If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to knit with two colors, mosaic knitting might be a great colorwork technique to try first.
Haven’t heard of mosaic knitting? Well, you wouldn’t be the first. Of all the forms of colorwork knitting, this knitting technique may be the least well-known.
I find this fact a little strange. Why? Of all the knitting techniques that allow you to knit with multiple colors, mosaic knitting is the easiest. For this reason, I’d think knitters would be shouting it from the rooftops.
So if you don’t know enough about mosaic knitting yet, allow me to sing (or shout) its praises.
Here I’ll talk about mosaic knitting, what it is, and how it’s done. I’ll go over the benefits and drawbacks of this knitting method. I’ll also provide links to easy knitting projects you can start now.
But before we get to all that, let’s begin at the beginning.
Origins of Mosaic Knitting
While knitting history goes back thousands of years, mosaic knitting has been around for less than 60 years. Crazy, right?
Most knitters have heard of Barbara G. Walker because she was a prolific writer of knitting books. You may even have several. Here are some of her better known titles:
Barbara G. Walker Books:
But did you know that she invented mosaic knitting in the 1960s?
Barbara G. Walker was a journalist, feminist, and dedicated researcher. In a short bio included in one of her books she writes:
Ever since college, it was my habit to take up a new field of study each winter, when the weather was conducive to staying indoors and reading. I would go to the public library and collect any available books on my subject, read and take notes. In this way I went through a number of self-made ‘courses’ [...]. In my thirty-fifth year I decided to spend that winter learning to knit.-Barbara G. Walker, A Fourth Treasury of knitting patterns
And the rest is knitting history.
I know I’m so grateful (and inspired!) by her focus and determination to master knitting. And for Walker to have completely created this new technique, well, it gives me hope.
It’s a hopeful reminder that there’s still much to discover and learn about knitting. But back to the topic at hand.
What is Mosaic Knitting?
This innovative colorwork knitting method uses several elements to its success. They are:
- Slip stitch knitting
- Knitting with two colors, independently.
- Using high contrast colors
Mosaic knitting is knitting with two colors, sometimes more than two, to create geometric shapes by slipping stitches.
You can even use garter stitch, stockinette stitch, or a combination of both for varied effects.
Now you may be thinking, what’s so original about these things? It’s true, slipped stitches weren’t a new thing, but they had never been used before for color knitting.
And in combination, they created a new color knitting style that was simple yet striking in its finished form. A lot of this has to do with the high contrast colors used.
On that note, allow me to explain contrasting colors.
What Are Contrasting Colors?
Take a look at this simple color contrast chart.
This chart shows that high contrast colors are direct opposites of each other. They are always combinations that allows the pattern motif to stand out.
This Electric Love Mosaic Cowl knitting pattern is an example of contrasting colors.
Here’s another example in the form of a mosaic knit hat pattern I have in the works. I’m using Cascade 220 worsted weight yarn in Smoke (8408) and Mint (9076).
You can see from these examples, high contrast colors really make the mosaic knitting patterns stand out.
When it comes to choosing contrasting colors, they don’t have to be direct opposites of each other. Simply told, it comes down to choosing one dark color and one light color that complement each other.
Below you can see a swatch knit in the round for an earlier version of this hat.
It’s especially important to make a gauge swatch of your stitch pattern. Since you’re using slipped stitches, your mosaic knitting tension will vary from your average tension.
Now let’s talk more about the technique and how it’s done.
Is Mosaic Knitting Hard?
What makes this technique so appealing is its simplicity. If you can knit and purl, if you can slip a stitch, you can learn mosaic knitting. It’s that easy. Just check out our blog post on how to slip a stitch for more info.
Mosaic Knitting Technique
Unlike other colorwork knitting techniques, mosaic knitting works with a single color at a time. This means you’ll knit with one color per row or round. There will be stitches of the opposite color on your knitting needles but these are slipped stitches.
Let’s look at this knitted hat again, up close.
On this round I am working with the dark color and slipping the light color stitches. The only active yarn for these two rounds is the smoke color or dark color. Then, I work with the light color for two rounds. And so on.
Benefits of Mosaic Knitting
- You can knit flat or in the round.
- You work with only one color per row or round.
- Requires two contrasting colors, but you can work with more.
- You don’t have to worry about catching your floats.
