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Illusion Knitting: A New Angle on Colorwork

There’s a whole corner of the knitting world that I like to think of as nerdy knitting. There are quite a few zany things over there that I can’t believe actually exist in the crafting universe. They range from exact replicas of knitwear seen in the Harry Potter films and knitted Dr. Who paraphernalia to mobius cowls and entrelac. Whether these types of knitting simply draw inspiration from nerd culture or actually employ principles from our algebra and physics classes, they all appeal to our intellect in some way or another. I stick illusion knitting in this category for several reasons: First, this technique uses viewing angles to create an optical illusion in your work. Second, you can use it to make incredibly detailed pictures of Renaissance masterpieces and portraits of icons like Albert Einstein and Daniel Radcliffe. Third, it’s the closest you can get to making a hologram out of yarn. And for those of you thinking this would be a great way to recall your boyfriend’s youth with scarves featuring holograms of Charizard, don’t be ashamed; I’m on the same page.

Some of you may be experienced illusion knitters, some may have seen illusion knitting and marveled at its trickery, and some of you may have no idea what I’m talking about. Illusion knitting is a piece of fabric that creates an optical illusion when viewed from different angles. Head-on, it appears to have very thin stripes running parallel to the knit rows. For example, in the righthand picture of the scarf shown, you see only very thin stripes and a faint outline of an image.  However, when viewed from an angle, illusion knitting shows an image or graphic in a contrasting color. For example, the lefthand picture of the scarf shows lighter pink stripes at the ends and two breast cancer awareness ribbons in a lighter pink. This illusion is created with a tricky combination of striping and purl bumps. Essentially, the “pictures” you see are created by purl bumps in the contrasting color, while the background is created by purl bumps in the background color. For every row of the design chart, you create 4 rows of knitting, 2 in each color.

If you’re a bit lost right now, you’re not alone. I took several different routes to understanding this technique, and you can only really comprehend it once you’ve tried it yourself! To practice with a basic sample, go through the How To Illusion Knit online tutorial. Then start with a simple project like the Sunrise Illusion Face Cloth. This pattern has clear graphics, and it’s small enough that you can frog it without tears if you need to start over. It also does not include a chart, which can really complicate things during your first illusion knitting attempt. Instead, it is written like a regular knitting pattern, with instructions for each row. The rows are grouped in sets of 4, which will acclimate you to the concept of knitting 4 rows for every row of the design chart. Once you have a handle on the technique, try some more intricate projects, like the Double Heart Knit Illusion Scarf or the Duckie Illusion Scarf.

What kinds of illusion knitting projects have you tried? Did you find the technique simple or difficult?

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