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.]