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What is Drop-Needle Stitching?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Drop-needle stitching is a commercial knitting technique which is used to create a specific look in a garment. A garment which features drop-needle stitching has a slightly ribbed effect, with thin parallel lines, dots, or other designs formed in a material at set intervals. The technique is similar to a dropped or slipped stitch in hand knitting, and the end results look very similar. Drop-needle stitching is used in garments to create openwork designs, areas in which the tight knit gives way to a lacy pattern, or to make a particular style of knitted ribbing.

The term refers to using an industrial knitting machine, which has a row of needles knitting simultaneously, rather than a single pair of knitting needles. Knitting machines have been used to produce affordable commercial knits for hundreds of years, with early models producing basic stitches as early as the 1500s. On an industrial knitting machine, yarn is loaded onto a bed of needles, which can be used to create a wide variety of patterns. To accomplish drop-needle stitching, a single needle is disengaged so that it will not knit a stitch. Depending on the model, drop-needle stitching can be programmed into the knitting machine, or accomplished through hand manipulation.

The needle is usually re-engaged after the single dropped stitch, which gives drop-needle stitching a ladder-like look, and ensures that the integrity of the garment will not be compromised by too many skipped stitches. Drop-needle stitching is highly versatile, and it can be used to make all sorts of openwork patterns ranging from single points of missed stitches, creating a dot pattern, to regular ribbing. In the area of the garment with drop-needle stitching, the skin or underlying garment of the wearer will be visible.

In hand knitting, a similar effect is achieved through a slipped stitch or yarnover. To do a yarnover, a knitter slips a loop of yarn from the needle being worked to the needle holding the finished work. For right handed knitters, this means that a loop is passed from the left needle to the right needle. The end result is a small hole in the knit. More complex yarnovers involve twisting the yarn to create a plaited or braided look. A yarnover can also be used to work an increase into a knitting project, by knitting a stitch normally and slipping it over as well, leaving two stitches where there was one before.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By LisaLou — On Jul 31, 2011

I enjoy the ribbed look that a drop needle stitch makes. Whenever I am learning a new knitting technique, I start out with a small pattern to make sure I am doing it right before tackling a larger project.

The first item I made using this stitch was a scarf. I like to find new patterns and stitches to try, and once I got the hang of it, I enjoyed the look it created.

Since that first scarf, I have gone on to make a sweater as well. I still use the scarf and have even made a few to give as gifts as well. These kind of gifts are always well received.

By Mykol — On Jul 30, 2011

One of the warmest sweaters I have ever worn was made by a friend of mine. She knit this sweater using Merino wool yarn and used a drop stitch pattern.

Since I am not a knitter, I don't know how long it took her to make this beautiful sweater for me, but I have really enjoyed it - especially on those cold days when I am looking for something really warm to put on.

By starrynight — On Jul 30, 2011

@ceilingcat - It is funny how some things that are mistakes can also be part of the design. A yarn over is the same: people often do this as a mistake when they first start knitting. But it's also a technique used to make an increase or make a lace pattern.

It's my personal theory that all these things were once a "mistake" and some enterprising knitting decided to call it part of the pattern instead.

By ceilingcat — On Jul 30, 2011

I've knitted a few garments that feature a dropped stitch pattern. It's really hard to get used to doing, because most of the time when you're knitting you're trying not to drop any stitches! Then all of a sudden the pattern tells you to do it.

I really like the look of a dropped stitch pattern. So far I've made both a sweater and a scarf featuring dropped stitches. There is also one really popular hand knitting pattern call the Clapotis that uses a drop stitch pattern that I want to make. I have so many other things on that list who knows when I'll get around to it though!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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