We only started on Wednesday, but how is your Noro Heart blanket coming along?
Some of you are probably a few squares in already, while others might be at the start of the heart motif scratching your heads.
Don’t worry, intarsia is easier to knit than you think! In this blog post I will review some of the basics. If you’re still confused, you can probably get a lesson at your local yarn store. That will allow you to see the technique worked in person, and give you a chance to ask questions in real-time.
Intarsia is sometimes called “picture knitting” because the technique allows you to drop a motif into your knitting.
Compared to Fair Isle or stranded knitting, when working intarsia you knit isolated blocks of colors.
I selected this heart for the discussion because the natural flow of the Noro colors helps highlight the different sections.
This heart is knit using Kureyon color 340 for the background and 350 for the heart.
How many yarn ends?
The first thing to do when you start an intarsia project is to determine where your color changes are and how many pieces of yarn you’ll need. To do this, follow the path of the yarn by tracing your finger over the chart. When you first reach a new color section, that will be a new piece of yarn.
Keep in mind that once you have a color established you can usually continue to use it for a large section.
In my sample heart above, you can see that I cast on using B1 (background 1) and knit with it until I reached the heart (H1).
At that point, I got the ball of yarn for my heart color (H1) and knit the one stitch for the bottom point of the heart.
The left side of the heart returns to the background color, but with a new length of yarn (B2).
There are now three pieces of yarn in play. B1, H1, and B2. I used those three strands of yarn all the way through the block until I reached the top V in the heart.
At that point, I introduced a third strand of the background color, B3. It turned out to be dark purple, but I figure it will blend with the overall blanket when it is done.
Because of the break from starting the “shaping” for the top of the heart, I needed a new strand of heart color yarn, H2.
I now have 5 tails of yarn in play: B1, H1, B3, H2, and B2. That is the order in which they will be handled on a right side row. It is reversed on a wrong side row.
This might all sound complicated, but it will make sense as you are knitting. For most of the time you are dealing with one strand of yarn. It is just when the colors meet and cross that you have to worry about managing two colors.
Check out this tip from Webs for keeping your place in a chart.
Here is a picture of the wrong side of the same heart. You can see where the colors were started and stopped for each section. The little half-moons are where the yarns are crossed at the color changes.
It is important to pay attention at the point where you change colors. There is a potential for a little hole to develop at that junction.
In order to prevent the hole, and keep your fabric nice, there is a special way to cross the colors.
To work the color cross on a knit row you pick up the new yarn from the right and underneath the current yarn. Stated another way, when you get to the stitch where the color change happens pull the current yarn to the left, then grab the new yarn and pull it to the right and over the top of the old yarn.
My pictures show the process on the purl side because I think it’s easier to see what is happening, but the principle is the same on the knit side.
In this picture I’m knitting the second row of the heart. I need three green stitches in the center of the block.
I purl using the grey (B2 because it’s a wrong side row), until I reach the heart. Then I drop the grey (B2) and pick up the green heart yarn (H1), making sure they wrap around each other. I’m going to leave the grey yarn just where it is while I pick up the green yarn and just work a purl stitch.
After I work the three heart stitches I return to my background color, B1 in this case. In this second picture you can see I’ve already trapped the green yarn as I’m working my stitch.
When you change colors, give them a little tug to take up the slack, but not too much or your stitches will end up distorted.
I made this little video back in 2013 demonstrating the technique using an argyle cowl. Again, I’m working a purl row. I look a little awkward in the video, but remember that I’m reaching around a camera and I’m trying to use slow, exaggerated motions so you can see what is going on!
Bobbins or Balls?
Now, all my talk earlier about having 5 tails of yarn in play at once might have you wondering about yarn management.
Personally, I’ve just been using the full balls of yarn. I use both ends of one ball for the background colors, then introduce a third ball for the small V section. I’m also using both ends of a single ball for the heart.
The squares are small enough that the balls haven’t gotten terribly tangled. By the time things get ugly, I’m already done a section and able to cut the ball loose.
You, however, might not be feeling so cavalier. You might prefer to have lengths of yarn, which will be easier to manage than full balls.
There was a moment, a very brief moment, when I thought I’d knit a square, unravel it, and measure each section so I could tell you an estimate of how many yards you’d need.
I hope you, as a fellow knitter, can appreciate that I couldn’t bring myself to destroy (and re-knit!) one of my lovely blocks. If you do it, please report back to the group!
As you can see, each section takes most of a color run. You might be safe isolating the sections.
Once you decide how long to make your length of yarn, you can either let it hang free, which will be easy to untangle, or you can make a yarn butterfly by wrapping the yarn around your fingers. Video showing how to make a yarn butterfly.
Webs has a tip for managing yarn tails, too.
Check out this blog post for a discussion of yarn bobbins and butterflies.
Don’t be afraid of trying out intarsia. You have to start somewhere! Challenging ourselves with new knitting techniques keeps our minds sharp and gives us a sense of accomplishment.
What tips do you have for making intarsia easier to knit?