Mosaic knitting: an easy way to do colorwork

If you’ve ever wanted to knit colorwork designs, but find the idea of stranded colorwork intimidating because of handling more than one yarn at once, then mosaic knitting might be for you: each row is worked while holding only one yarn. (Stranded knitting is not actually as hard as it looks either, in my opinion, but it’s not as easy as mosaic.)

The key to mosaic knitting is the slip stitch. Mosaic knitting essentially involves knitting two row stripes in alternating colors. You can be knitting along in one color, but when you need a contrasting color, you slip a stitch instead of knitting it. Because the previous row was a different color, it looks as if you knit that stitch in the contrasting color. In other words, you only need to hold one strand of yarn at a time while knitting, and yet it looks as if there are two colors in that row.

I’m going to demonstrate how this works with photos and words in this post; I’m also going to explain how to read the specific kind of mosaic knitting charts I like to use.

Doodle: a free mosaic knitting stitch pattern, by Naomi Parkhurst

I’m going to use Doodle as my example chart.

This kind of chart is different from standard knitting charts in a couple of ways, and there are good reasons for it.

  1. there’s a column up the side of alternating black and white squares. This is not part of the knitting – it shows which yarn is being used for knitting in that row of the chart.
  2. Each row of the chart is two rows of knitting, which is why there’s a row number at each end of each chart row.

So here’s how it works.

Purely by coincidence, the yarn I had on hand that was good for mosaic knitting was charcoal and cream; your yarn doesn’t have to match the chart! Also, mosaic knitting can look great with one solid and one variegated yarn, or one solid and one gradient. Or you can swap and knit the dark squares with light yarn and the light squares with dark.

I’m going to make my squares match, though, since it will be less confusing.

Since the first row of the chart has a black square to its right, that means I need to have some stitches in white yarn already knit so I can slip them. So I knit two plain rows in white as my setup row.

After those two rows, I drop the white yarn and start knitting with black. I’m also going to add two selvedge stitches on each side (it doesn’t have to be two stitches; it will depend on your pattern). In row 1, when I come to a black square, I’m going to knit it. When I come to a white square, I’ll slip it purlwise with the white yarn held in back. I start at the number 1, and work the chart from right to left.

Here I’ve knit two black selvedge stitches. Since the first stitch of the stitch pattern is white, I’m going to slip the first stitch from the left needle to the right, as if I’m going to purl it. The black yarn is held on the far side of the knitting because I don’t want it to show on the side people will see.

Here I’ve slipped that stitch and knit two more. You can see how the white stitch is pulled up into the row I just knit to start to make the design.

When I come to the end of row 1, I turn my work and knit back again, starting my row where the 2 is and working from left to right on the chart. (If working in the round, I’d repeat row 1 by working right to left instead.) Mosaic can be worked with either a stockinette background or a garter background. If stockinette, the black stitches for row 2 would be purled. I’m doing this as a garter swatch worked flat, so I knit the black stitches.

When I come to them, I slip the same stitches I slipped last time, purlwise, with the yarn held in front this time. I don’t need to look at the chart for this row, so long as I slipped the correct stitches, since I can see which stitches are white.

Here’s how things look at the end of row 2 of the chart.

When I come to the end of row 2, I drop the black yarn and pick up the white yarn again. Since row 3 is knit in white, I’m going to knit all the white squares from the chart and slip the black ones.

Here’s how things look at the end of row 3; the slipped stitches from rows 1&2 look like white knit stitches sitting in front of a black garter rib.

Row 4 has the same color pattern as row 3, so I just work back across the row and slip the same stitches I slipped on row 3.

I make sure to keep the white floats on the wrong side of the fabric.

This procedure continues: knit two rows in black, slipping the white stitches according to the chart; knit two rows in white, slipping the black stitches according to the chart.

And then I get to the end, bind off, wash my swatch, lay it flat to dry, and ta-dah! A colorwork pattern.

Here are my mosaic knitting stitch patterns, if you’d like to knit a scarf or a hat or something with them. And here are a lot of mosaic knitting patterns on Ravelry. (If you’d really like to blow your mind, here are Barbara Benson’s mosaic lace patterns. No, not a stripe of mosaic knitting followed by a stripe of lace. Lace knitting combined with mosaic knitting all at once. It’s gorgeous, and again, not as hard as it looks.)

Here is a randomized mosaic knitting stitch pattern generator which also can provide a range of designs that morph from one to the next in interesting ways. Here’s an example:

And here are instructions for using mosaic knitting charts for mosaic crochet (!!!).

Designing your own mosaic patterns is a little trickier, but if you want to give it a try, here is a mosaic chart design app which will check your work for you, making sure that there are stitches of an appropriate color to be slipped in the right places.

Important Note: it is often possible to knit a mosaic chart as stranded knitting instead (pay attention to float length, and treat each row of the chart as one row of knitting), but the reverse is usually not possible.

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