- Compared to other colorwork techniques, it is the easiest to do.
- Mosaic knitting uses less yarn than other colorwork techniques.
- The fabric it produces is not as dense as other stranded knitting projects.
Drawbacks of Mosaic Knitting
- Using slipped stitches requires more attention to tension.
- You may have to adjust your gauge and needle size to prevent puckering.
- The pattern cannot have unlimited slipped stitches between worked stitches.
- Your finished product will require a good blocking to smooth out the stitches.
Ready to try your hand at mosaic knitting? These free slip stitch knitting patterns will get you started.
Looking for more free knitting patterns? Take your pick of knitted cowls, baby blankets, and scarf patterns.
I hope you enjoyed learning about mosaic knitting. I certainly love talking about it. If you have any feedback or questions, I'd love to hear from you!
Mary Dyke says
When I tried to do mosaic knitting in stockinette, it was terribly curly. What am I doing wrong? I even did garter stitch on the edges.
Christina Garza-Brown says
Hi Mary. Well, stockinette stitch has a natural tendency to curl, even if you have added garter stitch edges. Without seeing it, it's hard to say. You may be doing nothing wrong at all. Sometimes all it needs is a good blocking. Hope this helps!
I find the same thing, curlier than even regular stockinette! I think the slip stitches pull the fabric up, making a very curly material.
A good block won't fix it (forever, it may for a little while, but natural fibres will curl up again after a while). I plan an extra wide support structure - double the garter edges. It also helps a bit to include garter in your mosaic. Mosaic lets you work really cool texture into your colourwork by doing it garter style - it needs a bit more concentration since you may need to make sure the carried yarn is in the front or the back as needed, but helps with the curl too. Doesn't fix it, but helps.
T Ferrell says
Hi - where is the pattern for the "basketweave" that's pictured at the top of the page?
Christina Garza-Brown says
I did not include it in the post as it is a paid pattern. You can find it in Barbara Walker's "Mosaic Knitting" book. I have a link to the book on the page. Cheers.
Hi, i was looking for the plain 2. Color hat pattern to no avail. Is it available?
Christina Garza-Brown says
If you're talking about the green and yellow hat pattern, I have not published that yet. It will be available soon. Thank you for your interest!
I’ve got a question on mosaic knitting in the round on circular needles vs back and forth on straight needles.
When using circular needles and following a chart, do you read the chart from right to left until the end of the round? And then continue doing the same with the next rows of the chart?
Or do you read the chart from right to left, then at the end of the row, read the chart from left to right?
I hope this makes sense.
Christina Garza-Brown says
Hi there! Yes, you're correct. When knitting in the round, you'd read the chart from right to left for each line of the pattern. Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. I really appreciate it! Cheers!
I am so happy to find your site. I am having such a difficult time when I have dropped a slip stitch in the current round and especially in rows in the round way below. I cannot find help with this. I sincerely hope you can help me. I just started my first mosaic cowl named the Tesserino Cowl. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Christina Garza-Brown says
Thanks so much for writing in! Here are my suggestions: 1) Use stitch markers to keep track of your pattern repeat and count your stitches often. 2) Learn to read a mosaic knitting chart to accurately track down and correct dropped stitches. 3) Use lifelines as needed to create reset points if you need to frog back to an earlier row/round.
I hope this helps! Best of luck! ~ C
Zimmermann, not Zimmerman!
Oh! Thanks for catching my error and bringing it to my attention. I've corrected it.
Elizabeth Zimmermann is the woman who inspired me to knit and to understand knitting. But it was Barbara Walker's "Learn-to-Knit Afghan Book" that taught me how. Amazing women both, as is Meg Swansen, Elizabeth's daughter.
Hannah Treanor says
I have a pattern which requires me to repeat the chart but with one colour different. So it seems like I have to change the colour of the slip stitch. Any advice on how to do this???
Hi Hannah! Say you're using pink and white, for example, and you want to change the pink to purple. On the next row/round where you used pink before, you'd change to purple and drop the pink, leaving enough of a tail (on both) to weave in later. You could also weave in the tail as you go. Regardless, it should be an easy change to do. Best of luck!
