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Guide to Surface Crochet Embroidery

by Kathryn Vercillo

Surface crochet is a technique for adding embroidery-style designs to your crochet work. There are a few different ways to work surface crochet, the most common of which is with the slip stitch. In this technique, you create a row of slip stitches on the surface of your crochet fabric by pulling loops through from the back of the fabric to the front in the shape of the pattern that you want to design on the front of the work. This article shares how to work this type of crochet. The Mandala Sampler Throw free crochet pattern is used as a reference. Examples of and links to other patterns using the technique can be found at the bottom of the post.

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Common Uses for Surface Slip Stitch Crochet

Here are some of the ways that you can use this technique once you have learned how to do it:

  • Create decorative emblems on your crochet work without adding appliqués.  It is a little bit like drawing on your work with yarn! This is what we will practice below. You can also use the technique to add letters / words on to your crochet work.
  • Use the lines to "outline" your entire project or to outline portions of the project. This is a great way to draw attention to details or provide a perfect contrasting border.
  • Use lines to create a plaid. If you have ever wondered how to make a plaid design in crochet, this is your top choice.
  • Easily add color to a large monochrome crochet project. You can create the entire piece, such as a blanket, quickly in a single color and then use stripes of surface single crochet to add quick pops of color.
  • Smoothing color transitions, especially in tapestry crochet. Some crochet patterns have awkward jagged color changes that can be made to look neater and cleaner with surface crochet at the transitions.
  • Creating additional layers on your work. Surface slip stitch crochet is fairly flat but it adds a second "layer" on to your work that you could then work additional stitches into for a 3-dimensional piece such as a textured flower.
  • Surface slip stitch crochet can also be a unique motif joining method for granny squares and other projects. Dedri over at Look at What I Made has a great zipper joining tutorial showing this off.

How to Surface Slip Stitch Crochet

Mandala Sampler Throw Free Crochet Pattern LW5180

Mandala Sampler Throw

The Mandala Sampler Throw crochet pattern by Bendy Carter is a stunning example of how a basic motif, like the hexagon, can get a dramatic makeover with the addition of even very simple surface crochet. Let's use the instructions from this throw pattern to get an understanding of how to work slip stitch surface crochet. Like many crochet designers, Bendy abbreviates this technique as "surface slip st" and describes it at the beginning of the pattern. Her instructions are as follows:

"Hold yarn on wrong side of piece, insert hook from right side to wrong side in indicated space or stitch, yarn over and draw up a loop (1 loop on hook), *insert hook from right side to wrong side in next indicated space or stitch, yarn over and draw loop through fabric and through loop on hook (one surface slip st made); repeat from * as instructed. Fasten off."

Examining each of these steps in detail provides a solid introduction to the surface crochet technique. Here it is, step-by-step:

1. Hold yarn on wrong side of piece. You are going to be working the surface crochet on the right side of the project, since that is the side that you're going to be looking at when you want to see the design. You start by holding the yarn on the wrong side of the piece, at the back of the work, similar to the way that you start a sewing or embroidery project with the yarn knotted and held at the back of the work and pulled through to the front where you're going to see it.

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2. Insert hook from right side to wrong side in indicated space or stitch. All that you are doing here is inserting your crochet hook through the work where you want to create your stitch, bringing the yarn from the back to the front of the work where you will create your design.

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3. Yarn over and draw up a loop. This is something that you already know how to do from basic crochet. It is the first half of the process of creating your surface slip stitch. When this step is finished you will have 1 loop on hookNote: You will yarn over on the wrong side of the work and bring the loop through to the right side of the work.

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4. Insert hook from right side to wrong side in next indicated space or stitch. You are simply repeating step two here, except that this time you already have one loop on your hook from step 3.

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First part of stitch: yarn over and pull through to front of work

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Second part of stitch: pull all the way through first loop on hook

5. Yarn over and draw loop through fabric and through loop on hook. You will now see the first slip stitch created on the surface of your work. Note: You will yarn over on the wrong side of the work and pull the loop through to the right side and straight through the loop already on the hook.

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6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 as indicated in your pattern. You are making simple slip stitches that are interlocked onto the surface of your crochet fabric, hence the name Surface Slip Stitch.

