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One of the things that people can find tricky with intarsia is managing the yarns. For years, when anyone mentioned intarsia I had cold sweats at the thought of plastic bobbins and tangled balls of yarn. Today I’m here to tell you that there is another way …

Pull from the tangle.

And the secret to the tangle is that your strands of yarn don’t want to be too long. Like a tween who doesn’t enjoy brushing their hair, the secret to keeping your sanity is that the hair (or in our case yarn) shouldn’t be too long.

Indulge me in a second of geekery as I explain that the longer your strand of yarn, the more possibility there is for entropy to increase. Entropy is the concept of chaos, and over time, entropy (or chaos) will always increase. Decreasing entropy (tidying up, or in our case, untangling yarn) takes energy, and it takes much more energy to keep things ordered than it does to allow them to get tangled.

Embrace the tangle—it is scientifically proven to be easier. My inner Chemistry Teacher LOVES it when she can use science in the context of knitting. But I digress …

This idea of pulling from the tangle is a game-changer for becoming an intarsi-lover, so what do I mean?

Say No to Balls and Bobbins

Instead of working from full balls of yarn, or messing around with bobbins, use lengths of yarn that hang free and do their own thing. They will tangle a bit as you work along your row, but as long as each strand isn’t too long, it will be easy enough to just pull the one you need out of the tangle. You don’t even need to pull the working strand completely free—as long as you pull enough to knit a few stitches, you will be golden.

So how long is long enough? Once you are an experienced intarsi-er, then you’ll be able to eyeball what you need, but to get you going I’ve made a video tutorial to show you a top tip for estimating the length of yarn required for a patch of color.

Estimating Length and Joining Yarns

This video is a double feature, as it also includes a section on how to join in that new color. The video is divided into chapters, and you’ll see the headings as you scroll along the time bar at the bottom of the screen, so do feel free to skip to the part you want to watch.

Hopefully at this point you are all nodding along, and feeling the joy of embracing the tangle, but at some point around now, someone will stick their hand up to ask about ends. “If you’re only using relatively short lengths of yarn, doesn’t that mean that you’ll be endlessly having to join in new yarns, and that you’ll end up with a BAJILLION ends to weave in?”

The Joy of the Felted Join

Let me introduce you to the joy that is the Felted Join. It’s simple, and if you don’t mind licking your hand, requires zero equipment! On top of which, it leaves no extra ends …

When the piece of yarn you are using starts to get a bit short, you can simply join in another length with this invisible wizardry. This video shows you the way:

I hope that with these tricks under your belt, you’ll feel really confident diving in to any of the designs in Field Guide No. 16: Painterly. I am loving knitting the Watercolor Cowl—the possibilities for color combinations are endless. And now that I’m pulling from the tangle like an intarsi-pro, there’s no stopping me! I hope you’ll join me!

Jen’s Watercolor Cowl Shade List 

Background shades: Rowan Felted Tweed in Celadon and Pine—the pattern calls for one of each.

Contrast colors: Rowan Felted Tweed in Carbon, Ginger, Amethyst, Avocado, Gilt, Watery, Camel, Maritime, Frozen, Iris, Vaseline Green, Zinnia, Barbara, Turquoise, Clay—the pattern calls for one each of fourteen contrast colors, but Jen’s thrown in another for more play in her palette.

[Editor’s Note: Our Bundles of Ten would also work wonderfully for the Watercolor Cowl.]

This Could Come in Handy

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About The Author

We think Jen Arnall-Culliford is flat-out brilliant. Jen is one of the knitting world’s superb technical editors and teachers, and the star of the tutorial videos.

Cheerful. Cool headed. Supersmart. To take lessons from Jen ups our knitting game, every time.


  • On Saturday I had the good fortune to join a Zoom gathering that included Kaffe Fassett and other artists as part of Melanie Falick’s Making a Life series. Kaffe held up his current knitting — intarsia with a tangle hanging off the back of it. He cheerfully said that if the tangle got too bad and he could not free the strand he wanted, he’d cut it off and introduce a new one!

    • I was on that call as well and loved his tangle! My daughter was the dancer to whom he offered advice. She was in a ballet class during the call and I cannot wait for the recording so she can hear what he and Erin said!

  • Does this method work with superwash wool yarn?

    • Sorry – that was a bit brisk! I meant the felted join – and thank you!

      • Hi Julia! No, I’m afraid that for the felted join to work, it needs a yarn that would felt. If you want to join a superwash yarn in a similar way, then I’d recommend the Russian Join (a google search will bring up video tutorials I’m sure). I hope that helps! 🙂

  • would love to see a video of “pulling from the tangle”… just watching someone knit away for 10 minutes, see how this works. I’m so close to ordering painterly because I’m so intrigued by all the videos but… I ineed to see this tangle before I jump in. So much to knit… so little time! Thank you for all the wonderful tools you offer us!

    • If you watch the estimating yarn quantities video, I knit across the row at around the 3 minute mark, and I am talking through things, but you can see me pull from the tangle a couple of times. I hope that helps!

  • These videos are invaluable… I have never done Intarsia or even changed colours in a pattern before so this is going to be a challenging project as I am doing the Kite’s throw. I couldn’t get my mind around how much yarn to use or how to join them so now I am ready to start once my wool arrives…thank you so much.

    • I’m so glad it was helpful to you! 🙂

  • I almost fainted, when she broke off one of the plys, while felting the two ends together. That will solve my lump problem I sometimes get when felting two ends together. I have always used bobins and I can’t wait to throw them away.

  • I am entranced by this whole “pull from the tangle” idea! It feels like a metaphor for my life at the moment! Maybe the whole world!

  • Thank you Jen! Your videos are so helpful. I am also knitting the Watercolor cowl and when you reach row 12, the first wrong side row after completing the little square, do you carry the darker color across the 5 stitches of the top of the square or do you start with another strand of yarn. I hope that makes sense.

    • That’s one of the next videos! 😀 I carried what is the darker yarn in the pattern (and daftly the lighter yarn in my cowl – sorry about that!) along the top of the final row of the contrast colour square. That puts the darker yarn in the right place for the first wrong side row after the square. I do hope that helps!

      • Thank you, more than helpful! ❤️

        • I was wondering about that too. Thank you!

  • Thank you so much both videos were so useful!

  • Started this cowl and for the first time doing intarsia without bobbins. LOVING IT!

  • I love the idea of a felted join. Does it work on super wash wool? Thank you!

  • Thanks that’s a really helpfull articles.
    The technic in video is so great.

  • Forget the balls and bobbins, YES! That was my revelation in the early 90s, when I discovered Kaffe‘s work and that’s been my way with intarsia ever since…

  • I have a question about twisting the yarn when you are working on the diagonal. Do you still always go anti clockwise?

  • Great videos! Thank you for the clear instructions!

  • Absolutely wonderful videos on Intarsia. Explained all my topics for the watercolor cowl super clearly and taking the fear out of the soon-to-come tangle mess. Just terrific. Thank you.

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