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An Introduction to Intarsia

July 7th, 2014

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This column by Barbara Breiter, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting & Crocheting, originally appeared in The Weekly Stitch newsletter.

Intarsia is a simple technique that allows you to knit with multiple colors across a row without carrying the yarn along the back of the work (as you would in stranded knitting). Instead, a separate ball of yarn—or bobbin of yarn to avoid the balls becoming all tangled—is used for each block of color. The more color blocks you are knitting, the more helpful bobbins will be.

What is Intarsia?

By changing colors at the same point in every row, you could knit vertical stripes or create blocks of color, but intarsia can be used for much more complex designs as well. There are many geometric designs that use this technique such as the following:

Blazing Blocks Afghan Animal Talk Cardigan Crochet Intarsia Brocade Poetic Color Pullover
Knit Blazing Blocks Afghan Knit Animal Talk Cardigan Crochet Intarsia Brocade Afghan Knit Poetic Colors Pullover

When to Use Intarsia

Essentially, intarsia is good for patterns where large sections of the design are various colors, as opposed to stranded knitting or tapestry crochet, which are often used for smaller, more detailed patterns.

Now that you understand the basic concept of intarsia, perhaps you want to try one of the patterns above. For this, you’ll want to purchase or make your own bobbins.

How to Use a Bobbin

  1. Bobbins can be found in any yarn store; in lieu of them, you can use a piece of cardboard with slits cut in both ends.
  2. Wind each color yarn around the bobbin, using one bobbin for each color. The bobbins hang freely from the back of your work and as you need to use a color, unwind a small amount at a time. This keeps them from getting tangled. Note: If you are knitting a section that requires only a few stitches, you can use unwound strands instead; it’s generally best to keep them shorter than about 36”.
  3. When it’s time to change colors, be sure the new color you are about to use is twisted around the old color.
  4. Pick up the new color from under the old color. Note: If you skip this step, you’ll have a hole where the colors change. It will be readily seen within two sts; rip back and try again.

For more on intarsia, please click here for our blog post. 

For patterns featuring intarsia, click here

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