Intarsia Knitting Tips

Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Knitting | Comments


We can probably all agree that color knitting is frustrating. You spend half your time untangling yarn in the back, and you leave holes if you forget to twist the colors. The good news is that intarsia is the lesser evil of all the other color knitting (we’re looking at you, fair isle!)

Intarsia, sometimes called “picture knitting,” is the technique you’ll use if you want to knit, say, a heart onto a dress. The goal of intarsia is to make the color change look completely seamless, as if you knitted the heart with the same strand of yarn as the rest of the dress.

little heart dress

Photo via Littleheart Dress

Here are a few things to keep in mind when conquering intarsia:

The magic is in the twist. When you’re switching colors, you’ll need to twist the colors together in the back so that there’s no hole. Remember that the twist must go all the way around the new piece of yarn; you can’t simply place it on top of the old yarn.

When you’re switching colors, look out for your tension. If your tension is too tight, the picture will have tons of bumps in it. (Trust me; I know from experience!) If the tension is too loose, there may be gaps. The picture needs to look like it’s one and the same as the main piece.

Don’t unravel a lot of yarn to work with, otherwise all those twists are gonna turn into a big ole mess. Keep the yarn as close to the project as possible. (I keep my yarn in my lap.) Some knitters even like separating their yarn onto bobbins for easier untangling — which is especially useful for the secondary color, since you probably won’t need a large amount of it.

Leave long tails of yarn from your picture when you cut the yarn, because you’re going to have to weave those babies in when you’re finished.

And speaking of weaving in, it’s best to weave colors in where they appear on the knitting. So, for example, if you’re knitting a purple heart in the middle of a red sweater, weave those purple ends into the purple heart area. If you weave the purple ends into the red part of the sweater, the purple yarn might show through the red.

If the edges of your picture look a little weird, like they’re sinking in on the sides, you can use the pointed tip of a knitting needle to pull on the stitch and make it uniform with the other stitches.

Blocking your intarsia is always a great idea. It will set all the stitches — including those on the edges that you may have tightened with your needle’s tip.
Intarsia Knitting Patterns

Ready to knit some pretty pictures? Put the tips to use with these intarsia patterns.

whale sweater

Whale Sweater
Intarsia doesn’t get any more adorable than this. Perfect your skills with this lil whale and her fish friends.

coasters

Felted Poker Coasters
Practice your intarsia knitting and your felting skills with this pattern, then break out these coasters and impress friends on poker night.

beetle bug

Beetle Bug Water Bottle Cozy
You can create any picture you’d like with intarsia knitting, including this awesome Beetle — one of my personal favorite cars!

superhero

My First Superhero
These toys are perfect for stash busting and give you plenty of practice switching and twisting colors.

intarsia sheep bag

Intarsia Sheep Bag
Flaunt those intarsia skills all over town with this sheep bag.

Ready to take your colorwork skills to a level of super awesome insanity? Take Amy Detjen’s Custom Yoke Sweater class and let her walk you through stranded colorwork in the round.

Love knitting intarsia? What’s your best tip?

In case you missed it yesterday learn how to knit stripes. Come back to the Craftsy blog tomorrow to discover how to knit a ruffle scarf.

Comments

  1. Gwen Bortner says:

    My best intarsia hint is to try knitting in both directions (or knitting back backwards). There are two advantages to this:
    1. You are always looking at the right side of the work, so the chart and what you are looking at on your needles is the same. It is easier to see what you are doing and catch any little mistakes.
    2. The bobbins/balls/strands of color won’t get so tangled. The real tangling happens when you turn your work to work back in the other direction. When I don’t have to turn your work, I find their is no issue with tangling!!

    1. Ann says:

      How do you knit in both directions? I am dyslexic and I really struggle with the purl side of an intarsia pattern!!! Turns my head inside out trying to keep the pattern right! Would you use double-pointed needles? How do you knit back backwards??? Sounds like a great idea but can you expand on it a little? Many thanks!

      1. Liz Watters says:

        It’s a really handy technique when knitting lace edgings, for example, to save constantly turning the work., which makes me dizzy. I haven’t used it for a while but don’t think there’s anything complicated about it – apart from learning the moves. It’s only convention that we generally knit from right to left and purl back, afterall.

        Good luck.

  2. Sara says:

    I absolutely LOVE the whale sweater!! That is so cute! I’d love to try to knit that one, even if it takes me the rest of the year!!

  3. Ellisen says:

    Thanks for the great tips on Intarsia. I appreciate them.

  4. ZoeOB says:

    My favorite tip comes from Kaffe Fassett. Use long lengths of yarn – no bobbins – and weave the ends in as you go.

  5. Way says:

    Ohhhh I just love the whale sweater, Now I have to make that cute sweater, which means I cant do any thing else today, but to finish the sweater that I am working on, finish it up and start this new one. I am trying to live by my new rules. Only one project at a time, hahaha, I am trying!!

  6. How does the twisting work if you’re doing a very complicated pattern with several different colors in it and rather than cutting and tying, you’re carrying the previous color over 4, 5 or even 6 stitches? This is where I often do it too loosely or if I’m just carrying over 2 stitches, then it tends to bulge. And if my picture is outlined in a contrast color and only one stitch is used for each outline stitch, sometimes it disappears, especially when using lightweight or very fine yarn. So it just looks like pieces of the outline are missing.