A list of helpful tips for neater results with mosaic knitting
The basics of mosaic knitting are super simple. Yet, it can sometimes be difficult to achieve neat results. Advanced mosaic knitting does require an even tension. Most importantly, I do feel that you should exploit the benefits of this technique as best as you can while avoiding its weakness. It’s called mosaic for a reason – and not “painting pictures with yarn”.
1. Stick to garter stitch
If you ask me, mosaic knitting looks best if you stick to garter stitch. The stitch pattern has a very unique gauge and is actually the reason why you knit across the return row in the same color. Garter stitch kind of contracts. Two rows will always just form one ridge and this is what shapes most patterns in a unique way. On top of that, you’d get bleed-through whenever you change colors in a wrong side row.
Pure stockinette stitch mosaic will always have to deal with two issues that can be very visible:
- As you skip one row, you will have elongated stitches scattered around the pattern
- These long slipped stitches will burrow the stitches before them, leaving you with a stitch where one leg is barely or not visible. It will look slanted and somewhat wonky.
Garter stitch hides most of these problems on the wrong side and in between the contracted ridges. If you combine garter stitch with stockinette stitch, you can typically gloss over these minor flaws in a very efficient way to achieve stellar designs.
3. Don’t slip more than one stitch in a row
It’s very tempting to slip many stitches next to each other. This would enable you to paint more complex designs. However, this will encourage puckering and will require an experienced knitter to get it right. And even then, it often will be somewhat visible – even after blocking. That’s why I only ever slip one stitch. Some people are okay with 2 or 3.
Also, do consider that you are, in most cases, you knitting fake stranded knitting. Instead of knitting with both strands at the same time, you knit the row twice with each strand separately. While this might sound charming, it will prevent you from crossing yarns, trapping floats, and/or creating ladderback jacquards efficiently – thus the results will be less stable.
4. Don’t knit just one stitch in a row
The opposite is true as well. If you follow a pattern that has a repeat like this: *sl5, k1, sl5, k1* it’s very likely for the stitch to recede into the fabric to a degree it might actually vanish if your floats are not long enough and/or your yarn super slippery (say cotton, silk, or superwash yarn).
The larger the knit blocks and the shorter the slip stitch blocks are in a row, the neater your pattern will be. The only exception are patterns that basically alter between slip and knit stitches across the whole row (say chevron patterns: R1: *sl1, k1* R2: *k1, sl1*). While this WILL often create a very unique kind of fabric, the micro-puckering and micro-curling will be so regular and consistent, it will look like a feature.
5. Add yarnovers if you slip across 4 or 6 rows
Most mosaic patterns alternate colors in every right side row. A lot of brick stitches and bubble stitches don’t. Here, you have to carry the slip stitches across 4, 6, or sometimes even 8 rows – always slipping the same stitches.
In these cases, you might consider adding yarnovers after the stitches you want to slip in the last return row of the old color. In the next row, you drop the yarnovers. The extra slack will be fed into the slipped stitch making it long enough to be slipped across multiple rows. Like this:
- Row 1 (color a): knit
- Row 2 (color a): *k3, yo, k2*
- Row 3 (color b): *k2, drop yarn over, sl1, k2*
- Row 4-7 (color b): *k2, sl1, k2*
Some patterns also add the yarnover before the stitch to be slipped. I do feel this risks feeding the slack into the next knitted stitch instead of just the slipped stitch. Often this looks a bit wonky. If you bridge more than just 4 rows, you may consider adding a double yarn over (so two wraps) for even more slack. This will depend a bit on your individual tension and gauge.
6. Use bigger needles
Mosaic patterns typically create a very condensed fabric. To avoid a fabric that is too stiff, consider going up a needle size (or sometimes even two). This will allow your finished project to be a little bit more supple.
Try to avoid using too big needles compared to your yarn weight as well. If the distance between each stitch gets too big, you will be able to see what’s hidden underneath. This might destroy the whole illusion.
7. Use contrasting Colors
Mosaic knitting is, by definition a very busy affair. Unlike in stranded knitting or Intarisa, your individual color blocks are very small and often spaced very closely together. To make your motif really pop, it’s important to pick colors with a high contrast.
Typically this means complimentary colors and not two similar blue tones. A color wheel will be your best friend. Here’s a tutorial that shows you how to choose yarn for knitting.
8. Don’t use slippery yarn
This is a golden rule for almost all colorwork techniques: Slippery yarns (like cotton, silk, or some superwash yarns) are more likely to let your finished project look wonky. This has to do with the floats. Basically it’s a little yarn reservoir the adjacent stitches can steal back from.
If the yarn is fuzzy, the friction is high. This means it’s both more unlikely for the floats to mess up your tension and it might actually felt into place pretty soon.
9. Block your finished project
The probably most deciding factor when doing mosaic knitting is blocking. Off the needles, your project can often look a little bit on the charmingly self-made side. It is often only after careful blocking (and sometimes even ironing) that the pattern gets to shine.
Here’s my full tutorial on how to block knitting.
10. Forget about the rules
There is no global knitting police. So at the end of the day, all the little mosaic knitting tips I provided above can be, in the right circumstances, totally ignored. Pick the right yarn, and pure stockinette stitch mosaics can look stunning. Some patterns might skip 3 stitches but they have been optimized in a way that accounts for the weaknesses and so.
Above all, this is THE technique to have fun with. Toy around with different ideas and concepts, knit a swatch and see if you like it. I am not here to tell what you can and should enjoy. This list was merely meant as a general collection of observations that worked out for me.