Such an unassuming instruction, so innocent sounding! Slip one!
It’s so simple— just move the stitch from the left to the right needle. But there’s more to it than might seem.
It gets a little sticky because there are a couple of considerations: how to put the needle into the stitch, and what to do about the yarn. And patterns aren’t always clear about what’s needed.
How to put the needle into the stitch
There are two ways to put the needle into the stitch. There’s knitwise: meaning that the needle goes into the stitch as if you’re going to knit it. And there’s purlwise: meaning that the needle goes in as if you’re going to purl it.
insert the needle knitwise
insert the needle purlwise
There is a difference: when you slip a stitch knitwise, you twist it by taking the right leg and moving it to the back. This matters because next time you work the stitch it will be set up the wrong way, and both the look and the lay of the stitch will be off. When you slip purlwise, the stitch stays properly positioned on the needle.
So which slip to use if your pattern doesn’t specify?
The Short Answer:
If it’s part of a decrease (e.g. SSK or SKP—a.k.a. “slip 1, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over”), then slip knitwise. Otherwise it’s always purlwise.
What to do with the yarn
Meet two interesting new abbreviations: WYIB and WYIF! They stand for With Yarn in Back, and With Yarn in Front, and they are used to describe where you hold the yarn when slipping the stitch.
It’s worth emphasizing a point here: when you knit or purl the stitch, the yarn position is set by that stitch. That is, when you’re knitting, the yarn needs to be in the back; when you’re purling, the yarn needs to be in the front. But if you’re just slipping the stitch; the yarn can be on either side—that is, you can do a purlwise slip with the yarn in the back (what would otherwise be knit position).
So where to position the yarn if your pattern doesn’t specify?
The Short Answer:
Leave the yarn at the WS of the work. That is, if you’re working stockinette stitch, when you’re on the knit row, leave it at the back; and when you’re on the purl row, leave it in front.
When and Why?
You encounter the instruction to slip a stitch in a few contexts, and it’s worth talking about them.
As previously mentioned, there are some decreases that use slipped stitches. In these cases, you’re slipping knitwise to set the stitch up to be lifted over or worked with its neighbor so that the resulting stitch is properly aligned.
Sometimes a pattern might have you work slipped stitches at the start of a row. No matter how good a knitter you are, you’ll find the stitches at the start of the row a little untidy, especially in garter stitch: slipping the first stitch of the row makes them look much neater. For stockinette stitch, you slip purlwise with yarn held to the WS of the work …
Because stockinette edges tend to roll to the inside, I’ve taken this photo from the wrong side. At the bottom you see the tidy—but somewhat enlarged— slipped stitch; at the top you see the edge worked normally.
Note that the pictures above also answers an FAQ: no, slipping the first stitch of every row doesn’t stop the edges rolling. That’s what blocking is for.
It’s a little different for garter stitch: since the fabric doesn’t really have a right or wrong side, always slip purlwise with the yarn held to the front, and then take it to the back to knit the first stitch.
An important note here: it’s only good and useful to slip the first stitch of your row if the edges are going to be left as they are—like on a scarf. You should never do this if the edges are going to be sewn up, or have stitches picked up, or get some other special treatment—slipped stitches make these things more difficult.
Of course, there are ALWAYS a couple of exceptions to any rule. Here are two you might encounter in your knitting journey: Entrelac and on the heel flaps of certain sock structures. In both cases, a start-of-row slip is used to set a very particular and situation-specific ratio of picked-up stitches to rows worked. In other situations, doing this will have you end up with too few stitches. The pattern will tell you whether slipping is recommended or necessary, so it’s not something you need to remember.
In Summary, The Rules:
So, unless a pattern provides very specific instruction to do otherwise….
- If it’s part of a decrease, slip knitwise. In all other cases, slip purlwise.
- When slipping the stitch, leave the yarn at the WS of the work.
- And ONLY slip the first stitch of every row IF the edges are going to be otherwise left alone—like on a scarf.