All About Intarsia Knitting

So what is intarsia knitting?

Intarsia knitting is a knitting technique that involves knitting with blocks of color in various shapes and designs. When you change colors, you don’t strand the colors you are not working with across the back of your knitting as you would normally do for stranded knitting or fair isle. This keeps the knitted piece one single thickness throughout.

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intarsia knitting

Intarsia knitting can be lots of fun, as you get to mix colors while you knit. You do however need to understand this knitting technique, as it is easy to end up with holes in your knitting when you change colors if you don’t.

You can knit intarsia in both stocking stitch or garter stitch. The yarns are twisted around each other when you do the color changes to prevent holes forming in your knitting.

Intarsia cannot be worked in the round, as the yarn will end up in the wrong position and you would have to cut and reattach the yarn on each row and thus be left with multiple ends to weave in.

This beginners guide to Intarsia Knitting was written by Suzie Johnson and it is 96 pages of gold. It will teach you all you need to know about Intarsia Knitting and you will be able to try some lovely patterns including a star blanket, flamingo sweater or even a fox cushion.

If you’ve never done intarsia before, it can seem intimidating. Just remember that you are only holding one strand of yarn at a time like you do when you do normal knitting, so how hard can it really be?

Here is a simple rule for remembering how to twist the yarns at the color change:

  • Hold the old color to the left
  • Pick up the new color from underneath (and to the right of) the old color
  • Begin working with the new color.

The trick is to cross the yarns on the wrong side at each color change to prevent a hole in your knitting. When doing stocking stitch this is easier because the yarn is just where it needs to be, at the front or back of the knitting, as you come to it. In garter stitch, however, when you are knitting wrong side rows, you have to bring the yarn forward between the needles to allow that yarn crossing to happen on the wrong side of your knitting.

You can visit this site for a detailed explaination on how to knit garter stitch with the use of a chart or watch the video below.

If working with a chart, it is better photocopy your chart. In this way you can enlarge it to make it easier to read and you can also use a ruler so you eye can follow each line better.

Sometimes it also helps to cross off the rows as you work so that you know where you are in your knitting.

Preparation For Intarsia Knitting

If you do not wish to have a whole ball of yarn attached to your knitting while you knit intarsia, you can use a yarn bobbin like the ones below, or you can wrap the yarn in small plastic bags to keep it neat and separate. You would need to cut each color separately according to your needs. This takes a bit of preparation before you start to knit, but eliminates all the yarn tangling up into a messy knot while you are knitting.

If you don’t have a yarn bobbin, try winding the yarn around your fingers in the form of a figure of eight. Carefully remove the yarn and cut before putting into the small bags. When using a bobbin pull the yarn from the centre of the bobbin a little at a time and keep it as close to the work as possible to avoid tangling.

You could have many bobbins or balls of colour hanging from the reverse of your work. To prevent these from becoming tangled and knotted, it is definitely a good idea to keep these in good order as explained above.

You can roughly calculate how much yarn you will use for each area of color as follows:

  • Count the number of stitches used by each colour. Wrap the yarn around the knitting needle you will be using ten times. This will show you how much yarn 10 stitches would use. Measure this piece of yarn and multiply this by the number of stitches, for example: if 10 sts = 16cm, then 90 sts = 9 x 16 =144 cm.
  • Allow enough yarn to get from one row up to the next. To allow for the fact that you may also need to travel across some stitches when there is a small gap it is a good idea to add an extra 2 stitches worth of yarn for every row of colour.
  • Allow enough yarn (about 15cm) for the tail end which will hang at the beginning and the end of the motif.

Finishing Off

It is a good idea to sew your ends in as you go along if you have any. Thread a large tapestry needle with the end of the yarn and swe around the outside of the shape you have created weaving the yarn in and out of the points where the colors have been crossed. Try to sew in the direction that will close up gaps and be sure not to make any holes larger.

Pull your fabric slightly to make sure that the sewn stitches haven’t been worked too tightly and secure by swing the yarn over itself a couple of times. Cut the yarn, but leave a few cms on the end to prevent the yarn end from coming undone during washing and wearing.

If you find you have made a small mistake in your intarsia knitting, it’s possible to just Swiss darn over small areas of color to correct at the end.

Intarsia knitting is seeing a big come back in popularity at the moment, with lots of new and modern designs being published, as well as intarsia jumpers being popular again on the fashion scene.

This book (Knit Your Story In Yarn) is a great way to try out various intarsia patterns within one project.

Try knitting these motifs to create a gorgeous and meaningful quilt, shawl, project bag, pillow, bunting, or other project.

I can’t wait to try this as it looks like great fun to do.

Please feel free to comment below if you have any questions.

5 thoughts on “All About Intarsia Knitting”

  1. Hi, Michel. Thanks for sharing this interesting recreation which is knitting! I think knitting intarsia is easy if you follow a couple of rules. I love how you provided us with a detailed process of intarsia knitting and you also have helpful tips for us, so we can design and finish our own intarsia projects the right way. 

    I’ve been researching knitting after reading your article and I came across Fair Isle Knitting… Are they the same? With the Intarsia knitting? 

    Reply
    • The difference between fair isle and intarsia is that with fair isle, the threads are carried across the back of the garment, thus it looks like loops at the back of your knitting. With intarsia, you twist the colors together as you knit, so there are no or very few loops at the back.

      Reply
  2. Hi Michel,

    What an informative piece on Intarsia knitting. My grandma was very fond of knitting and would spend hours at night knitting her heart away.

    I think for some people knitting can be relaxing. I enjoy the creativity that can come from knitting. I didn´t know that much about Intarsia knitting until I came across your website.

    I also watched the 20 minutes Youtube video on Intarsia Knitting which goes more into detail. I am more of a visual person so that was an extra bonus.

    I love the color scheme!

    Reply
    • Thanks for stopping by Dana. What I love about knitting is there are so many different patterns and stitches to do, as well as so many things to make that one can never get bored.

      Reply
  3. Hi Michel! Thank you for this article! I’ve always wanted to learn how to knit and this has helped me to learn more about different techniques to try. The detail you’ve provided here is really helpful! I love lots of color so the intarsia knitting technique will be something I’ll try for sure. Some of my favorite items are hand knit blankets that have been given to me as gifts from family members. I’m excited to try it out myself. Thanks so much for the tips! 

    Reply

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