Slip stitch crochet

Slip stitch crochet
- a short summary of my experiences

First I appologise for the language, which is not my mother tonge, so it is perhaps not perfect, but I hope the meaning comes through!

The slip stitch: the smallest crochet stitch - just one yarn over and one pull through. When you do "ordinary" crochet it is used for closing a round or move the crochet activity to somewhere else - and in both these cases you want the stitch to be seen as little as possible, most preferably not at all. Maybe this is the reason that people are sometimes surprised by the idea of slip stitch crochet - to make whole items with only slip stitches. The stitches are so small, how can you ever finish a project at all?

Yet it is a technique that is actually practised and undeniably the things do get finished! To begin with, there is a folk tradition of slip stitch, which mostly include making mittens.
Modern slip-stitchers have widened the spectrum of objects to create with this technique.

There is a book in Swedish about slip stitch crochet, "Smygmaskvirkning" by Kerstin Jönsson. It is all about the traditional slip stitch crochet in Sweden. It is a great book and I have learnt a lot from it. It contains many beautiful patterns for mittens and it is a good introduction to understading the original slip stitch tradition.

What I am writing here about slip stitch crochet is not based on what I have read in books though; instead it comes from years of crochet practise! And I don't claim to have found out "everything" - the development of the technique is constantly going on.

Slip stitch crochet is also called bosnian crochet or shepherd's knitting. It is not a solely Swedish phenomenon, but has been practised all around Europe (and perhaps other places too).

In ravelry there is a group for people interested in slip stitch which is a source for information and contact with other slip stitchers!


The difference when you crochet with only slip stitches compared to when they are used for "invisible" purpose is 1) the stitches must be bigger, and 2) you crochet only in one loop. Then it works! When you crochet in one loop only and the stitch is big, it is stretched out and is as useful and practical as any other crochet stitch.

Traditional slip stitch is done with a special hook:

It is short, wide and flat with a small hook in the top. The three ones in this picture are newly made in the old fashion style. They are sold by those who advocate working slip stitch in the old manner. I amnot one of them! Why should we have to go on doing things exactly in the same way as it was always done? How can we believe that is the only way? Why shouldn't we allow development in this particular field?
I think you must appreciate the old methods and respect the people that used them! But that doesn't mean you must continue doing everything in the same way for all times.

For example, I tried the traditional slip stitch crochet hook, but found it too limited for all the different things I want to do with it. You are not supposed to hold it like a normal (pen-shaped) crochet hook in your hand, but in a totally different manner - which works for crocheting in the round and making mittens. But with a pen-shaped, normal crochet hook you can do so much more!

How do you make the stitch large?  In many places I read about how important it is to work loosely when you do slip stitch. How loosely? is the question.

What is gauge? The number of stitches per length of finished crochet fabric. In ordinary crochet it is always stated in a pattern which hook to use, for example 1,5 mm or 3 mm (or something else). Everybody understands that there will be a difference in size between a thing crocheted with a 1,5 mm hook and the same thing crocheted with a 3 mm hook.That is because the size of the hook (the diameter) determines the size of the stitches. When you read about slip stitch crochet, this suddenly doesn't apply any more! To me, impossible to understand.
Instead you are told to hold the yarn loosely in your hand, or pull out or stretch out the stitch extra long, beyond the size you get from the hook. You are meant to shape the stitch freehand.
It can be expressed like this:

Crochet is no place to have tension. (...) Relax and keep stitches loose.


When making slip stitch fabric, work a little looser than normal.

When I originally tested slip stitch crochet it was completely logical for me to work with the same tension as my hands were already used to with normal crochet. To avoid the result of becoming too dense and stiff I changed the size of hook gradually up and up until I was satisfied.

And about that freehand shaped stitch: it will be different from one person to another. Which makes both writing patterns and following patterns difficult. The pattern writer has one touch and the pattern reader has another touch = you can not get the same gauge with the same hook.

