Little Lessons: Intarsia 101
Are you team intarsi-yes, or team intarsi-no?!
I was a card-carrying member of team intarsi-not-over-my-dead-body for more years that I would care to admit. I had a bad experience with intarsia in my fifth knitting project (I was ambitious to learn new things right from the start, what can I say?), and I totally blamed intarsia.
But it turns out it wasn’t intarsia’s fault, and since then I’ve had a radical conversion. I am here to tell you that you too can join me in team intarsi-yes.
It’s a wonderful place to be! The colors! The shapes! No stranding! Just fabulous knitting. Come and join us, I’ll show you the way!
If you’re already an intarsi-fan, then have at it! Field Guide No. 16: Painterly is full of glorious projects to work on, and do watch my video tutorials below, as there’s always something new to learn, and maybe I have a tip you’ve not seen before.
If you are previously intarsi-scarred, or feeling a bit wary of the technique, I recommend stacking your chances of intarsi-success as high as possible. (I’ll ease on the intarsi-puns in a minute.) Here are my three utterly straightforward Intarsia 101 tips.
Go for Sticky
Tip Number 1: Use a yarn that will help keep your intarsia looking neat. A little bit sticky, and a little bit springy: Rowan Felted Tweed is a fabulous option. Its wool and alpaca content means that it will block beautifully, and your stitches will even up magnificently. Slippery yarns are best avoided, as they make it harder to keep things even.
Tip Number 2: Choose a design where the color changes happen in vertical lines and the blocks of color are larger. My first pattern of choice is the Cityscape Scarf from Field Guide No. 16: Painterly. Kaffe Fassett has designed this with nice and sturdy blocks of color for you to build your intarsi-skills. (I’m making myself weep here!)
The Fewer the Merrier
And Tip Number 3: Keep the number of different colors in each row manageable for your first project. The Cityscape Scarf uses three or four colors on each row, which means that you aren’t juggling too many colors. Once you’ve got the hang of things, it’s very straightforward to progress to lots of colors on each row, but just to get going, I’d say a lower number is better.
With those choices in hand, you can dive in to the knitting …
Intarsia is just a way of joining sections of color. That’s all. It’s no big deal. Patterns usually use the mystical words, “Twist yarns around each other at the join,” or something similar. As a new knitter I had zero idea what that meant. I decided that I would make sure that they were well twisted, and of course that made a terrible mess. Really, it’s just a case of how you put down the old yarn and then pick up the new yarn. I’ve made a video tutorial to show you how to do it, so that you get a satisfyingly neat join:
As you move from one yarn to the next, you pass the old yarn counter-clockwise, over the new yarn, which you pick up in the counter-clockwise direction too.
Look at those joins! The wrong side of the work is just as GORGEOUS as the right side is. Where you change from one yarn to the next, you get these nubbly loops of yarn linking arms with each other, and it’s ever so pleasing.
At this point it’s all sounding do-able, right? I hope so!
What happens next is that you grab your needles and pattern, and you cast on. You work a few inches (or centimeters, although you’ll need to work more of them) and then you take a long hard look at your knitting, and you mutter a few choice words directed at me.
Your knitting isn’t looking as neat as you would like it to?! It’s all straggly and loosey-goosey where you’ve started and ended each section of color?
Don’t panic! This is TOTALLY normal. You need to weave in your ends, and in doing so you will transform that loosey-goosey-ness into tidy and pleasing, joy-filled knitting.
Every time I start an intarsia project I get that sense of panic after I finish a repeat and it’s not looking up to scratch. It’s part of the process—like starting a run and your legs saying nooooooo. (That still happens to me every time I put on my trainers and I’ve been running since March!)
Have a word with yourself, rummage in your notions bag for a tapestry needle and weave in your ends. You’ll be stunned at the difference weaving-in makes.
Always try to weave in your ends to stitches of the same color as the end you are weaving. That way, if the yarn peeps through slightly it won’t be visible.
Ta da! Doesn’t your knitting look better now? It’s an intarsi-trick!
Cityscape scarf GOALZ
I hope you’ve enjoyed getting started with intarsia. It’s such a fun technique for playing with color. And do let me know if you join me in team intarsi-yes!