Learn the Butterfly Stitch

A Popular and Simple Knit Stitch

Butterfly Stitch
Butterfly Stitch worked over 19 stitches. (c) Sarah E. White, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The butterfly stitch is a great pattern for advanced beginner knitters. While the end product might look intimidating, the pattern is actually pretty simple. The slipped stitches are gathered together to form delicate butterfly-like wings which are where the stitch gets its name. It's also referred to as the smocking stitch.   

When to Use the Butterfly Stitch 

This is a great stitch to add a little decoration to a baby blanket or a ladies scarf. It's also good for knitters who would like to add some texture to their work without dealing with tricky cable stitches.

You can also use the butterfly stitch to narrow sections of a garment that are too wide with little change to the original pattern.

Butterfly Stitch Pattern

The pattern is worked over multiples of 10 stitches plus 9 stitches. For example, use 39, 49, or 59 total stitches for the pattern. It requires 20 rows to complete one series of two butterfly rows.

You will notice that the butterflies are offset within the two repeats of the pattern. This is a nice way to avoid stacking the butterfly pattern and adds to its appeal in the finished garment.

  • Rows 1, 3, 5, 7, 9: Knit 2. *Move yarn to the front of the work, slip 5 stitches, move yarn to back, knit 5 stitches. Repeat from *, end last repeat with knit 2.
  • Rows 2, 4, 6, 8: Purl.
  • Row 10: Purl 4. *Pick up loose strands with the right-hand needle, slip strands onto left-hand needle and purl together with the next stitch, purl 9. Repeat from *, end purl 4.
  • Rows 11, 13, 15, 17, 19: Knit 7. *Move yarn to the front of the work, slip 5 stitches, move yarn to back, knit 5. Repeat from *, end last repeat with knit 7.
  • Rows 12, 14, 16, 18: Purl.
  • Row 20: Purl 3. *Pick up loose strands with the right-hand needle, slip strands onto left-hand needle and purl together with the next stitch, purl 9. Repeat from *, end last repeat with purl 3.

Repeat these rows for the pattern.

Essential Tips

  • It's best to keep the working yarn loose behind the slipped stitches. If you pull too tightly, it will make it very difficult to pick up the loose strands when completing the butterfly.
  • If you're making a scarf or similar garment, cast on any additional stitches you need for the borders. It's also a good idea to knit a few foundation rows before starting the pattern. This will establish a nice border, just be sure to repeat it at the end of the scarf. 
  • The basic garter stitch or ribbed stitch are nice options for borders. These will not only frame your butterfly pattern but also help your scarf lay flat by preventing the ends and edges from curling up.
  • If you look at other patterns for the butterfly stitch, you may notice the abbreviation wyif. This means "with yarn in front" and it is the same as "move yarn to the front of the work" used in the pattern above. Similarly, wyib means "with yarn in back."