Originally written for suite101 and published 04/01/09, now hosted over at Xomba.
The intarsia method is particularly suitable for putting motifs on gloves or clothing for small children, as unlike other techniques such as fair isle, there are no running lines of wool across the back of the motif, for fingers – especially small ones – to get stuck in. This also makes it easier to keep the tension even and avoid the motif, particularly large motifs, ending up rumpled.
Essentially this technique involves different parts of any one row being knitted in different colours, with the colours forming separate blocks wound together to create the effect of the motif having been inlaid into the main body of the knitted piece. It makes adding motifs a less bulky and messy proposition.
Reading Graphs and Making Changes
Patterns that involve intarsia generally include a graph or chart of the motif. This lays out the motif plainly for the knitter, letting them see how the motif should come out. The chart is read from the bottom right hand corner to the left and then left to right following the flow of the knitting. Additionally the graph makes it easier to immediately see the effect of making alterations to the motif.
Some knitters like to make their lives easier; by marking up the graph to show which colours will go where, so that the graph resembles a cross-stitch/embroidery chart. Equally it is easy to design your own motifs by marking them out on graph paper and hopefully letting the knitter spot any potential problems before they start work on the project.
Preparation for Working Intarsia
To begin with prepare your wool by taking wraps of the colours used in the motif; wraps of between 5 and 10 arm-lengths depending on the size of the motif are usually sufficient. This provides an amount small enough to be easily workable, without having to constantly add on new lengths. Also if you’re doubling up one of your colours by hand to maintain an even ply, then longer lengths have a tendency to get tangled up.
To keep your wraps from unwinding and tangling themselves up they can be wound onto bobbins; whether wooden lace bobbins or the special designed intarsia bobbins that resemble plastic yoyos. However, a cheap and easy tip for beginners is to use wooden clothes pegs, which hold firm when required and unwind easily when needed.
Ensure that you remember to divide the wool being used for the main body of the piece into two. If you’re working a large piece it may be easier to simply work each side surrounding the motif with separate balls of wool, while for smaller pieces taking a wrap from the centre of the same length as the motif colours saves ending up with a couple of half-used balls of wool.
Working the Technique
Work the pattern as normal until the stitch before the first colour change is to be made. Make a slip knot in the new colour around the hanging tail of the first colour, tighten then slide up the tail until flush with the wrong side of the knitting. Work last stitch in the first colour as normal and begin with the new colour, making sure to loop it round the tail of the old colour to further secure the colours.
Repeat this until all the required colours have been added. In the following rows, at colour changes, the tails need only be pulled tight and twisted round each other; no knotting is required. Ensuring that all the ends are pulled up and secured is essential to avoid any unseemly gaps in the motif. Whether working in knit or purl, colour changes should always be kept on the wrong side of the work.