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Color Style: The Slip-Stitch Technique

Jun 24, 2011

Deborah Newton's Honeycomb Turtleneck
When I was a relatively new knitter, meaning I made a lot of simple scarves and had one stockinette sweater under my belt, I took a workshop from super-creative designer Leigh Radford. She was promoting creativity in knitting and she had us knitting with all kinds of different materials, including wire and leather!

The last thing we did in the workshop was knit a slip-stitch colorwork swatch. I had never heard of this technique and I was amazed at the impact the slip-stitch method made. It created texture as well as a beautiful pattern.

Working the slip-stitch colorwork technique seems more achievable to some of us than working Fair Isle or intarsia; there's only one color worked per row. There's no carrying yarn behind the work or working with bobbins. Don't get me wrong—Fair Isle and intarsia are wonderful, too, I just think the easy-to-knit slip-stitch method packs quite a punch for not much effort.

For example, check out Deborah Newton's Honeycomb Turtleneck, at left, from the book Color Style. Talk about making an impact! All of the colorwork on the yoke and cuffs is done with the slip-stitch technique! It's such an amazing design.

Here's an excerpt from Color Style, that details the the slip-stitch technique.

Slip Stitch Colorwork

A simple way to knit stripes that don't look like stripes is to work slip-stitch patterns. In this type of color knitting, two contrasting colors-a "dark" color and a "light" color-are alternated every two rows. Following a charted pattern, one of the colors—for example, the dark color—is used to knit certain stitches (e.g., the dark stitches on the chart) and other stitches (e.g., the light stitches) are slipped (transferred from the left needle to the right needle without being knitted). On the next row, the same stitches that were worked on the previous row are worked again (either knitted or purled), and the stitches that were slipped are slipped again. On the next two rows, the other yarn color—for example, the light color—is used, and different stitches (some of which may be the same as the previous two rows) are worked, while others are slipped. Stitches of both colors will appear on your needles even though each row is worked with only one of the colors.

To begin a slip-stitch pattern, you need to have a foundation row. Typically, this row is worked in one of the colors used for the pattern. The foundation row can be the cast-on row if the stitches aren't already on the needles. The slip-stitch pattern begins with a right-side row and with a different color from the one you used for the foundation row. For example, if you used the light color in the foundation row, you'll use the dark color for the first row of the charted pattern. Follow the first row of the chart, knitting the stitches that are to appear in the working color and slipping the stitches in the original color from the previous row.

Always slip the stitches purlwise, and, unless otherwise instructed, always hold the yarn on the wrong side of the work when you slip stitches (Figure 1, below). When you get to the end of the row, turn the work around and, for a stockinette-stitch fabric, purl the stitches that were knitted on the previous row and slip the others (Figure 2, below). The slipped stitches will have been carried for two rows. Change colors on the next row (right side facing), and, following the second row of the chart, knit the stitches of that color and slip the others (Figure 3, below). Work the return row by purling the worked stitches and slipping the remainder. Because the stitches on the return rows are always worked as they were on the right-side row, slip-stitch charts typically only show the right-side (forward) rows. A column of dark and light squares to the right of slip-stitch charts indicates which color (light or dark) should be used for each two-row sequence.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Slip-stitch patterns are appropriate for all types of projects, but because the slipped stitches tend to spread horizontally when blocked, be sure to measure your gauge carefully on a washed and blocked swatch before planning the number of stitches to cast on. Most slip-stitch patterns involve no more than five consecutive slipped stitches to prevent long floats that can cause the fabric to pucker. The slipped stitches tend to appear a little larger than the knitted or purled stitches, which can give slip-stitch patterns a subtle but pleasing appearance.

—from Color Style

Holi Mitts by Jaya Srikrishnan
See how easy this technique is? I want to try this on a small scale, like with the Holi Mitts by Jaya Srikrishnan, pictured at right, also from Color Style. The Holi Festival occurs every spring in India (in English, it's the Festival of Colors), and the highlight is when participants toss dyes and water at each other, resulting in brightly tinted clothing and skin. That sounds like a wonderful way to welcome the spring!

Get Color Style today and bring some brightness into your life! It's on sale in our fabulous Hurt Book and Overstock sale, too!


Featured Product

Color Style: Innovative to Traditional 17 Inspired Designs to Knit

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Color Style features classic and innovative use of traditional color techniques by top knitwear designers that will be a welcome library addition for beginner and experienced knitters alike.


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GrannyJudy wrote
on Oct 2, 2013 5:33 PM

The chart for the Mosiac Yoked Jacket, "Color Style" pg. 69 is incorrect according to your book "Slip Stitch Knitting" pg 43, end of first paragraph:  Another limitation is that in order to slip a color it must be present in the row just worked.  

On row 5 the first stitch is supposed to be slipped but the color is not available.  

What to do?

GrannyJudy wrote
on Oct 2, 2013 1:08 PM

I am completely stumped on the mosiac yoke jacket from the Color Style book pg 65.  I have read the notes and design notebook instructions many times.  The chart seems clear and everything goes well for rows 1-4 as the pattern is the same, but row 5 changes the pattern.

Row 5 is knitted in red.  But the first stitch is brown, which I am supposed to slip, but the stitch below it is red and has been slipped in the row below.  How can I get a brown stitch when rows 5 & 6 are knitted in red?  

on Jun 27, 2011 8:37 AM

I adore the's the star of the Gone of the Wind Hat designed by Annie Modesitt for her Romantic Hand Knits book. I've knitted this hat twice. I might try it again, switching up the brim only. The slip stitch is so gorgeous! I also like it in this Takhi Charles skirt that's in my favorites on Ravelry. It calls for cotton...but it would be better probably in a wool I think. I can't remember the designer at the moment though. I should do a blog post on this technique. It's new to me but so fantastic and versatile.

nickyjayb wrote
on Jun 26, 2011 11:02 AM

Is there any childrens patterns using this method, as i'd like to try it out, thanks

TraceyF@3 wrote
on Jun 25, 2011 9:10 AM

csnoto -

You are only working with one color at a time.  Just leave the other color hanging at the beginning of the row.  Knit/slip across and purl/slip back.  Then pick up the other color and drop the first color.

csnoto wrote
on Jun 24, 2011 6:21 PM

I'm sorry but these instructions just made no sense to me at all. I tried following them and ended up ripping them out three times on a swatch of just 20 stitches. I couldn't figure out what to do with one yarn while knitting or purling with the other and vice versa.  Maybe I'm just too inexperienced a knitter.  Sorry.