slipping a stitch to make slip stitch rib

Slipping Stitches – a knitting tutorial

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Slipping a stitch is exactly what it sounds like – you simply slip a stitch from one needle to the other without doing anything else. So you are not creating a new stitch, rather the old stitch becomes the new stitch, stretching over two rows. This gives a pretty effect that can be incorporated into stitch patterns, but you can also use it to create neat and even edges on your knitting. Slipped stitches are also an essential part of several knitting decreases (e.g. ssk & psso) which is when you on purpose decrease your number of stitches by one or more stitches to shape your knitted fabric. Finally, slipped stitches are the magic ingredient in the color-work technique mosaic knitting.

Slipping knitwise and purlwise

Similar to when you knit and purl you can insert your right-hand needle into the stitch on the left-hand needle either from right to left or from left to right before slipping it. Conveniently, it’s called slipping knitwise and purlwise.

knitwiseas if to knitleft to right
purlwiseas if to purlright to left

The more natural way to slip a stitch is purlwise, from right to left, because it preserves the orientation of the stitch. You are moving the stitch to the other needle without changing anything else about it. If you slip the stitch knitwise, you twist the stitch so that it will be mounted with the left leg in front of the needle, rather than the right leg. Slipping purlwise is more common, in fact, if a knitting pattern says to slip a stitch without specifying which way, you should slip the stitch purlwise.

Photo illustration of how to slip a stitch purlwise
To slip a stitch purlwise, you insert the right-hand needle as if to purl, and then you simply slip the stitch off the left needle and over to the right needle without creating a new stitch. Notice that the working yarn is in the front.

The position of the working yarn

It also matters where you are holding the working yarn while you are slipping the stitch. Generally, you should hold it the same way you do when you knit or purl. So, to slip a stitch purlwise, move the yarn to the front and insert the right-hand needle as if to purl, then slip. To slip a stitch knitwise, move the yarn to the back and insert the needle as if to knit.

knitwiseworking yarn in the back
purlwiseworking yarn in the front

Note that it doesn’t matter if you hold the yarn in your left or your right hand. That’s a matter of knitting style: English knitters hold the working yarn in the right hand, and continental knitters like me hold it in the left hand. It makes no difference. All you have to pay attention to is where the yarn is relative to the needles – in front of or behind.

Slipping stitches purlwise and knitwise
Left: a stitch is slipped purlwise in the middle of a row. Right: a stitch is slipped knitwise.

Abbreviations

slslip
sl stslip stitch
slpslip 1 purlwise
sl1pslip 1 purlwise
slkslip 1 knitwise
sl1kslip 1 knitwise
wyifwith yarn in front
wyibwith yarn in back
slk wyifslip 1 knitwise with yarn in front
slp wyibslip 1 purlwise with yarn in back
The abbreviations related to slipping stitches. sl1k and sl1p are the official abbreviations as given by the Craft Yarn Council, but slk and slp are commonly used. wyif and wyib refer to the position of the working yarn while slipping the stitch.

Unless clearly stated otherwise in the pattern, a slip stitch is slipped purlwise, and the working yarn is held in the front (or in the back if it’s an slk). Occasionally you may come across instructions to hold the yarn oppositely to what you would expect, using the wyib or wyif abbreviations. Always check the notes at the beginning of the pattern.

sl – means slip 1 stitch purlwise with the yarn held in the front (unless it specifically says something different)

The four variations of the slip stitch

the four types of slipped stitches
The purlwise slip stitch is by far the most common slip stitch, but you should be aware of all four variations. The selvedge (edge stitches) on the swatch in these four photos uses both the slp wyib & slk wyif.

Video showing how to slip knitwise and purlwise

I’ve made a little video so you can see slipped stitches in action. I demonstrate both how to slip knitwise and purlwise, and also how to unknit the slipped stitches, in case you make a mistake. Undoing stitches one at a time is called tinking. It’s always good to know how to tink a new stitch type – let’s be honest, it’s only a matter of time before you make your first slp that was supposed to be an slk – happens to all of us. Well, now you’ll know how to fix that! Take a look:

Slipping edge stitches

The two edges on a flat knitted piece that are not the cast-on or bind-off edges are called selvedges, and a typical use for slipped stitches is to create beautiful selvedges. The exact look of the selvedges will depend on what you do with both the first and the last stitch of every row, on both sides of the fabric. Depending on exactly how you combine the different types of slipped stitches with either a knit stitch or a purl on the other side of the fabric, you will achieve a different result. I am hard at work knitting up little swatches with the different possibilities, and I will present them in an article about selvedges next week. Sign up for the Knit with Henni Newsletter if you want to receive an update when the article is out. You will find a sign-up form at the bottom of this page.

The slip stitch chain edge can be achieved in several different ways. Perhaps the simplest is to slip the first stitch of every row purlwise while knitting the last stitch of every row.

If you are experiencing general trouble with uneven edges and the last stitch of every row ends up as an annoying giant loop, then slipping edge stitches will help you create neater and more even edges. Take a look at my Knitting SOS article about uneven edges.

The slip stitch rib pattern

There are countless ways to incorporate slipped stitches into a pattern, but let me just give you one example here. The slip stitch rib pattern! It’s an elegant version of the rib stitch, and it’s brilliant for things like scarves, cowls, bags, and blankets. It’s not reversible in the sense that it doesn’t look the same on both sides, but it’s pretty on both sides of the fabric. I like to combine the slip stitch rib with the chain selvedge I showed you above.

The slip stitch rib pattern with a slip stitch chain selvedge
The enlarged slipped stitches create a gorgeous raised ribbing and is perfectly matched by the chain selvedge. This yarn is one of my favorite super bulky yarns btw. – it’s Malabrigo Rasta.

Instructions for the slip stitch rib with a chain selvedge

Cast on a multiple of 3 + 4 stitches (i.e. 3 x 4 + 4 = 12 + 4 = 16, or 3 x 5 + 4 = 15 + 4 = 19, etc. )

Row 1 (RS): slp, * p2, slp wyib ; rep. from * to last 3 sts, p2, k1

Row 2: slp, k2, * p1, k2 ; rep. from * to last st, k1

Repeat these 2 rows

To obtain a stretchy bind-off edge, bind off in pattern on the right side of the work with the slipped stitches replaced by knit stitches: k1, p1, bind off one (i.e. pass the first stitch over the second stitch and off the needle), p1, bind off one, k1, bind off one, p1, bind off one, p1, bind off one, and so forth.

Abbreviations

  • k – knit
  • p – purl
  • rep. – repeat
  • RS – right side
  • slp – slip purlwise with yarn in front
  • slp wyib – slip purlwise with yarn in back
  • st, sts – stitch, stitches

What’s your favorite use of the slip stitch?

There are countless ways to use slipped stitches in knitting. What’s your favorite stitch pattern or technique that incorporates a slipped stitch? Leave us a comment and join the discussion. And if you are new to slipped stitches – Amazing! you are the reason I wrote this article. Let me know how it goes, trying out your new skill. And please don’t hesitate to ask questions if anything is unclear. That’s what I’m here for. You can comment and ask questions below or on the Knit with Henni Facebook page.

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6 thoughts on “Slipping Stitches – a knitting tutorial”

  1. This post is SO helpful and I can’t wait to try the slipper edge! Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you! I try to always bring a little extra information to the table so that even intermediate knitters might learn something new

    1. Hello Canada 🇨🇦. Thank you for taking the time to let me know you enjoy the tutorials. It means more than you know!

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