In addition, you have to work with exactly the same loose tension on all stitches, which requires a lot of practise before you get an even result.

If all crocheters, used to "ordinary" crochet, would make slip stitch crochet with a normal hook, preferably with a pointy tip, see below, and work with their normal touch and tension, we would win the benefits:
1. Always get an even result immediately when you start slip stitching. The stitches will be equal in size without working out a special slip-stitch-touch.
2. Slip stitch patterns would be easier to write and read correctly.

Sharpening a hook

You can sharpen the tip of a normal hook to make it more suitable for slip stitch.

Compare: Left: the raw material, a normal wooden crochet hook. The procedure can also be done to a plastic hook, except for the last step, oiling, which is not needed (or possible) with plastic... Right: a sharpened hook, adapted for slip stitch crochet. I have pointed out the most important difference; the blunt tip on the left hook and the pointy tip on the right hook.

It looks the same if you turn them and look from another angle.

The tools I use to adapt the hook is a knife with changable blades and two different sandpapers, one coarse and one fine. You can naturally use any sort of knife you feel comfortable with.

1. The hook as it looks when bought. Where it is blunt at the tip I want to make it pointy to easily get into the stitches. I also want to shorten the unnecessary long part pointng downwards - it is called lip, head, point, chin or simply hook, depending on who you ask...

2. With my knife I carve away parts of the head and the lip.

3. Then I use the sandpaper, first the corse and the the fine, and grind the hook until it has the desired shape and is so smooth that no yarn can get stuck or hooked up on it. I also oil it with cooking oil. Let it rest for some time, a few hours, after oiling, then probably all would have come into the wood, otherwise just wipe it off.

 4. The last step is to start using the hook! The use makes it all shiny and perfect. Sometimes you will discover some imperfection that has to be smoothed further with the fine sandpaper and oiled again.

Personally I carve my own hooks by all different sorts of wood and in all different sizes!

The four basic stitches

When you do slip stitch crochet, whole items with only slip stitches, the slip stitch is worked under only one loop. You can choose the front loop of the stitch (the loop closest to you) or the back loop (the loop furthest away from you). You can choose to insert your hook from front to back, or from back to front. This makes four different basic ways to work the slip stitch.

1.  "F"  (Front loop only slip stitch.)  Insert your hook from front to back under the front loop, yarn over and pull through both loops on hook..
2.  "B"  (Back loop only slip stitch.)  Insert your hook from front to back under the back loop, yarn over and pull through both loops on hook.
3.  "iF" (Inverse front loop only slip stitch.) Holding the yarn in front of your hook, insert hook from back to front under the front loop, yarn over and pull through both loops on hook.
4.  "iB"  (Inverse back loop only slip stitch.) Holding the yarn in front of your hook, insert hook from back to front under the back loop, yarn over and pull through both loops on hook 

These terms and abbreviations were created by David Burchall. If you want to read more, see what he writes about  slip stitch crochet here.

How to do the inverse stitches, holding yarn in front of the hook. (This is iF, inverse front loop only slip stitch.)

Different fabrics created

1. Working in rounds. The traditional way. You work in continuous rounds with right side facing all the time. The result is a tube that can be made into (for example) a mitten.    

1.1) F.   Rounds of front loop only slip stitch (F) = vertical stitches.

Example: the traditional mittens with their typical look:

The wrong side:

 1.2) B.   Rounds of back loop only slip stitch (B) = horisontal stitches.

Example: the bottom edge on all those traditional mittens.

The reason for always using the back loop stitch to begin with is to prevent curling which would happen if the mittens were made in only front loop stitches.

The wrong side:

 1.3) You can naturally mix these two to make different interesting surface patterns. For example zigzag, below, or diagonals like in the hat I crocheted after a pattern by Monica Schulz.

2. Working back and forth in rows

You turn your work after each row and crochet the next row in the other direction.

