Step by step instructions for the simple bobble stitch knitting technique + helpful little tricks and 5 alternatives
Bobbles are a great way to bring 3-dimensionality and interesting structures into your knitting. Many lace patterns, but also socks, hats, and so many other projects make use of them. They can be a bit tricky at times, so, in this tutorial, I want to show you how to knit the bobble stitch the easy way.
There’s just one thing you need to know: There is not THE bobble stitch. Instead, a bobble just refers to a general appearance. That’s why I will also present you with 5 alternative methods with similar results on top of the classic technique you’ll find in the some knitting books. I’ll also provide you with helpful tips and tricks along the way.
ⓘ In knitting instructions, you will find the abbreviations MB = Make bobble. Often it doesn’t specify what kind of bobble you should knit. So, when in doubt the classic 3-stitch bobble is your best bet.
So, let’s dive right into it, eh?
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- Row: KFBF - knit front, back, front
Knit into the stitch you want to place the bobble. But don't drop the loop off the left needle. Instead, knit the same stitch through the back loop, and then one more time through the front loop. Here's a detailed kfb tutorial.
- Row: Turn around & purl across
Turn the work around and purl the three stitches you increased in the first row. You are essentially working mini-short rows here. Take extra care you are not accidentally knitting any additional stitches.
- Row: Knit
Turn the work around and knit across the same three stitches.
- Row: Purl
Turn the work around one more time and purl the three stitches.
- Row: K3tog centered
Turn the work around one last time and knit these three stitches together centered. So, slip the first two stitches as if to knit. Then knit one stitch. And then pass the two stitches you slipped over the one you just knit. Then, continue knitting as normal.
Try to knit the 3 rows with high tension and maybe with one needle size smaller. Otherwise, the stitches of your bobbles might end up being too loose and not look all that neat.
Instead of knitting a kfbf, you can also knit one stitch, do a yarn over, and then knit into the same stitch again. It's a bit easier to knit but I feel the knit front and back version looks a bit neater. In the picture below, the first bobble was increased with the kfb over method, and the ones in the second row with yarnover/knit.
If you want to turn the bobbles into a nice knitting stitch pattern, then cast on multiples of 4 or 6 +2, and then make a bobble with 3 or 5 stitches in between - with two selvage knit stitches on each side. You can offset the bobbles by 2 or 4 stitches every second pattern row.
Important: The bobble stitch is not a reversible pattern. The backside looks rather plain with faintly visible indentations.
Oh, and one last thing. A lot of tutorials on how to do the bobble stitch will tell you to do a simple k3tog at the end/step 5 (so, insert the needle into three stitches at the same time and pull the yarn through). While you can certainly do that, this version will create a slant and your bobble will not be centered.
Reading tip: To avoid turning the work around constantly, you can also learn how to knit backwards.
4 or 5 Stitch bobble
The bobble stitch basically boils down to knitting an extra bit of fabric and reattaching it one row above. Since you’ll knit those 3 or 4 rows in stockinette stitch, they will curl in on the edges (just in case, here’s how to avoid curling in knitting). No gap will be visible, and no seaming is necessary.
Using this very same principle, you can also knit bigger bobbles. Simply increase to four or five stitches in the first row instead of only three. You can increase with a version of KFB (meaning you alternate between knitting and knitting through back loop into the same stitch). Or, if you are increasing by an odd number of stitches, you can knit into the same stitch over while placing a yarnover in between the knit stitches.
And then, knit across those stitches three rows (just like before) 3 times in stockinette stitch. The only difference is that you’ll have 4 or 5 stitches to knit. Only for decreasing you’ll need a little special trick.
Decreasing 4 bobble stitches: Slip two stitches knitwise, knit one, pass the two slipped stitches over the one you just knit, slip the remaining stitch to the left needle, and pass the next stitch over the first one (I’ll show this in greater detail in the video; see above).
