Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Mosaic knitting was invented by Barbara Walker in the 1960's and here we are, 60 years later, still obsessing over the effect of this mesmerizing style of knitting. It is a subset of slip stitch knitting but has its own characteristics, or rules you may say, in order to define and separate it from the broader category of slip stitch. Blackwater Mosaic Pullover (pictured above) uses mosaic on the bottom portion of the body.
Let's go over some of these differences:
First, mosaic is always worked with two colors, which are normally high-contrast colors. The broader umbrella of slip stitch knitting may involve one, two or three or more colors.
In mosaic knitting, only one color will be worked at a time, over two rows. All color changes are done at the beginning of rows or rounds but never involve working with more than one color across a row or round.
All stitches on are slipped purlwise unlike slip stitch knitting which may slip stitches knitwise or purlwise.
Mosaic stitches are slipped on right side rows with the yarn always held to the back and slipped on wrong side rows with the yarn always held to the front. This keeps the horizontal strand to the back of the work. In slip stich knitting, this is not necessarily the case.
Mosaic patterns are geometric and can be complex or simple, with longer multiples and repeats of a pattern. Slip stitch knitting uses smaller, simpler motifs that repeat frequently.
One row on a mosaic chart represents two rows of knitting.
Now that you know the parameters, let's put them into practice and see how it's worked:
One color is worked across two rows, usually in Stockinette or Garter stitch, then a contrasting color is slipped purlwise over the same two rows. It is then reversed with the contrasting color worked over two rows and the original color slipped over the same two rows.
Each horizontal row on a mosaic chart represents two rows of knitting and each row is usually numbered with an even number on the left and an odd row number on the right. You read first from right to left for the right side (odd numbered) rows, then from left to right for the wrong side (even numbered) rows.
The first and last squares of each row tell you which stitches to work.
When you begin a row, one color is dropped and the other is picked up from underneath.
The wrong side rows look exactly the same as the right side rows and most knitters do not refer to the chart when working the wrong side rows, they just read the knitting on the needles. This means less time paying attention to a chart. If you're working on a right side row for example, and you are working all of the dark stitches and slipping all of the light stitches, then when you turn your work, you will work back across the wrong side row doing the same thing, working the dark stitches and slipping the light stitches. This allows one color to travel to the end of a row and back.
Mosaic charts will come with their own set of notes. In the chart below, the notes that explain how to work the chart are listed here:
On RS rows that begin with a dark square, you'll knit dark stitches and slip light stitches purlwise with yarn in back.
On RS rows that begin with a light square, you'll knit light stitches and slip dark stitches purlwise with yarn in back.
On WS rows, slip all slipped stitches purlwise with yarn in front; knit all dark stitches, purl all light stitches.
On Row 1 for example, you'll begin at the right. The first square is dark, so you'll pick up the dark yarn and work with only that color. This is how Row 1 will be worked:
K11, sl 1, k1, sl 1, k2, sl 1, k2, sl 1, k1, sl 1, k10. On RS rows, stitches are always slipped purlwise with yarn in back.
Row 2 is worked by: K10, sl 1, k1, sl 1, k2, sl 1, k2, sl 1, k1, sl 1, k11. You're knitting the stitches that you knit and slipping the stitches you slipped on Row 1.
This produces the mosaic patterning seen in the Blackwater Mosaic Pullover. It's definitely not as hard as it may seem. It moves along quite quickly since you're slipping so many stitches. Once you remember that the color shown in the first stitch of each row is the color that you'll use for the next 2 rows, it's a fun way to knit.
Another plus is that tension is usually not as a big of an issue as it can be with stranded work. If you'll notice in the chart above, you only slip one stitch at a time. You may knit 10 stitches straight, but are only slipping one stitch. Just remember when you knit your next stitch following a slipped stitch, not to pull it tight. Let it rest across the slipped stitch with a bit of room.
Since you are slipping stitches over two rows (for example slipping all light stitches across the right side row, then slipping those same light stitches on the wrong side row) the fabric will become compressed. There will be more rows per inch than in plain stockinette. To prevent a distorted image, you'll often find a combination of Stockinette and Garter used in mosaic knitting. This produces a nice looking, deeply textured fabric that lies flat.
I really encourage you to not overthink mosaic too much. Just pick up your needles and yarn, and jump right in. Read the notes that accompany a chart. And just start. You'll find that it all makes sense after you work a couple of rows. What I love about mosaic charts is that they look just like my knitting, so if I'm not sure of which row I should be working next, I just look at what I've knit so far and compare it to the chart.
Knowing the differences will help you identify which patterns are truly mosaic. I hope you try mosaic knitting or if you're a fan already, that this helps to shed some light onto how mosaic knitting is defined.
Gonzalez, Leslie. “Slip Stitch Knitting Redux.” Cast On Aug – Oct 2014.
Gonzalez, Leslie. “Don’t Confuse Mosaic Knitting with Color Slip Stitch Knitting – They Are Different.” <http://whitehorsedesigns.blogspot.com/ 2014/09/dont-confuse-mosaic-knitting-with-color.html>.
Vogue Magazine Editors. Vogue Knitting. New York, NY: Sixth & Spring Books, 2002.
Walker, Barbara. Charted Knitting Designs. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.
Walker, Barbara. A Fourth Treasury of Knitting Patterns. Pittsville, WI: Schoolhouse Press, 2012.