Slip Stitch Surface Crochet on Mandala Sampler Throw

LW5180 Mandala Throw

Surface slip stitch crochet can be used to create many different types of patterns on your work. This can be as simple as creating straight lines across existing crochet rows or as complex as adding freeform crochet designs by hand in the style of decorative embroidery.

The Mandala Sampler Throw crochet pattern has four different design variations (lines, triangles, diamonds, and curving lines) that provide good practice for exploring the potential of this technique. They all begin with creating dividing lines, which are straight lines that run from the center of a hexagon outwards as well as along the edging of portions of a hexagon. Practicing these will help you get the hang of working slip stitch surface crochet and also allow you to get a sense of what pattern instructions look like for this niche of the craft.

The crochet instructions for the dividing lines from the Mandala Sampler Throw pattern read:  "Hold A on wrong side of piece, insert hook from right side to wrong side through beginning ch-4 ring, yarn over and draw up a loop; **work a line of surface slip sts from beginning ch-4 ring to outer edge, as follows: *Insert hook in corner ch-2 space of next round, yarn over and draw loop through fabric and through loop on hook (one surface slip st made); repeat from * working last surface slip st in corner ch-2 space of Round 15. Work a surface slip st in each st of Round 15 to next corner ch-2 space, work a surface slip st line in corner ch-2 spaces back to beginning ch-4 ring; repeat from ** 2 more times. Fasten off."

In other words ...

  • Take a look at the hexagon you've created and you'll see that the "chain two" spaces in each round create clear dividing lines separating the shape into six equal-sized triangles.
  • Insert your hook, right side to wrong side, through the circle in the center of the hexagon. Draw up a loop.
  • Following along one of the dividing lines created by the chain 2 spaces (working from the center of the hexagon out to the edge), you will be working surface slip stitch crochet with one stitch in each round.
  • After creating the first of your six dividing lines, your hook will be on the outside (round 15) of the hexagon. Continue to surface slip stitch along the edge until you reach the next ch-2 space that indicates the beginning of your second dividing line.
  • Surface slip stitch crochet along that dividing line back to the center (parallel to your first line). You have now crocheted your first "triangle" or "piece of the pie".
  • Repeat the process until you have completed all six dividing lines. Note that you will only have three complete triangles because the outer edge is only worked in every other triangle.

In photos ...

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Tips for Surface Slip Stitch Crochet

  • Turn your crochet work so that you are working the surface slip stitches in the direction that you typically crochet (working right-to-left for right-handed crocheters).
  • Begin practicing this technique with small motifs. This makes it easier to see the hand that is doing the yarn over at the wrong side of the work while also seeing the surface slip stitches forming on the right side of the work.
  • If you find it difficult to start the surface slip stitch with a yarn over, you can begin with a slip knot instead. Make sure that the slip knot is worked on the wrong side of the work so that it is hidden. Proceed with your first yarn over after the slip knot.
  • If your instructions don't clearly indicate where to place your next stitch, it is most likely in the next stitch of the fabric. (Note that if you work vertically across rows instead of horizontally with them then it would be in the next row, not the next stitch.)
  • Notice that the slip stitches look like crochet chains on the right side of the work; they look like simple straight lines on the wrong side of the work.
  • After finishing off, you should weave in your ends on the wrong side of the work. One options is the needle join; Lilla Bjorn has good instructions for this finishing technique.
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Surface Slip Stitch Crochet Patterns

You can add surface crochet to any pattern that you want to enhance with extra design details. Here are some free crochet patterns that incorporate the surface slip stitch technique:

Give Thanks Banner Free Crochet Pattern LW4986

Give Thanks Banner

Christmas Tree Scrubby Free Crochet Pattern LW5018

Christmas Tree Scrubby

Lacy Fall Throw Free Crochet Pattern LW4293

Lacy Fall Throw

Daisy Garden Blanket Free Crochet Pattern LW4811

Daisy Garden Blanket

Lucky Ladybug Throw Free Crochet Pattern LW4931

Lucky Ladybug Throw

Guide to Surface Crochet Embroidery