Decreasing a 5 stitch bobble: Slip two stitches knitwise, knit one, pass the two slipped stitches over the one you just knit, slip the remaining stitch to the left needle, and pass the next two stitches over the first one.
Obviously, you can decrease any other way you like but I feel this will result in the neatest and most centered decrease. If you want to go the extra mile, you can only pass over one stitch at a time (similar to a brioche double decrease). The difference will be so minuscule that I don’t feel it’s worth slipping the stitches back and forth 3 more times.
Garter stitch bobbles
If you project is in garter stitch, you can also add bobbles to match the stitch pattern. In this case, you simply have to knit across all rows (instead of alternating between knits and purls). As garter stitch is considerably “bumpier” and has a different gauge, I suggest you knit them like this.
- Row 1: Increase one stitch into 5 stitches (just like before)
- Row 2: Turn the work around and knit across the 5 stitches
- Row 3: Decrease back to one stitch. So, k2tog, slip the remaining stitch to the left needle and pass the next three stitches over one at a time.
Naturally, you can also knit across the 5 stitches 2 more times, if you want bigger bobbles. But I feel, these smaller versions look a bit better.
Here’s a more detailed post on the garter stitch bobbles and how to knit the beautiful stitch pattern on the picture above.
Bobble stitch in two colors
Knitting bobbles in multiple colors can be the icing on the cake for any knitting pattern. It’s quite easy to do if you know how to knit Fair Isle. You are basically carrying along a spare color for the bobble rows and then knit the bobbles with that color – creating floats on the backside as you go.
Sadly, it’s not that simple because the regular technique will not look great in two colors. That’s why I wrote a detailed tutorial on the two-colored bobble stitch where I show you some very specific alterations and a near trick to hide the tails on top of that.
Estonian Nupp Stitch
Another great way to create bobbles comes from Estonia. I’m not entirely sure why Estonian lace knitting isn’t more popular in the US but the pattern are simply astonishing (Here’s an excellent book about it).
And there is one particular stitch I would like to mention here: The nupp stitch. Nupp means “button” in Estonian and it’s more or less a variation of the bobble stitch. It can be a bit more difficult to knit but the effect – especially when knit with a fuzzy yarn – is stellar.
- Step 1: Increase to 7 stitches by knitting into one stitch, keep it on the needle, add a yarn over, and knit into the same stitch again, add another yarn over, knit into it again, yarnover, knit one last time, and drop the stitch.
Important: You have to stretch out these stitches very far. Don’t knit with your regular tension.
- Step 2: Transfer the 7 stitches to the left needle and knit them together through the back loop (if it’s too difficult, you may use a crochet hook. But if you knit loose enough it actually should only be mildly complicated) but keep them on the knitting needle.
- Step 3: Slip the knit stitch you created by knitting together back to the left needle and knit into it one more time, and now you can drop all 8 stitches.
There are many other ways to knit an Estonian nupp but this will create the most prominent bubble (the middle row in the picture above). Some techniques knit the 7 increased stitch together on the return row (either with or without adding a knit stitch on top of the decrease). Kindly comment if you’d like me to do a tutorial for them beyond the short instructions in the video.
Adding Crochet bobbles to your knitting
If you know how to crochet, then you have one last option to add easy bobbles to your knitting without turning the project around. This can come in really handy if you are working on a big project (like a blanket or a big shawl) where turning around becomes a bit awkward – especially if you have to do it every 3 or 5 stitches. My cherry blossom socks also use this technique to great effect.
Step 1: Slip the stitch you want to place the bobble onto your crochet hook and add 3 chain stitches to it.
Step 2: Add 4 triple crochet (TC) stitches through the same stitch but keep the final loop on the hook instead of joining it to the previous stitch (so you should have 5 loops on it at the end).
Step 3: Crochet these 5 loops together and slip the remaining stitch to your right needle and continue knitting.
This will be the equivalent of a 5 stitch bobble and look really similar. Obviously, you can also crochet smaller bubbles by only doing double crochet stitches and only adding 3 of them.