It's hardly controversial to say that colorwork knitting can be a little maddening, and intarsia is no exception. If you don't stay on top of it, all those colors on the back of your sweater can turn on you and suck the joy out of your project. And what if you lose focus on a color change and end up with a hole?!
Despite all this, intarsia — sometimes called picture knitting — can be super rewarding. How else are you going to knit that bold red heart on your sleeve (or, you, know, maybe you want to go crazy and recreate your likeness on sweater)? 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 sleeve. Sound like something you can get behind? Then arm yourself with the knowledge to make your intarsia journey a success.
Intarsia designs are laid out in a grid. You follow this grid by knitting the correct color in the correct position. It’s like a knitting paint-by-number. Knit with your main color to the point where the intarsia pattern begins. Then, drop the main color and begin knitting with the correct contrast color(s). At the end of that row, drop the contrast color and begin knitting with the main color again.
Depending on the size of the intarsia pattern, you can either use one ball of the main color and carry that yarn across the back of the pattern, or you can join the second ball and work with that on the other side of the pattern. The contrast color will be left hanging on the wrong side, waiting for you to work back with your knitting and pick it up.
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.
Keep it close
Don’t unravel a lot of yarn to work with, otherwise all those twists are gonna turn into a big mess. Keep the yarn as close to the project as possible. (Try placing it in your 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 it long
Leave long tails of yarn from your picture when you cut the yarn, because you’re going to have to weave those puppies in when you’re finished. And speaking of weaving in, 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.
Wonky edges can be fixed
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 a bit and make it uniform with the other stitches.
Block, baby, block
Blocking your intarsia is a game changer (as it is for most things you knit, team #blockyourknits). It will set all the stitches — including those on the edges that you may have tightened with your needle’s tip.