Shadow or Illusion Knitting




Shadow knitting, or illusion knitting, is a process of knitting such that the finished piece has a hidden image only viewable from an angle. The effect is created by alternating rows of two colored yarns so that the raised stitches from one row block out the flat stitches of another row. The finished work looks like a simple striped pattern from the front, but when viewed from an angle, the "hidden" image appears.

The first image is a piano keyboard pattern that I knitted. The second and third are a simple block pattern for this instructable viewed straight on and then at an angle.

Step 1: Gathering Materials and Creating a Pattern

This process relies on raised stitches, so worsted or sweater weight yarns work best. Homespun yarns or yarns that have irregular shapes do not work as well.

You will need two contrasting colors, usually a light and a dark work best.

To create the pattern you will need graph paper or a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel. For the sake of this instruction set, I have created a simple block pattern that is 20 stitches wide and 6 stitches high, repeated indefinitely.

After the basic pattern has been created choose which of your two yarn colors you will start with. This will be your "background color" The other color will be the "pattern color". We'll call them "Color 1" and "Color 2". For this set Color 1 will be white and Color 2 will be blue.

The trick to shadow knitting is in reading the pattern. Each single row in the pattern represents 4 knitted rows.

Row 1a - Color 1 - Knit across
Row 1b - Color 1 - Knit and Purl in pattern
Row 1c - Color 2 - Knit Across
Row 1d - Color 2 - Knit and Purl in Pattern

Step 2: Casting on and Beginning Row 1a

Using Color 1, cast on the number of stitches in your pattern.

Step 3: Row 1b - Knit and Purl in Pattern

Follow the pattern knitting where the squares are white and purling where the stitches are black. Since we are on the "wrong side" of the fabric, this will create raised stitches where you knit and a stockinette stitch where you purl.

Looking at the pattern, it shows the first five stitches are Color 1, The next five are Color 2, five of Color 1, five of Color 2. In the first picture I have knitted the first five stitches. To switch between, I move the yarn from the back of the work between the needles to the front so that it looks like the second picture.

Step 4: Row 1c - Introducing Color 2

Switch to Color 2 without cutting Color 1. Knit across in Color 2.

Step 5: Row 1d - Knit and Purl in Pattern.

Remember, this is still "Row 1" of the pattern. This is essentially the opposite of Step 3. In Color 2, you will purl where the blocks are white and knit where they are black.

Once you finish with this, bring Color 1 up behind the work and start your next knit row. This is the start of Row 2a.

Step 6: Continuing the Work...

Continue to work in the same fashion:

Row a - Color 1 - Knit Across
Row b - Color 1 - Knit on the white pattern blocks, purl on the black pattern blocks
Row c - Color 2 - Knit Across
Row d - Color 3 - Purl on the white pattern blocks, Knit on the black pattern blocks

This picture shows rows 1-6 of the initial pattern.

Step 7: Step Back and Admire Your Work

During the process, you can gauge how your work is going by looking down the piece at an angle.

Once your pattern is done, or you are happy with the length of the piece, bind off as normal once you have finished a 'd' row with Color 2.



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    25 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Just came across this! You've given some pretty clear instruction which is fantastic! Anytime I show anyone my scarves they always ask how it works and I've taken to just smiling at them and saying "Math!" :) 
    I learned to do this stuff awhile back, but it's nice to see good clear instructions online after having to teach myself how to do it (and after trying to teach kids to do it)! Here are 2 of mine:


    great instructable!  :D


    8 years ago on Step 7

    Thanks for the Instructable! I've always wanted to know how to do this. :-)


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Hello This is a nice reminder of a stitch I learned years ago in a MON TRICOT now defucnt knitting and crochet magazine thanks for the reminder :) Now with so many people back into knotting what was old is new again hahah I have knitting for over 40 years and crocheting for over 50years and love to see what is done with stitches form all around. thanks and keep up the nice work I love the spell check feature here on this site , funny it asks if the word knitting should be change to knotting hahah . ahh!, I found that funny as we do makes fancey knots on needles don't we?

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm putting together some additional information on shadow knitting for wikipedia, and to enhance this instructable... do you have a copy of the magazine that demonstrates this? That would be a very cool addition.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    My wife knots like a machine, and I should know, we have 2 knitting machines, I asked her about this raised patterns and she was familar with it, I was hoping to surprise her with it. What I am looking for is some kind of program that can take artwork and make a pattern in excel. Right now we have to do it by hand.

    2 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    hi, my students change their artwork on excell sheets. we can work this out. send across your artworks to me at, and we will try to change it fopr you. sonali


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not aware of any such program, but it wouldn't be too hard to develop using PHP and imagemagick. Another idea, Thanks!


    11 years ago on Step 7

    This looks great, and so easy. Thanks, I can' wait to try it.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Kitewife is 2/3 of the way through a scarf like this - it has a skull & cross-bones at each end.

    10 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    She is, but won't admit it. It's not her pattern, though, she found it online (I'll find the url later).


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    [ Here it is.]


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Isn't it Kitewoman? ...unless you're Kitehusband! That sounds... like a honeymoon took a turn for the worse...


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    She prefers Kitewife - she says Kitewoman makes her sound like a medeival serf (like washer-woman, but not so damp).