Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Shadow Knitting aka Illusion Knitting

Shadow or Illusion Knitting is a technique of knitting that looks like plain stripes when viewing the fabric straight on......

...but a picture appears if you look at an angle!  See the pink square in the center of the green border?  It is the same as the first sample, but you don't see the square in the center unless you look at an angle. Neat, huh?!

You may think this is a hard thing to accomplish, but it is actually very easy.  You only ever need to do knit or purl stitches, that is it.

The picture is formed on the wrong side of the fabric; instead of purling wrong side rows, you will make knit stitches to 'draw' your picture.  When you make a knit stitch on the wrong side of the fabric, it makes a bump on the right side - these bumps are what you see when looking at the fabric from an angle.

I like to think of shadow knitting as working with mountains and valleys.  If you think about what you see when you look at a mountain range, all you see are the peaks of the mountains.  The valleys are hidden.  Now, for shadow knitting - the mountain peaks are the knit stitches forming the picture, and they are surrounded by valleys - the stockinette rows before and after the knit stitches.  

Working with two colors, you will always knit the first row of each color.  Then, to make your 'valley' on the second row, you will be purling whichever stitches fall in front of your 'mountain peak', which will be worked on the second row of the next color.

The method I used to create my sample is the one described in Margaret Radcliffe's book I note below. I am sure others have their own way of doing things.  I will show these steps in the video.

  • First, create your picture on graph paper.  You can get some free graph paper here.  
  • Next, you are going to redraw your picture, but this time put three blank rows in between each line of pattern.
  • Then, redraw the picture one more time, adding three times the width to each line of pattern.
  • Finally, draw an outline around your picture, keeping the lines on the sides right against the picture stitches, but one row above and below the picture.
  • My next step is to fill in the rest of the chart with either knit or purl stitches.  The picture is all knit stitches, and those are already drawn in.  The first row of each color will be knits.  For the second row of my background color (the green), I need to purl all stitches that fall in line with my picture, and the rest will be knits.  On the second row of my picture color (the pink), I will purl all stitches before and after the picture.  

I think that about covers everything!

This probably makes no sense right now, but once you try a little sample swatch of this technique, it will make more sense.

Some tips for shadow or illusion knitting:

  • Work with two colors that have a great contrast - the pink and green I used in the sample above, or black/white for example.
  • Keep your picture simple
  • Small elements (one or two stitches) might get lost in the big picture, so you may be able to remove them from the equation all together. 
  • Use any type of yarn you like, but both colors should be the same type.  (Two colors in wool, two colors in acrylic, etc)
  • If you work from a chart, read beginning at Row 1, right to left.  Wrong side rows are read left to right.  (If you make up your own chart, you can create it so that the rows are read in any direction you like, if you prefer to only read from right to left, or only left to right. It's your chart, afterall.  Whatever makes sense to you.)
Below is the chart for the sample pictured above, and what we are going to knit in the video.  Your chart does not need to be created with knitting software or colored, like mine.  You can use good old pencil and paper.  And yes, you will probably want to use pencil instead of ink, because chances are you will need to erase and redo. I used pencil and paper for my initial workup of the pattern, just to show you the process.  The chart below is just for the sake of neatness for this post, and so that you can see the finished chart clearly.  You can also use colors to help keep track of which color you need to knit with on any given row, but that part is optional.

I first saw this technique mentioned in Margaret Radcliffe's The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques.  I know, I know, you have probably heard me say I hate color work and fussing with all those extra balls of yarn.  So why do I have a book on color work?  It looked interesting to me, and I do like to get any information I can on knitting, even if it is a technique I don't often use or like.  And of course, shadow knitting is so cool!  

If you like this knitting technique, you may also want to check out Shadow Knitting by Vivian Hoxbro.  I do not have this book so can't vouch for it, but you can look inside via the link.

I made a hot pad a few years ago, you can get the pattern by clicking this link.

You can also see more shadow knitting goodness at Woolly Thoughts and at Fresh Isle Fibers.

OK, moving on.  Here is my chart for the sample I knit.  It is very simple and to the point, only knits and purls.  I colored it just to make sure I used the appropriate colors. 

And here is a brief video, just going over the above written stuff.  


  1. Is a pattern available for the pretty blue shawl pictured at the top page of the blog?

    1. It's available as a kit only from here

  2. Do you, by any chance create patterns? I've tried, but failed miserably! I am willing to pay for the pattern; it would be of George Michael, just his face.