A step-by-step tutorial on how to do mosaic knitting, read the charts, and finish intricate patterns with success.
Do you want to dive into the beautiful world of colorwork? But you feel Fair Isle and intarsia knitting are a little bit too difficult for you, yet? Well, then you absolutely need to learn how to do mosaic knitting. This technique is perfect for beginners, doesn’t require you to hold two yarns at the same time, and it can be done with knit stitches only – no need to purl.
What is mosaic knitting?
Mosaic knitting is a simple colorwork technique where you knit with two colors independently. Intricate geometric designs are achieved by slipping certain stitches without knitting them. As you carry these slipped stitches across two rows, they will appear to be in a different color later on.
This sub-category of slip stitch patterns was first popularized by Barbara G. Walker in the 1960ies, in particular through her book “Mosaic Knitting“. It can be done in garter stitch, stockinette stitch, or a combination thereof – for striking effects. Most mosaic stitches are not reversible.
Let’s show you a simple pattern as an example:
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- Cast-on multiples of 4+1, plus 2 selvage stitches on either side with color A using a standard longtail cast-on. (E.g. 21 stitches)
- Knit across the wrong side with color A.
Note: The longtail cast-on creates the first row in the same breath. That's why you start this pattern on the wrong side.
- Join in color b.
- Knit across row 2 with the following repeat: k2, *slip one stitch purlwise with yarn held in back, k3*, sl1p wyib, k2.
- Turn around and knit across row 3: k2, slip one stitch purlwise with yarn held in FRONT, *k3, sl1p wyif*, k2.
- Pick up color A again. Make sure you twist the yarns as you do so. Color b should be trapped between the project and your working yarn.
- Knit across row 4: k2, *k2, sl1p wyib, k1*, k3.
- Knit across the wrong side (row 5): k3, *k1, sl1p wyif, k2*, k2.
- Repeat steps 4-8 until your fabric reaches the desired length.
- Knit across two full rows in color A and bind off.
Note: Here is a tutorial, if you don't know how to read knitting patterns, yet.
Mosaic knitting rules
As you can see, basic mosaic knitting is super simple and can be summed up in only a handful of simple rules. If you stick to these, your patterns will be a success!
Rule #1: You always knit across the wrong side using the same color
While there are some advanced patterns (particularly those knit in the round) that deviate from this rule, the majority of all mosaic stitches, adhere to it – especially those in garter stitch. You always turn around and knit the wrong side in the same color.
Rule #2: You always slip stitches purlwise and always with yarn held on the wrong side
Whenever you slip a stitch, you create a so-called float. A strand of yarn that bridges one stitch. You don’t want this float to be visible on the right side. That’s why you slip all stitches purlwise with yarn held in the back on the right side of your work, and you slip with yarn held in front on the wrong side (here’s a tutorial that explains right side vs wrong side).
Rule #3: Space the stitches out evenly and stretch out after each slipped stitch
Every slipped stitch creates a little float on the wrong side. These floats need to be as long as the stitches you bridge would be wide – otherwise the fabric will pucker. As a result, I recommend keeping the stitches spaced out widely on the right needle without bunching them up in your fist.
Also, you may consider sticking to the following repeat: After each slip stitch, knit the adjacent stitch AND THEN yank the stitches on the right needle to the right. This will pull out the floats to the correct length.
Rule #4: On the wrong side, knit all stitches in the same color and slip all stitches in the other color
Almost all mosaic patterns mirror the repeat on the wrong side. Instead of looking at the pattern, you can simply knit all stitches that appear in the same color you are currently working with. And you slip all those stitches in the contrasting color one more time. So, you always slip the stitches twice and carry them across two rows.
Rule #5: Whenever you switch colors you cross them
Creating neat edges can be a big problem in colorwork. You don’t want your project to fall apart on the left side. That’s why you typically should twist the yarns whenever you switch from color A to B. If you have to knit 4 or 6 rows in one color, do consider crossing the yarns at the beginning of each right side row – even when you don’t have to switch. That way, you trap the unused color securely in the edge.
Rule #6: add selvage stitches on either side
Most mosaic pattern repeats will have you slipping the first stitch of a row at one point or another. If you don’t add a selvage, this can both look a bit wonky and, more importantly, part of your motif will get lost in the edges. Read this tutorial for a selection of selvage stitches.
Naturally, if you are knitting in the round, this does not have to concern you. However, you may have to take a close look at the pattern/chart and check if the repeat will work out. When working flat, you typically have to add parts of the repeat to achieve symmetrical edges. The pattern you are working with may or may not do this.
E.g. A repeat like this *sl1, k3*, will work out perfectly when knitting in the round. But when worked flat, you may have to knit *sl1,k3*, sl1 for symmetrical edges. If you are unsure, draw a chart to reveal what your current repeat will give you.
How to read mosaic knitting charts
While Barbara Walker’s original designs were typically all written instructions, later generations switched to charts. It’s simply more manageable, allows you to spot mistakes more easily, and see the finished design at a glance.
While I do have a full tutorial on how to read knitting charts here on my blog, it might not concern you as a beginner. Mosaic charts are super simple! You only have to know a handful of things.
- You read a mosaic chart from right to left (the same direction a typical right-hander knits!)
- Each box represents one stitch.
- The legend will tell you how to knit each box. If there are no instructions, it’s safe to assume it’s all knit stitches (i.e. garter stitch). If it says WS: Purl, then the charted stitches have to be purled in the return rows.
- Numbers on the side count the rows. Numbers below the chart count the stitches.
Simply put your finger on the first box, check what it says, knit accordingly, and then move over to the next box.
- Some charts mark the stitches you have to slip with a “V” (or some other symbol; check the legend) and/or have a separate row of boxes to mark the color you need to work that row in.
- If there is no special slip symbol, you always switch colors after every two rows, and slip the stitches in the chart that are marked in the other color.
- The return rows are typically never charted (because you can knit all stitches the way they appear). That’s why you will typically find the even numbers on the left side of the same row. If they are, you read them from left to right!
Pros and Cons of Mosaic knitting
Mosaic is a great technique – especially when you stick to my advanced tips and tricks for mosaic knitting. At the same time, I do feel you should be aware of its limitations:
- Easy colorwork technique for beginners
- Perfect for recreating highly geometric and abstract designs in knitting
- You never have to carry two (or more) yarn at the same time
- You don’t have to catch floats or twist yarns with every color change
- Typically creates a less dense fabric than Fair Isle/Stranded knitting
- Non-reversible fabric
- Easy to pucker and curl
- Typically creates a rather thick and sturdy fabric
- the number of stitches you may slip are limited, and thus your ability for designs with wider color fields
- Can be a bit slower to knit
- Selvages require much thought and can be quite a nuisance.
Please don’t let this list deter you. There are probably a thousand wonderful mosaic stitch patterns out there and just as many wonderful projects you can embelish with it. Have fun with it, and don’t try to do things with it, it was never meant to achieve.
Here are some popular mosaic patterns: