this particular slip stitch pattern creates. This fabric is denser, with more rows per inch than Stockinette stitch.
To try this fun way of knitting, look for patterns specifically designed with slip stitch patterns, or try any Fair Isle pattern and work it using only one color at a time (remember to work each round twice; once in each color).
It is a wonderful knitting option for knitters who suffer from tendinitis or arm pain from knitting since you keep everything light. You don't want to pull stitches tightly when you are knitting or purling them after a slipped stitch, because you want that strand that runs behind (or in front of) the slipped stitch to lie flat. For this reason, it's helpful to keep your tension a little on the loose side, especially if you tend to be a tight knitter.
It is also a great way to create a sweater you can be proud of if you struggle with even tension. The slipped stitches tend to mask any guttering or rowing out that can be visible in stockinette stitch. Of course striving for even tension is the best solution in your knitting. But try slip stitch and you may be pleasantly surprised at how good your knitting looks when you're finished. Just another reason why slip stitch knitting is good for beginner-intermediate knitters.
Gonzalez, Leslie. “Slip Stitch Knitting Redux.” Cast On Aug – Oct 2014: pp. 10-12.
Hiatt, June Hemmons. The Principles of Knitting. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1988.
Stanley, Montse. The Handknitter’s Handbook. Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles Publishers, Inc., 1986. Distributed in US (New York, NY) by Sterling Publishing Co, Inc.
Walker, Barbara. A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968.
Hello! I'm Donna Estin, knitwear designer, certified master knitter and instructor. I enjoy designing artistic knitwear that is comfortable. I specialize in sweaters with a contemporary silhouette.