Intarsia knitting can be a fun color knitting technique! The trick is in understanding how to prevent holes at the color changes. While a lot of intarsia projects are knitted in stockinette stitch, it’s easy to do in garter stitch if you know how.
Let’s work through this simple intarsia sample together, and I’ll show you how wonderful it can be to knit intarsia in garter stitch. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for a video.
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What is Intarsia Knitting?
Intarsia is a color knitting technique that uses one yarn color at a time to create blocks of color. You work across stitches in one color, then drop the old color and pick up the new color to begin working the next stitches.
The yarns are twisted around each other at the color change to prevent holes.
Compare this to stranded knitting techniques where you hold multiple colors across a row, or slip stitch techniques which use just one yarn and just one color across the entire row.
You can use separate full balls of yarn, or wind your yarn into yarn butterflies or yarn bobbins.
In this sample I used full balls for the blue and the green and a yarn butterfly for the pink. I’m using Marly Bird’s Chic Sheep from Red Heart, and Clover Takumi bamboo knitting needles, size 5 mm.
Intarsia in Stockinette Stitch vs. Garter Stitch
If you’ve never done intarsia before, it can seem intimidating. Just remember that you are only holding one strand of yarn at a time, so how hard can it really be?
There’s a simple rule for remembering how to twist the yarns at the color change:
- Hold the old color to the left
- Pick up the new color from underneath (and to the right of) the old color
- Begin working with the new color.
The trick is to cross the yarns on the wrong side at each color change to prevent a hole. In stockinette stitch this becomes intuitive, because the yarn is just where it needs to be, at the front or back of the knitting, as you come to it. In garter stitch, however, when you are knitting wrong side rows, you have to bring the yarn forward between the needles to allow that yarn crossing to happen on the wrong side.
Confused? Me too. I’d rather show you.
Reading a Chart
Garter stitch is usually worked from a chart. While there are different ways of presenting the information for a garter stitch chart, we’ll be working from this one.
I’ve made a printable pdf of the chart available to make it easier for you to follow along.
This chart is read in the ordinary way, with each rectangle representing a stitch. Right side (odd-numbered) rows are worked from right to left and wrong side (even-numbered) rows are worked from left to right. Note that all the rows are knit.
Cast On and Row 1
You’ll read the chart beginning with Row 1, a right side row. If you use a long-tail cast on, you can count the cast on as Row 1. This is what I like to do when working garter stitch.
Using a long-tail cast on, cast on 10 stitches in blue, then 10 stitches in green. At this point, the cast ons will not be connected to each other.
Row 2 is a wrong side row, read from left to right. Knit 10 stitches in green.
Now that you’ve finished with the green for this row, it’s time to change to blue, but you need to twist the yarns to prevent a hole. This twist needs to happen on the wrong side. Since this is a wrong side row, that means that the twist needs to happen on the side closest to you.
Bring the old color (green) to the front between the needles. Hold it to the left. Pick up the new color (blue) from underneath the old color and bring it between the needles to the back.
Begin knitting with the new color, and knit to the end of the row.
This is a right side row, and the color change will happen on the back (wrong side). Knit 10 with blue, then hold the old color (blue) to the left
and pick up the new color (green) from underneath the old color. Knit 10 with green.
Once more on a wrong side row, for good measure: Knit 10 blue, bring yarn forward between the needles. Hold the blue to the left. Pick up the green from underneath the blue and bring the green to the back. Knit 10 with green.
It’s time to add a third color! Knit 9 stitches in blue. Leaving a long tail, knit 2 stitches in pink. Hold the pink to the left and pick up the green from underneath, knit 9 stitches in green.
Work in pattern according to the chart, crossing the yarns when the colors change.
Bind Off and Weaving In Ends
Bind off on a right side row, using the following trick to make sure you maintain a clean color transition. Beginning with blue, bind off until there is 1 blue stitch on your right needle and 1 blue stitch on your left needle.
Knit the next stitch in green (turning the blue stitch into a green stitch). Continue binding off in green.
Use the remaining pink tails to close up the holes at the beginning and end of the diamond, then weave in those ends on the wrong side of the pink section. Weave in remaining ends.
What are you going to knit next? Will you give garter stitch intarsia a try?
Once upon a time (40+ years ago), I needed to knit my darling a scarf. I followed the very succinct instructions for colourwork from my little green How to book. They were even more compact than yours! The resulting scarf is still in use this winter. https://www.ravelry.com/projects/JessicaJean/1-stitch-intarsia-scarf
What I only learned recently is that my “one-stitch intarsia” is really named twined knitting.
It’s amazing the things one does when one doesn’t know any better! 🙂
What a terrific story! And a lovely scarf. I love that it is still being worn.