Untangling Entrelac by Carol Wyche

Entrelac didn't interest me for a long time. All that knitting, turning, purling back, switching colors, changing angles, picking up and joining. It was a really pretty effect, but it sure looked like a lot of work. Then I tried it one day and found out what they didn't tell you. It's also a lot of fun. Almost addictive.

Those of you who know how to knit backwards as well as forwards, will find that it simplifies and speeds up entrelac immensely, but just knitting and purling works perfectly well, so don't let not knowing how to knit backwards stop you.

The Structure of Entrelac
Entrelac is a series of building blocks, one row leaning right and one leaning left. It's started with a straight cast-on, then a row of triangles for a foundation. Then alternating rows, starting with an intial triangle, then rectangles, and ending with a row of triangles. It is most easily done with short rows - increasing rather than decreasing short rows.

In the sample piece I have made the beginning triangles, initial triangle of every row, and bind off row of triangles a different color to make it easier to see the construction. It is more usual to have all the sections in one row be the same color.

Click on picture for a large version

Here is the color key for the sample piece.
Bright turquoise - the cast on row
blue gray - beginning triangles on each row
dark blue - first row of triangles, leans left
medium blue - first and third rows of rectangles, lean right
medium turquoise - second and fourth row of rectangles, lean left
dark blue - last row - the bind off, leans right
Here is the pattern for a practice piece you can knit today, written for knitting and purling. If you know how to knit forwards and backwards , you're welcome to do that. Substitute knit backwards for purl, and k2tog (to the right, of course) for p2tog.

The Entrelac Practice Piece

Materials: any bulky, worsted or sport weight yarn, needles size 5, 6, or 7 or so, whatever suits the yarn and you.

Cast on on 24 stitches
We're going to make 4 triangles in short rows. You could do it by decreasing but then you end up on the point of the triangle and have to break the yarn and start over. We're going to do it by increasing, so your last row brings you back down the side to the cast-on row to start your next triangle.
The cast-on goes essentially left to right, and the first row goes right to left. Left and right are going to become very familiar to you when working entrelac.


  1. k2, turn
  2. slip 1, p1, turn
  3. slip 1, k2, turn
  4. slip 1, p2, turn
  5. slip 1, k3, turn
  6. slip 1, p3, turn
  7. slip 1, k4, turn
  8. slip 1, p4, turn
  9. slip 1, k5, turn
  10. slip 1, p5, turn
  11. slip 1, k5, turn
  12. and 13. repeat rows 10 and 11 (or just use 11 rows and fudge on the pickup)
Now make the next triangle, starting with the next two stitches. If you think you'll lose your place, use a stitch marker. Make 4 triangles the same way, using up all 24 stitches on the cast on row. The triangles seem to be little lumps hanging from your needle, but persevere.
The rectangle rows:
Each rectangle row starts and ends with a little triangle. I left out the turns, since you can figure that out by now.

Starting triangle, left end.

  1. p2
  2. sl 1, k1
  3. sl 1, inc 1, p2tog w/ 1st live stitch from other needle.
  4. sl 1, k2
  5. sl 1, inc 1, p1, p2tog w/next live stitch
  6. sl 1, k3
  7. sl 1, inc 1, p2, p2tog w/ next live stitch
  8. sl 1, k4
  9. sl 1, inc. 1, p3, p2tog w/ next live stitch
  10. sl 1, k5
  11. sl 1, inc 1,p 4, p2tog w/ last live stitch
  12. sl 1, k 5
  13. sl 1, p5

Now go "over the hill" and pick up six stitches to make

Right leaning rectangle:
(no increasing or decreasing this time, only joining)

  1. slip 1, k5
  2. slip 1, p4, p2tog w/ next live stitch
  3. slip 1, k5
  4. slip 1, p4, p2tog w/ next live stitch
Continue this way until the live stitches from the next section are all used up. After the last p2tog join turn and slip and go back uphill, then come back downhill again. Now, move on to the next rectangle, by picking up six stitches from the side of the triangle below.
You end on the right. Next row will be left leaning.

Start with the left leaning triangle.

