If there’s a universal truth in the world of fibre arts, it’s that fibre artists love colour! Embroidery on knit fabric is one of the oldest methods of adding colour because it works perfectly with the structure. As multicraftual makers, we have the skills (or the ability to learn) to combine crafts for that much more joy and colour!
Today I’m going to cover three simple embroidery techniques to enhance your knitted sweaters, socks, hats, and whatever else your imagination can dream up. All you need is a tapestry needle, some knitting, and accent yarn(s) in a similar weight to your knitted fabric. If you need a guide, simple colorwork charts are a great jumping-off point for embroidering your knitting. For colour inspiration, check out Felicia’s Colour Mastery course. The swatches in this tutorial use SweetGeorgia Tough Love Sock, Mohair Silk DK, and Superwash DK.
Duplicate stitch is the most obvious type of embroidery to use on knitted fabric. Since it imitates the structure and look of knitted stitches, it can be used to mimic the effect of colorwork. If you love 3-colour colorwork knitting but don’t feel ready to tackle 3-colour stranded knitting, you can enhance your 2-colour colorwork by adding touches of a third colour in duplicate stitch.
To work duplicate stitch, insert your threaded tapestry needle from back to front at the base of the stitch you want to embroider over, then behind the legs of the stitch above it from right to left, then into the base of the stitch you’re embroidering again, front to back.
Duplicate stitch can also be used to correct small errors in stranded colorwork, as I’m doing in the header image.
The grid structure of knitted stitches is a perfect backdrop for cross stitch. While knitted stitches aren’t perfectly square (like cross stitch canvas), the difference between height and width is usually small enough (especially at a small gauge) that cross stitches still fill the knitted “grid” quite nicely.
To cross stitch over knitted stitches, insert your needle back to front at the top left-hand corner of the stitch you’re embroidering, between that stitch and the one next to it. Then insert the needle, front to back, at the bottom right-hand corner. This forms the first leg of the cross stitch. Repeat this step across all the stitches in the row you want to embroider. Then, come back and form the second leg, inserting your needle, back to front, at the bottom left corner and then front to back at the top right corner.
If you’re feeling extra creative, try some more complex cross-stitching on a piece of plain knitted fabric!
French knots are perfect for adding just a touch of colour and texture to knitting. While they can be delicate and are best used sparingly, they always add just a little something special.
To make a French knot over a knitted stitch, insert your needle, back to front, on the right side of the stitch. Then tightly twist your embroidery yarn around the tip of your needle several times, then insert the tip through the yarn, as close to the base where it emerges from the fabric as you can. Then insert the needle through the fabric, front to back, on the left side of the stitch.
Unexpected Applications for Embroidery on Knit Fabric
While most of these examples are stranded colorwork, embroidery can be used to enhance so many other knitted fabrics. For example, touches of embroidery can be used to add colour to lace knitting in ways that wouldn’t be possible to do while knitting. Again, let your imagination be your guide as you explore the possibilities!
Conclusion: Embroidery is Awesome!
I hope this demo has left you feeling inspired and excited about the possibilities for embroidering your knits! The three embroidery techniques covered in this article are just the beginning. Go forth, learn, explore, and embroider!