Intarsia in the Round Techniques

Intarsia in the Round Techniques

From the outside my Mia Tank and my Winter Traveler sweater don’t look to have a lot in common – one is a summery sleeveless tunic and one is a warm sweatshirt of a sweater, one is in crisp sport weight silk and linen while the other is an earthy bulky wool. But they both required me to use the technique of intarsia in the round. I used different methods for each, and today I will cover them and discuss my preferences.

Before I delve into the two techniques, I should explain why intarsia in the round is complicated. Intarsia is a colorwork technique where a single strand of yarn is used to create a patch of color within the background. When knit flat you knit with the main color, knit your little patch of contrast, and end the row with the main color, continuing the pattern as you knit back on the wrong side. The problem with doing intarsia in the round is that every row is a right side row. So when you come back to your colorwork patch, the yarn end you’re knitting with is on the other end of the patch. If it’s just a few stitches you could make a float, or even use a separate strand of contrasting color for each row. But for a large design you’ll need to figure out a way to get back to the end of the patch where the yarn is waiting for you. The answer is that you’ll have to work wrong side rows, so generally most intarsia in the round techniques are ways of knitting flat and seaming as you go.

Mia is written as a single-color pattern, so I had to figure out how I was going to work the seed stitch sections in a different color. I googled around and found this blog post on the subject which covers the technique I ended up using:

  1. Knit your RS row as normal to the end of the round.
  2. Wrap and turn the first stitch of the round.
  3. Knit a WS row to the wrapped stitch.
  4. Pick up the wrap and knit it with the stitch.
  5. Wrap and turn the last stitch of the round.

You can continue this way for the entire length that requires the intarsia, and then return to normal knitting in the round when the colorwork is complete. As you can see in the photo above, I found this technique was very visible on the fabric surface. It was impossible to get even tension between the wraps knit with their stitches and the surrounding stitches, leading to a visible column. This particular pattern has stitches added to the back only, so the line is particularly visible, moving to the front of the garment as it descends rather than being hidden under my arm. It might be less visible in a squishier yarn, but I did not love it for this silk/linen blend.

I was unsatisfied with my first attempty, but not scared off from the skill in general. Winter Traveler is written to include intarsia in the round, so I followed the technique the designer suggests in the pattern (which she made a great YouTube video for). It is similar to the technique above with a few key differences:

  1. YO at the beginning of my first RS intarsia row, then knit as normal to the last stitch.
  2. SSK the last stitch with the YO from the beginning of the round.
  3. Turn, YO, then knit the WS row to the last stitch.
  4. P2tog the last stitch with the YO from the beginning of the round.

Clearly it is the same idea of knitting flat and connecting the ends of the rows. The difference is that you use a YO as the stitch you connect across, rather than a wrap. SSK and P2tog are used because those decreases will put the YO on the wrong side of the fabric, behind the round stitch. That, and the fact that none of the YO passes in front of the round stitch combine to make this method much less visible than the wrap and turns.

So there you have it, the two intarsia in the round techniques I have tried this year and my thoughts on them. Let me know if you have a skill you’ve experimented with different ways and found one works out better for you!

8 thoughts on “Intarsia in the Round Techniques

  1. This is exactly what I was looking for! My daughter has requested a sweater (first time ever), but she wants one that has a logo from her favorite video game. I was sweating at first because color work is something that I have not attempted in knitting yet (I have only been knitting for about 8 years and am self-taught) although I am very good at crocheting "intarsia". After watching the video for the second option, I feel a lot more confident about being able to accomplish this. Now I just have to chart this darn logo, LOL (that goodness for computer software that does this). Thank you for this post!

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  2. Very helpful explanation. I had been searching on the internet for a comparison of intarsia in the round methods. So glad I found your blog. I now know what I’m doing. Thank you.

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  3. Oh, man. You saved my bacon — which is saying a lot, since I’m vegan. 😉
    Seriously, I’m in the middle of a hat that is supposed to be knit flat and seamed, but in a fit of insanity decided to both add color work and work the hat in the round. Yup, I’m just that dumb.

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  4. Great, simple and quick explanation. There is another method which involves loops so that one can knit in the round with no turning. I haven’t been able to find it online, though.

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