2.1) B/B Most common and very popular is to crochet back and forth in the back loop only (B). It is very easy - you can easily find the right place to insert your hook. It makes a very elastic ribbing. If you don't stretch it out it is very thick because the rows lie compactly together. The elasticity works across the rows. Both sides look the same, you can choose any side for the front.

Above a swatch with around 22 rows - 11 "ribs" with a "valley" between each.
Below is the same piece, turned on the side and stretched to double length! 
You can count and see there are still 11 "ribs".
When you let go, it contracts again.

Example: a lot of hats. To make use of the elasticity the rows go vertically from bottom to top, and from top to bottom of the hat, instead of around the head.

I use this this stitch for all sorts of ribbing - on socks,


 cuffs on mittens,

(the rest of the mitten is crocheted in rounds)


2.2) F/F.    Crocheting back and forth in the front loop only. Similar to the 2.1 in that you use only one stitch all the time (F), same on both sides, and the result also looks the same on both sides. It is also elastic but not quite as much as the back loop version.

Example: These striped socks are crocheted entirely in the front loop.
(The white cabled socks in picture under 2.1 use the front loop only for the foot part.)

2.3) B/iF.   Next comes some examples of stitch combinations that are crocheted in rows, but not the same on both sides. First example: Row one: slip stitch in the back loop only (B), turn, row two: inverse slip stich in the front loop only (iF). The result reminds a little of 1.2 rounds of back loop only slip stitch - all stitches are horisontal. The difference is in this case in one row the stitches are leaning a little to the right, and in next row a little to the left.

Above: right side, below: wrong side. Or as usual, choose to use any side you want for the right side.

Example: The main parts of these fingerless mittens are made using the B/iF stitch combination. 

2.4) F/iB.    Then we have the popular "flat stitch". Row one front loop only slip stitch (F), turn, row two inverse back loop only slip stitch (iB). With this combination we create a surface with only vertical stitches like in 1.1 front loop only in rounds.
This stitch will curl, just like the 1.1 F, if you try to make just a square piece without any other stitches involved. To eliminate this problem you can make a frame by other stitches around it, or let the problem solve itself by sewing up the piece into a tube to make for example a sock or mitten. Then it is naturaly stretched out when wearing!

Example: Although I call this stitch popular I realize that I, myself, don't use it very much. Not for covering big areas anyway. The palmside of these mittens is one example though. You would naturally guess the mittens to be crocheted in rounds but in these I have turned the work at the end of each round and worked the next round the other way - "rows in rounds". The reason was the tapestry crochet I wanted on the outside of the mitten, worked with two colours, and I didn't want both yarns to go all around the hand. The yellow yarn could then be used only for half of the row.
Each row consists of  19 slip stitches worked with an 8 mm hook and 19 single crochet stitches worked with a 4 mm hook, and the row has the same height all over. This is something that people often don't believe when I say it - that the slip stitch (worked with an 8 mm in one loop only) has the same height as the single crochet (worked with a 4 mm in both loops).

I also found a pair of socks where I have used the F/iB stitch, for the foot part:

The look of the wrong side, where stitches lie horisontally.

Example: Two pairs of socks where I have used the wrong side as right side (so the flat stitch is inside the sock).

In both cases the leg part of the sock is crocheted with ribbing 2.1 B/B and the toe uses 1.1 F (front loop only worked in the round)

2.5) F/B.    This is a stitch I have used probably only once. Row one is front loop only (F), turn, row two is back loop only (B). No inverse stitches are used.

On one side you get this coarse rib-like pattern, David Burchell calls it purl ridges. The other side is relatively dense and flat but still with a rhythm made by the rows.

Example: my tulip cuffs!

2 kommentarer:

Estella sa...

Thank you for this interesting article!
And I admire the hooks that you made yourself!
Bye, Estella

Marta sa...

This is a great post, Anna! I'm telling every crocheter I know how interesting the slip stitch technique is.