Twist Collective

Give Them the Slip: In Defense of Mosaic Knitting

Last Updated on Sunday, 23 November 2014 19:43
Published on Sunday, 16 November 2014 19:50


By Barbara Gregory

 

Mosaic knitting is one of those techniques that truly is easier than it looks. It offers a simple way to manipulate what is essentially striped knitting into a wonderful variety of decorative elements.

 

In mosaic knitting, you alternate between two rows of a darker and a lighter color, but instead of working every stitch in the row, some stitches are slipped. That’s really all there is to it.

 

The term mosaic knitting was coined by Barbara Walker and described in a 1976 book devoted to the technique. While the name is sometimes used more loosely to refer to all slip-stitch patterns, Walker used it to refer to a technique defined by a specific set of rules. What makes mosaic different from most other slip-stitch patterns is that within the constraints of those rules, a designer can create new motifs and repeat patterns and images.

 

Masonry by Kate Gilbert

 

I’ve often been asked why a knitter who loves to do stranded colorwork would want to try mosaic knitting. Given stranded knitting’s endless design possibilities, why would a knitter embrace the angular, geometric look of mosaic knitting? The reasons are varied and many. 

 

You’ll Fulfill Your Need for Speed

The short answer is that mosaic knitting is easy, fast, and fun. Imagine that on your needles is a colorful, patterned piece of knitting. You glance at the chart, take up a single strand of yarn, and breeze along the row, knitting some stitches and slipping others. As you progress along the row, the slipped stitches are slightly faster to work. Over the course of a whole row or a whole project the seconds gained add up to a quick knit.

 

The mosaic technique is a natural for a design that has right angles and straight lines of any length.
Prototype by Barbara Gregory

 

Charts Are Easier to Read

Anything knit from a chart will slow down as your brain and eyes take the time to find and follow the next row of the chart. But in mosaic knitting the even-numbered rows are always identical in color to the preceding odd-numbered row. Colors will change every two rows (or rounds), so follow the chart on the first row of a given color and take a break on the second one. There may be a need to check if the stitches should be knit or purled, but whether to work or slip a stitch on these rows can always be read from the stitches on the left needle.

 

 


In the row just worked the green stitches were knit and the white stitches were slipped.

 


To work back on the wrong side, purl or slip each stitch according to its color.

 

Some mosaic charts only show one row for every two rows to be worked. That's because in each pair of odd and even rows the stitches repeat the same color sequence. If you encounter a chart like this, simply repeat the stitch pattern for the next row in stockinette or garter stitch according to the  instructions. This type of chart will always have a column of stitches to the right, indicating which color is the working yarn.

The chart at the top shows one row for every two rows to be worked. The chart at the bottom shows each
row to be worked. Each of these charts is a different way of showing the same thing.

 

You Can Work Flat or In the Round

Mosaic knitting can easily be worked flat. Would you like to make a cardigan, or perhaps a blanket? It is no secret that even knitters who are experienced in stranded colorwork can be nervous about cutting steeks. Yet working flat is not easy in stranded knitting, because the knitter cannot see the right side of the work when purling—while managing two strands—those wrong-side rows. These rows are not a problem for the mosaic knitter.

 

It’s Light and Flexible

Stranded knitting produces a fabric that is thicker and less flexible than stockinette; thicker because behind every stitch is a strand or float of another color, and less flexible because the knitted fabric will only stretch as far as those strands will permit. In mosaic knitting the floats on the wrong side only occur where a stitch is slipped. Fewer floats make a lighter fabric that is more stretchy and flexible.

 

Colorwork done with the mosaic technique has plenty of give—a plus
if you're stitching a figure-hugging sweater or another project where
you want to keep bulk to a minimum. Compare this swatch to the same design knit with the stranded technique, below: 
 
 

 

Here's the same colorwork design worked in stranded knitting. The floats behind every stitch make for a sturdy, less-stretchy fabric, which is good for projects that require a little more structure.
 
 

This can be an advantage in a design with long horizontal lines. Stranded knitting would require catching the floats behind these lines. In a mosaic design you are never carrying a second color; the chart has been planned so that you simply knit or purl those stitches as required.

In mosaic knitting you never carry a second color.

 

Stranded knitting requires catching floats of color behind the design.

 

 

You Can Easily Add Texture

Mosaic knitting can be done in stockinette, garter stitch or a combination of both, adding texture to the menu of possibilities. Designers will take advantage of this to extend colorwork pattern right to the edge of a non-curling border and thoughtfully placed “purl bumps” are often used to highlight motifs or details.

A combination of garter and stockinette.

 


This patterned yoke is worked in a combination of stockinette and garter stitch so it lies flat without curling.
Mimico by Barbara Gregory

  

It’s a Nice Companion to Intarsia

One of the appealing features of mosaic knitting is how elegantly it combines with intarsia. Because it is easily worked back and forth in rows, no special “intarsia-in-the-round” maneuvers are needed. I used this combination of techniques in Sprocket and Ormolu.

 

In these designs the intarsia color-changes occur only on the contrast rows. The mid-row change of yarn, where uneven stitches or small gaps can happen, always takes place behind the cover of a slipped stitch of the main color.

 


Intarsia loves mosaic.
Sprocket by Barbara Gregory

 

While there are many great reasons to try mosaic knitting, the best reason of all may be that it offers the opportunity to try a new technique and push your knitting skills further. Twist offers a great selection of mosaic knitting patterns from small to large. Give one a try and decide for yourself. 

 

Barbara Gregory loves combining colors and rarely knits a project with only one. She lives with her husband in Toronto, where she divides her time between knitting and not knitting. You can see all of her colourful designs on Ravelry at www.ravelry.com/designers/barbara-gregory.