I’ve been really enjoying the great intarsia revival I’m experiencing right now. What started with a caravan court of tiny houses is now a full-on intarsia festival.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I cast on for the Kites Throw.
This is a big piece of knitting, over 200 stitches wide, two full repeats of the chart.
Each little triangle gets its own dedicated length of yarn. (I start with a generous meter, and add on when I need to.)
That’s a lot of separate strands of yarn.
As soon as I showed my cast-on to the Instagram world, people started asking me about bobbins. So let’s get this out of the way right now:
Bobbins are the work of the devil.
The idea of bobbins—spool-like gizmos made of plastic, wood, or cardboard, around which you wind your separate strands of color—is seductive. It seems like bobbins would organize your life and set you on the straight path to intarsia glory. I cannot speak for others, but my brief experience of bobbins was that they were in fact the road to misery. As Julia Farwell-Clay puts in, a bobbin is like a grappling hook at the end of each strand. The weight of the bobbin, slight as it is, causes the strands to start to twist around each other, and the bobbin itself catches on the strands.
It’s like having a couple dozen drop spindles hanging off the back of your piece of knitting. They want to spin, they want to ply those strands around each other. It’s a mess. If bobbins work for others, bless them, but they don’t work for me.
I follow a piece of advice I heard from Kaffe Fassett himself, at a talk he gave many years ago:
Pull from the tangle.
With that one pronouncement from my Intarsia Authority Figure, the scales fell from my eyes. Pull from the tangle! Just like life: you keep going until something grinds your gears. When that happens, you stop for a second, loosen things up, and on you go. Keep moving. Don’t get dragged down trying to keep everything perfect.
So, are you ready? Here’s my Kites Throw tangle, right after working the first row, which sets up all of the triangles.
You should have heard the Instagram people screaming, Ann! My replies ranged from “WHAT IS HAPPENING” to “not for me,” in German. (At least I think it said “not for me.”)
Some knitters seem to resist the tangle, or even fear it. We are going to be preaching to those knitters, in the days and weeks to come, offering help and support.
The tangle is a beautiful thing, Get right with the tangle, and all will be well.
As much as I love the tangle, I did fall into one trap early on. When I know I’m only going to use a color once, or I have multiple balls of the same color, it’s super tempting to just knit straight off the full skein. Why not save the risk of the strand being too short to finish a motif? Makes sense, right?
This thinking is what I call:
The full ball fallacy.
It seems like it would be easy, and efficient, to knit from a full ball when you can. But it’s not. The weight from the full ball pulls the strand taut, and all of a sudden the other strands—especially if they’re also full balls, but even if they’re not—start twisting themselves around that taut strand, making the tangle into a solid mass of woe.
The tangle you want.
The tangle you want is a soft tangle. When you get to the color you need, you give it a gentle tug, and it slides out of the tangle. Sometimes, if you’ve got a lot of long strands, after you’ve turned the work a few times, the tangle starts to get more dense. Then, you’ve got:
The tangle you don’t want.
In the first couple rows of my Kites Throw, there was a moment where the tangle seized up on me. The strands got all packed into a matted mass that reminded me of an owl pellet. I thought if I dug around in there, I might find the skeleton of a vole. But no—it was just yarn in need of a little detangling.
To detangle, there is no need to get all the strands completely separated from each other. Just stick your fingers in there and wiggle them to loosen the strands, put some air between them. Then you’re good to go. Your tangle doesn’t need to win any beauty contests; it just needs to stay loose.
With just a few rows of experience, you’ll learn how to maintain a loose tangle without hardly thinking about it. You’ll see a little knot congealing, you’ll claw at it gently for a second, and carry on.
It’s an adventure that I’m enjoying very much. The knitting itself? Very straightforward. It’s all stockinette, and the straight lines of the Kites motif mean that switching colors is easy and soon becomes automatic. Here’s where I’m at so far:
My tangle is working for me, all by itself.
And here’s the back side, because someone always wants to see the back side:
I cannot properly express how much I am enjoying working with these soft, chalky colors, which are so outside my ordinary range. The Cumin next to the Granite! The Peach next to the Aster! It’s pure color pleasure.
Rest assured, we have lots of intarsia tips and tricks to come, from experts and amateurs. I may be in the latter category, but what I lack in expertise, I make up in enthusiasm.