Mosaic Knitting 101

The Mosaic Sisters pattern- a set of colorful mosaic knit kitchen towels, washcloths, and coasters - is here! Meet the sisters and get the pattern.

Check out the other tutorials for the Mosaic Sisters: The Long Tail Cast On & Stripes And Carrying Yarn Up The Side.


Mosaic knitting is a technique that creates beautiful and intricate finished projects with the simple slip stitch. What it makes it different from other types of color work is that you’re only working with one strand of yarn at a time. For such a simple technique, mosaic knitting is quite versatile. It can be worked in garter stitch or stockinette. It can be smooth or textured. It can be worked flat or in the round. The patterns can be bold and geometric or create simple images and all manner of things in between. There’s no limit to the type of project it can create either. Mosaic knitting can create scrubby washcloths, cushy socks, warm shawls, slouchy hats, and colorful blankets.

How Mosaic Knitting Works

Aside from slipped stitches, the real reason why mosaic knitting works is that it's based on 2 row stripes.  So if you can knit stripes, you can mosaic knit.  

To work a stripe of mosaic knitting, you work across the first row and slip certain stitches purl-wise to create the pattern. On the second row, the stitches slipped on the first row are slipped again. Then it's time to make the next stripe. Drop the first color and work the next stripe with a second color and slip more stitches. As the stripes repeat, the slipped stitches build on each other. The below GIF shows the stripes and slipped stitches adding up to make the finished design. 

Standard Mosaic Knit Abbreviations

Mosaic patterns are presented as written, charted, or with a combination of the two. Small patterns might only be written.  The key abbreviations in written mosaic patterns are slX, wyib, and wyif.

sl means to slip a stitch purl-wise and the X afterward tells you how many stitches to slip. wyib and wyif are paired with slX.

wyib means to slip the stitch with the yarn held behind the work on the wrong side. wyif means to slip the stitch with the yarn held in front. If you don’t see wyib or wyif or any variant of them, it’s assumed that the yarn is always held to the back of the work. 

The other important abbreviations are MC, Main Color, and CC, Contract Color. The different colors might also be referred to as C1 and C2 or Color 1 and Color 2. 


Here is a swatch of a simple mosaic pattern where there are slipped stitches on the garter rows (white) and a stockinette background (blue). The written pattern for the swatch reads like this:

Cast on 15 stitches (a multiple of 4+3) with C1.

Row 1: With C1, knit

Row 2: purl

Row 3: With C2, *k3, sl1wyib*, repeat between * * to end of row, k3

Row 4: *k3, sl1wyif* k3

Repeat the 4 rows until piece is desired length. End on Row 2 and bind off. 

How To Read Mosaic Charts

If the above pattern were charted, there are 2 fairly standard ways the chart could be presented and it’s designer’s choice. The difference between the two styles is in how the 2 row stripes are presented: a stripe, 2 worked rows, per chart row OR every row is charted. Personally, I prefer the chart where it’s one stripe to a row because it gives a better visual of the finished pattern. If I make a mistake early in the pattern, I find it easier to notice if I have the chart to compare it too. Also, it's easier to find my place again if I put the project down for a bit.  

The two styles do share some similarities. Both will show show what color to use either in column on the right side or on the chart row. Rows are usually numbered. Both charts will use the same symbols to show when to slip. There are 2 common versions of the slip symbol. Always read the instructions on the pattern though in case the designer has different instructions for a symbol. 

slip stitch definitions.jpg

V means to slip the stitch purl-wise with the yarn held on the on the wrong side to the back of the fabric.  A V with a horizontal line through the middle or underneath means to slip the stitch purl-wise with the yarn held in the front on the right side of the fabric. 

To work from the 1 stripe (2 rows) to a chart row style, you read the rows first from right to left and then backwards from left to right. This means that each row is worked twice; once forwards for the right side and once backwards for the wrong side. If the pattern is worked in the round than you’d work both rows from right to left because you’re always working on the right side of the fabric. 

To work from the 1 chart row equals 1 knit row style, you’ll always read from right to left. The 1 to 1 style chart is more common for mosaic patterns knit in the round. However, as is the case with the Pair-a-normal Socks, the same mosaic effect can sometimes be made with 1 row instead of 2. 

That’s everything you need to get started with mosaic knitting and start the Mosaic Sisters! Have fun and knit on!