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How To Knit Slipped Stitch Patterns

November 12, 2021
4 swatches on a grey background. Each are 2 tones, a light and a dark of the same shade. There is a large yellow swatch with a green, blue, and red swatches.

When I got started knitting, I imagined that colourwork meant tangled yarns and complexity. I discovered slipped-stitch patterns, which are an alternative to stranded colourwork (which also, unsurprisingly, turned out to be a lot easier than I’d feared!).

Slipped stitch patterns are an easy way to create colourwork and texture patterns, while only needing to handle a single strand of yarn at a time.

What is a slipped stitch pattern?

The basic ‘move’ that creates slipped stitch patterns is slipping stitches from one needle to the other without working them. That’s why we call them ‘slipped stitch’ patterns.
Knit or purl: When you slip a stitch, you can slip them as if to knit or as if to purl, otherwise known as ‘knitwise’ and ‘purlwise’. Slipping a stitch knitwise results in a twisted stitch, while slipping a stitch purlwise results in an untwisted stitch.
Yarn in back or yarn in front: You can also slip stitches holding the working yarn in the front of the work, which creates a ‘bar’ across the slipped stitch, or in the back of the work, in which case the working yarn is hidden and the slipped stitch appears elongated vertically relative to the stitches either side.

With slipped-stitch knitting you can create exquisite patterns simply by varying:

  1. The number and pattern of stitches that are slipped, versus knit or purled
  2. If stitches are slipped with the working yarn held on the front or the back of the work
  3. Whether the pattern is worked in a single colour, or two or more colours

The basic moves are described below, or you can skip past to see the video.

How to slip a stitch purlwise

If it’s not specified in the pattern, your best bet is to slip a stitch purlwise. This keeps the stitch ‘neutral’ or untwisted. To slip a stitch purlwise you insert your needle left hand needle into the next stitch as if to purl, then move that stitch from the left hand needle to the right hand needle without working it.

How to slip a stitch knitwise

To slip a stitch knitwise you insert your left hand needle into the next stitch as if to knit, then move that stitch from the left hand needle to the right hand needle without working it.

How sl1-wyib – slip a stitch with yarn in back

If it’s not specified in the pattern, the default is to slip stitches with yarn held in the back of the work, this is abbreviated to sl1-wyib.

To slip a stitch with the yarn in back:

  1. Bring the working yarn between needle tips to the back of the work (if it’s not there already).
  2. Insert the RH needle into the first stitch on the LH needle, as if to purl.
  3. Move that stitch from the LH to the RH needle without being worked.

The working yarn is drawn behind the slipped stitch, in a horizontal line, to the next stitch. Slipping stitches with the yarn in back is the default way to slip a stitch unless a knitting pattern specifies otherwise; so if a pattern says sl1 or slip one stitch, use this method.

How to sl1-wyif – slip a stitch with yarn in front

To slip a stitch with the yarn in front:

  1. Bring the working yarn between the LH and RH needle tips, to the front of the work (if it’s not there already).
  2. Insert the RH needle into the first stitch on the LH needle, as if to purl.
  3. Move that stitch from the LH to the RH needle without being worked.

The working yarn is drawn in front of the slipped stitch, in a horizontal line. If the next stitch to be worked is a knit stitch, you will move the working yarn back between the needle tips to the back side of the work before knitting it.

Needles, Gauge and fabric properties of slipped stitch patterns

Because you are slipping some of the stitches in a given row or round, you are requiring that the loop that forms that slipped stitch stretches or elongates to the height of two (or more) adjacent stitches. This means that you will often need to work slipped stitch patterns on larger needles than you would if you were working stockinette or garter stitch using the same yarn. If you work slipped stitch patterns on the usual needles you will get a much denser fabric (which may or may not be desirable).

Gauge is also vertically compressed, for the same reason. You will work more rows or rounds in an inch of slipped-stitch pattern than in an inch of stockinette worked with the same yarn weight.

Reading knitting charts for slipped stitch patterns

Although slipped stitch patterns used in knitting are often quite simple, and described in words rather than charts, you will often see slipped-stitch techniques described using vertical or horizontal bar symbols. Here is a chart for the slipped-stitch pattern we use in the Bumble hat, and the corresponding text instructions:

Written out the stitch pattern looks like this:

Round 1: [k1, sl1-wyib] around
Round 2: [k1, p1] around

Repeat rounds 1-2

In chart form it looks like this:

A knitting chart that is the equivalent of the above text.
The chart is read from right to left, from round 1-4 and knit in the round. 4 stitches and 4 rounds are shown for effect, but it is really a 2 stitch and 2 row repeat.

And the finished fabric looks like this:

A hand holding a big of green striped knitting.

Slipped stitches and texture patterns

One of the great things about slipped stitches is the texture they create. By making some stitches elongated and other more compressed the fabric can be squishier and more 3-dimensional than other stitch patterns.

A green swatch. It is dark green with light green vertical stripes.
This swatch is made up of only knit stitches and slipped stitches, creating a dense garter stitch texture with vertical stripes.
A pink and red vertically striped swatch with a nubbly texture.
This swatch was the most dense, with slipped stitches on every row. It has a very nubbly texture and almost no stretch to it.
A pale blue swatch that appears to have dark blue woven through it.
This swatch involved knits and purls, with some slipped stitch rows and some stockinette rows. This has the effect of a woven appearance, with the dark blue appearing to be woven through the light blue. The purl bumps give this stitch pattern an extra 3-dimensional quality.

An added delight occurs when both the right side of the fabric and the wrong side are both interesting. This is the case for the slipped stitch pattern in the Bumble hat.

Slipped stitches and colour patterns

Adding colour to the equation has a lot of impact with slipped stitches. They are usually worked as stripes, rather than traditional stranded colourwork, which simplifies matters a bit.

A close up of a cowl that has an ombré of teal stripes against a pale grey background. There are vertical pale grey stripes.
This Undertone cowl uses stripes, slipped stitches, and ombré to accomplish this look. The slipped stitches occur in the main colour, giving those vertical stripes against the horizontal ombré stripes.
A woman is giving a little baby a kiss on the cheek. They are both wearing hats with a cool ombré band of dots.
The ‘dots’ version of the Prism hat uses slipped stitches with yarn in front (wyif) to create a stockinette fabric with dots of colour.

Bibliography

Many stitch dictionaries will include at least a small collection of slipped-stitch patterns for you to experiment with. Barbara Walker’s treasuries are my favourite, and they include extensive sections of Mosaic knitting patterns (mosaic knitting is simply a subset of slipped-stitch pattern knitting to create complex two colour patterns). If you are looking to experiment with slipped stitches, a stitch dictionary is a great place to start.

Get Slipping!

The basics of slipped stitch patterns are IMMEDIATELY accessible to you, now that you’ve tried the basic moves; that is, slipping knitwise or purlwise, with yarn held in back and and in front. These patterns are interesting, delicate and very easy to work, so cast on something with a slipped stitch pattern today!

Check out our patterns which feature VERY simple slipped stitch patterns: 

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Valerie permalink
    November 12, 2021 8:13 am

    I love the way you de-mystify knitting techniques! As a beginner knitter I really appreciate the photo’s, simple explanations, and that chart makes me feel like maybe I could follow one! I will try the Bumble hat for a Christmas gift. Thank-you!

  2. jevans78 permalink
    November 12, 2021 7:53 am

    Amazing! So jealous of your knitting capabilities! Have you ever thought of hosting live knitting tutorials??

    • November 15, 2021 3:58 am

      Thanks for the compliments! It’s all practice (and more practice!). Thanks for the suggestion about live tutorials!

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