Patti Memsic says
Hi Christina - I just found your site. YAHOO!! I have a question. Is there a way to convert a mosaic crochet pattern to mosaic knitting? I am an avid knitter, and a "part-time" crocheter. But I found this amazing pattern by Trinna on Ravelry, called Montana. I would like to knit it. I do know how to follow a mosaic knit pattern, and I really enjoy it. This pattern is exactly what I have been searching for, considering I am a ranch gal, living in Colorado (oops, not Montana). thanks for your input.
Hi Patti! Greetings from Texas! Unfortunately, I don't know how to crochet (yet) so I don't have any tips on how to convert a crochet to knit pattern. However, I did find a post on how to convert knit mosaic patterns to crochet that might be useful. Since you have knowledge of both crafts, you might be able to reverse engineer the post and figure it out. I've linked it here. I hope this helps and thanks so much for stopping by.
Thank you Christina. I did receive a response from a gal that does both knit and crochet mosaic. She looked at the Montana pattern and determined that the design would not work for knitting. Something about the floats were over too many stitches. I think that makes sense (to me), as the design should not be more than 5 stitches between colors.
I love mosaic knitting and your post here was very informative. My problem is that I have a pattern for mittens that starts in the round and then goes to flat (back and forth, really) to leave a hole for the thumb. My Barbara Walker book shows all the mosaic patterns as two rows for each color so the yarn gets back to where you need it. This pattern in the round has two rows for color one, one row for color two, two rows for color three and one row for color two. While this works great in the round, I can't figure out how to continue back and forth. Does this make any sense to you?
Hi Gillean! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Thank you.
As for your pattern, sometimes mosaic knitting can go rogue and become simply "slip stitch" knitting, i.e., not following the conventional two rows/rounds of one color. Don't panic...yet!
Does the pattern give any specific instructions or tips for this section? Perhaps try knitting a small swatch starting a few rows prior to this section and see if everything will line up, so to speak. That's what I'd do.
You might also check Ravelry to see other knitters' projects and comments on this same pattern for further insight.
I hope this helps! Best of luck!
Thank you very much for your article. I find it very interesting and informative. Can you please tell me what are the rules to designing a pattern for mosaic knitting ( e.g. what is the maximum number slip stitches between worked stitches)? One of the abovementioned comments stated that the design should not be more than 5 stitches between colours. What does that mean? Sorry to be asking all these dumb questions. Many thanks in advance!
You're welcome, Yoke-inn! I'm glad you enjoyed it. There aren't any dumb questions with mosaic knitting. There's certainly a lot of rules involved so no worries.
I can't recall the specific number of stitches off the top of my head, unfortunately. The 5 stitches between colors might be right, or it might be for Fair Isle knitting.
The stitch limit is important because, if the design is off, some stitches won't get worked properly. For example, the slipped stitches from rounds 1 & 2 should be knit in the next set of rounds (3 & 4), or you'll end up with 4 rounds of slipped stitches. This won't work because your stitches will be stretched too tightly and the design will be off.
I do highly recommend Barbara G. Walker's book on Mosaic Knitting as it's a wonderful resource. It answers a lot of questions you might already have, and even some you didn't know you needed. I hope this helps! ~Christina
I've been thinking about knitting hats in mosaic patterns. Even choosing any mosaic pattern of my own choice. In particular, how to decrease so that the mosaic design is followed right up to the top of the crown something like a form fitting crown. Is the formula for decreasing in mosaic similar to that of fair isle knitting ? There are various methods of decreasing and I would like to know how to adapt it to mosaic designs. So far I am only knitting a few swatches in the round in garter stitch. I love the contrast of the colours think they would look great in hats.
I hope you can help ! I'm so glad I came across your article.. !!! So inspired to try more mosaic knitting.
Thanks in advance !
Hi Nina! So happy to hear that you're inspired to try mosaic knitting. I love it!
As to your question, I can't speak to the formuala for decreasing in color pattern as I tend to stick to loose neckwear. Here in Texas, it's generally too hot for hats.
However, I'd recommend you checking out Woolly Wormhead's site. She's an absolute hat architect and you're likely to find a pattern you love or a tutorial that might point you in the right direction.
I hope this helps! Good luck!
I heard about that site. I will check it out. Yeah, we have our share of cold weather up here in Canada...so ..hats are necessary lol !
Spring is around... the corner...
Thank you for your response !!!
You're welcome! I hope you find what you need.