Illusion shawl formula

Since the old place finally kicked the bucket I rescued this tutorial from there. Wayback machine remembered :laughing: It’s been a while since I wrote it and hopefully my small corrections in transfering it here didn’t mess anthing up.

I made this shawl for the “Make Me Something Fibre Made”-swap and I’m very pleased with the way it turned out. The chart comes from Ysoldes Skull illusion scarf that’s no longer available, but any chart can be used as long as it’s not too wide. I had to flip the chart upside down to get the skulls right way up on the shawl.


Close up on the illusion:


Curling is a problem with illusion projects, but since the “wings” of the shawl are knitted in garter stitch I managed to mostly avoid the problem. I removed one stitch from each side of the chart since the sides of the shawl will prevent it from curling.

It helps to be familiar with shadow knitting, but ask me if anything is unclear and I’ll try to explain or point you to a shadow knitting tutorial.

General notes:

  • The colour will change every other row, and to make sure the edge is nice and neat you should purl the last stitch on every row and slip the first stitch of every row as if to knit. The new yarn colour goes in front of the “old” one at every change.

  • The first row of every colour is ALWAYS knitted, and the second row is where the magic happens. This means that if you flip a chart upside down you should still knit the first row and then follow the chart for the second.

  • Increases in the sides and around the chart are done on the first row of every colour. I increased less often at the start for my shawl, but every other row should work better. (that’s why the top edge is not completely straight)

I used Marks & Kattens Carolina, 2 skeins black and 2 skeins pink.
Long circular US 6 / 4.0 mm needle. It helps if it can be extended as you go. (I used my Denise set)

Gauge is not terribly important as long as the fabric is not too loose. You’ll want it dense but still with a nice drape.

General formula:
CO the number of stitches for the chart + 4 extra stitches. I’ve used bolded rows to indicate the colour changes between main colour and contrast colour.

You might want to knit a few more stripes using only increases and garter stitch before starting the chart to combat curling.

Row 1: k2, YO, knit chart stitches, YO, k1, p1 (chart +6)
Row 2: Slip 1, knit to end, p1
Row 3: Slip 1, k1, YO, k1, YO, (place marker) knit chart stitches (place marker), YO, k1, YO, k1, p1 (chart +10)
Row 4: Slip 1, knit to marker, follow chart to marker, knit until end, p1
Row 5: Slip 1, k1, YO, knit to marker, YO before the marker, follow chart until marker, YO, knit until 2 stitches remain, YO, k1, p1 (chart +18)
Row 6: Slip 1, knit to marker, follow chart to marker, knit until end, p1
Row 7: Slip 1, k1, YO, knit to marker, YO before the marker, follow chart until marker, YO, knit until 2 stitches remain, YO, k1, p1 (chart +14)
Row 8: Slip 1, knit to marker, follow chart to marker, knit until end, p1

Rinse and repeat. When the shawl is large enough you should add a couple of garter stitch rows at the end of the middle panel to make sure the bottom doesn’t curl up. Cast off loosely.

I’ll polish the tutorial a bit so feel free to ask questions and suggest what I can clarify!


Craftster tutorial for designing your own illusion charts (Wayback machine):
Instructables turorial:

The basic idea behind illusion knitting is to use the two yarn colours to create an optical illusion. You can’t use colours that are too close together but dark blue + light blue works just fine for example. If in doubt take a photo and make it black and white to check contrast.

Each part of the pattern consists of 4 rows, 2 in each colour. Row 1 and 3 is always knitted and just serves to space out the pattern and make the stripes look nice.

The magic happens in row 2 and 4 where alternating knits and purls decides what colour the illusion will get. Knitting on the wrong side produces bumps on the right side that will make that particular colour show.

Knitting colour A + Purling colour B = Colour A shows

Knitting colour B + Purling colour A = Colour B shows

Knitting colour A + knitting colour B = You get a mix between the two and can “shade” your knitting.

From my experience it’s easier if the pattern repeat is not huge, since you might not see the entire illusion at once unless you lay your garment flat and look at it from the right angle.

If you like purling more than knitting, you can of course purl the odd rows instead and just reverse the instructions above.



Thanks for explaining this technique! I have always admired it but was not sure how it worked!

The shawl is awesome…

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This is SO rad!


I have never seen this technique before! How cool!

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I’ve never seen that effect before, really cool!

I don’t knit, so the directions are quite mysterious.

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It is! And it’s really quite doable for an adventurous newbie.

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I think I fall into that category. I’m not much of a knitter (yet!).

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I can’t do anything with yarn but this is super cool!

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I love illusions knitting. Great description as well!

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