  1. k2
  2. sl 1, p1
  3. sl 1, inc 1, ssk w/ next live stitch,
and so on...
You will make the same sideways triangle as before: slip 1, increase, work to end and join with the next live stitch; turn, slip and work back uphill - but this time you will increase and do your joining on the knit side, and purl back.

Then make a set of left leaning rectangles, reversing the way you did the right leaning rectangles; join on the knit side, slip and work back on the purl side.

  1. pick up 6 stitches
  2. sl 1, p5, turn
  3. sl 1, k4, ssk w/ next live stitch
and so on...

Binding off as you go - the last set of triangles
Make the beginning triangle the same as any beginning triangle, until you get 5 stitches on the left needle. Then sl 1, inc 1, bind off those two, then bind off the remaining stitches of the beginning triangle as you knit each one, except for the last stitch.

Pick up 6 stitches down the next valley, as usual. You will have 7 stitches on the left needle, one from the beginning triangle, and 6 from the current pickup.

  1. slip 1, work 5 to the left, turn and bind off the last 1 of the picked up stitches with the remaining stitch from the beginning triangle.
  2. slip 1, work 5 to the right and join to the next live stitch as usual.
  3. slip 1, work 6 to the left, turn, and bind off 1 stitch
  4. slip 1, work 5 to the right and join to the next live stitch

Continue doing this, as if making the usual rectangle but binding off one stitch each time you come to "the top of the hill" until you have bound off the entire 6 stitch section, leaving only 1 stitch on the needle, then pick up for the next section and so on, until all stitches are bound off.

More about Entrelac
As you can see by my bad example hat, there can be a problem, especially with high contrast yarns, of color A showing through and making a little stripe in Color B. One way to avoid this is to work one full row in the color to be used next, knitting the live stitches and picking up all your pickup stitches at once before starting your beginning triangle. If you do this, it can be helpful to put markers at each "hilltop" where the live stitches stop and the pickup stitches begin, and each "valley" where the pickup stitches end and the live stitches begin. This is easier when working in the round than it is when working flat. Working flat you need to join your new color at the "wrong end" of the work and knit or purl the pickup row back to your proper beginning point.

What you can do with entrelac.
  • make the sections as large or as small as you wish.
  • shape by increasing or decreasing the number of stitches in each section, or by judicious binding off (say for an armhole, or neckline)
  • change color every row
  • change color every section
  • work it all in one color
  • use a shaded yarn or a painted yarn for very nice effects
  • work different stitch or lace patterns, all in the same color or varying color, too.

Here are some interesting published patterns you can use to learn about entrelac.

  1. Meg's Sweaters by Meg Swansen, pp. 32-35, Knitter's Magazine, Summer 92. No. 27.
    This is a pattern for a pullover knit in the round with an entrelac yoke, in natural colored 2 play Icelandic wool. There is a discussion on calculating the size and number of the rectangles needed, along with the pattern. On page 34, there is a tam in entrelac to match the sweaters. I think the same or a very similar pattern is probably available in the Spun Off Series, from Woolgathering, SchoolHouse Press.
  2. Sidna Farley, in the same issue,
    has a tunic-length pullover in the round, knitted entirely in entrelac, in case you're so taken with it you just have to do more than a yoke.
  3. Entrelac Ensemble by Maureen Egan Emlet, pp. 37-39, Interweave Knits, No. 4, Winter 97.
    This is a tam and fingerless mitts set, with entrelac and popcorns, and some plain stockinette for relief. It has a small sidebar explaining knitting backwards, and its use for entrelac and for popcorns.
  4. Entrelac Vest by Dianne Sinclair, pp. 50-52, Spin-Off, Fall 98.
    This is an utterly gorgeous vest in postage stamp sized entrelac, all done with one strand of a multicolored yarn, not by changing colors.
  5. Square for the Great American Afghan by Bette Anne Lampers, pp. 34-35, Knitter's., No. 46, Spring 97.
    This is a one color entrelac with different knit-purl patterns in the different sections. The Great American Afghan is also published separately and sold by Knitter's, with all the afghan square patterns in it.
  6. Entrelace by Heather Lodinsky, pp. 34-36, Knitter's, No. 50, Spring 98.
    This is an oversized knit blouse in cotton (linen would probably wear and drape better) using the Windmill pattern from Barbara Walker in entrelac squares.

copyright cjwyche, 2000