Intarsia is a technique used in knitting to create patterns with multiple colours. It is possible to introduce areas of colour in any shape, size, and number.
The Intarsia technique is often used for sweaters with large, solid-colour features or ‘picture jumpers’ with designs such as fruits, flowers, geometric shapes or Christmas motifs like snowmen and robins.
Here is a new cushion I have designed (pattern available to buy) using the Intarsia technique to create these cute sausage dogs. There will be a workshop available in the New Year where you can learn how to make one if you’re not confident to do it alone!
Unlike other multicolour techniques (including Fair Isle, slip-stitch colour, and double knitting), Intarsia fabric is lightweight because it is only one strand thick, and yarn is not carried across the back of the work.
Not unlike a paint-by-numbers canvas, you place the coloured stitches in an intarsia design by following a chart row by row. It is much more difficult to follow a pattern written out line by line than to use a chart for this technique.
The most popular stitch for Intarsia knitting is stocking stitch but it is possible to use other stitches or combinations of stitches with often very attractive results.
Here reverse stocking stitch has been used combined with Trinity stitch.
This ‘M’ was an experiment which didn’t quite work out. A combination of Trinity stitch and stocking stitch for the ‘M’ shape may work out better.
When working in intarsia, it is easiest to use untreated yarns. Cotton, silk, and synthetic fibres are much more challenging to use because they are slippery.
Changing colours – When changing colours, you drop one strand of yarn and leave it hanging for use in the following row. Following the chart, work all the stitches you need in the first colour. Drop the old strand and forget about it until you need it again in the next row. Twist the new strand around the old one. Work with the new colour according to the chart. To change strands, bring the new colour up from underneath the old one. This twists the strands together, preventing holes from forming on the front of the work.
Knitting in intarsia theoretically requires no additional skills beyond being generally comfortable with the basic knit and purl stitches. It is important that your tension is even as it is easy to pull the yarn more tightly where the colours change and create uneven tension which does not look attractive.
Each area of colour in your design requires its own individual yarn supply, resulting in many strands hanging from your work. One way of keeping control of all these yarn ends is by winding a few yards of each colour onto its own bobbin.
Weave in the ends –Your intarsia fabric won’t be finished until all the ends are woven in on the wrong side, using a wool needle. If this is not done well it can spoilt the finished look of your work so take time to do it well. Because there will be so many ends to weave in, the very best thing to do is weave them in every now and then as you work , rather than leaving them all to be sewn in after your knitting is finished.
Take time to play – If you are not familiar with this knitting technique it is worth taking some time to play with some odd bits of yarn and practice knitting from the chart you are about to use. Allow about 6 stitches either side of the motif and knit at least one sample. This will help you to choose what type of yarn to use. If you’re not sure try it in different yarns to make a comparison as the results can be surprisingly different in different fibres. Use simple geometric shapes to begin with, from squares and rectangles to diamonds and triangles. As your confidence develops, move on to more complex shapes and combinations of shapes. This is also a brilliant opportunity to incorporate small amounts of different textures and types of yarns into your knitting. Some exciting effects could be achieved by using multicolour yarns with the Intarsia technique, adding yet another dimension to your work.