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Intarsia 101: Add a Color Design to Your Knitting

Craft & Design

By Alice Merlino
There are many ways to add color to your knitting. When you use the intarsia method, you are adding a pool of color as you knit and linking it on all sides with the adjoining colors. This method is particularly useful when you have large areas of color to incorporate into your knitting.
The cool thing about intarsia is that it doesn’t have to already be a part of your knitting project. If you are making something in stockinette, it’s easy to pop an intarsia design into it with just a little bit of planning and a chart. Want some clouds in your big blue sweater? Intarsia is the answer.
Intarsia may seem complicated, but it’s simple. There are only a couple of things you need to know to get started.


Intarsia chart
Balls of yarn
Knitting needles
Yarn needle


Step 1: Make a chart.
The first thing you need is a chart of your design. In my chart, there are only two colors, but as you can see, there are three symbols. That’s because you don’t carry yarn across another color when you do intarsia. Every color you use and every block of color that is separated by other colors requires its own ball of yarn.
If you look at the third row from the bottom, you can see that I start with cream yarn (the black dots), then I add blue yarn (the blue circles), then I add a second ball of cream yarn (the black x’s).
Look at the row just above the blue square. This is where the intarsia knitting stops. Since it is a knit row, I will knit across the whole row with my original cream yarn (the black dots) and continue knitting with that yarn until I’m done with the swatch.
Step 2: Prepare your yarn.
Create the balls of yarn you need based on your examination of your chart. To knit my sample, I need three balls of yarn. I have a large ball of yarn for the main cream part of the chart (the black dots). I have smaller blue and cream balls of yarn for the rest of the chart (the blue circles and the black x’s).
Step 3: Add a new color.
In the photo I’m adding the blue yarn. Put the end of the blue yarn on the front of your work and the working end at the back of your work. Next, cross the cream yarn over the blue yarn so it is sandwiched between the blue yarn and your knitting.
When you knit the next stitch with the blue yarn, the cream yarn will be captured in a loop of the blue yarn. These are the loops that link your intarsia knitting together.
I learned the “add new yarn with the yarn end on the front” trick in Stitch ‘n Bitch Superstar Knitting by Debbie Stoller. This method of adding yarn keeps the loose end out of your way, and it helps you link your new yarn with the working yarn.
I will add the second ball of cream yarn just like this when I get to the part of the chart with the black x’s. If your design has more colors to add, you would add them all the same way: yarn end in front, cross the old color over the new color, and knit a stitch with the new color to capture the old color’s yarn.
Step 4: Switch colors when purling.
In the photo I’m switching from cream to blue. Lay the cream yarn in the direction you are knitting. Next, pick up the blue yarn so it crosses over the cream yarn. When you purl the next stitch with the blue yarn, the cream yarn will be captured in a loop of the blue yarn.
Step 5: Switch colors when knitting.
Switching colors while knitting is the same as when purling. In the photo I’m switching from cream to blue. Lay the cream yarn in the direction you are knitting. Next, pick up the blue yarn so it crosses over the cream yarn. When you knit the next stitch with the blue yarn, the cream yarn will be captured in a loop of the blue yarn.
Continue knitting your chart and linking your stitches when you switch colors.
Step 6: Weave in the ends.
When weaving in intarsia ends, you want to make sure that the first direction you go with the yarn end is the natural direction the yarn would have been pulled if you had continued knitting with it. In the photo, the yarn would have been pulled up by the next stitch if I hadn’t switched to blue, so I wove the end in so the yarn is pulled up.
If you are thoughtful about weaving in your ends, it will help your knitting look more even at the color changes on the front of your work.
Step 7: Bring the beginning yarn ends to the back.
When adding the new colors of yarn, we left the ends on the front. In this photo, I’ve pulled the ends to the back. As you can see, they are nicely looped with the neighboring yarn. This would have been very difficult to do if the ends were left on the back. Weave these ends in, too.
Step 8: Admire your work.
As you can see, my blue square is a pool of color linked with the colors surrounding it. On the top and bottom, it’s linked with normal knitting loops. On the left and right it is linked with the loops created when I crossed my new and old yarn colors at the color changes.
About the Author:
Alice Merlino writes a popular craft blog at, where she mainly covers her crochet, knitting, and embroidery projects. Her site features several free patterns and many detailed tutorials.

10 thoughts on “Intarsia 101: Add a Color Design to Your Knitting

  1. futuregirl says:

    Thank you, everyone! I really enjoyed putting this tutorial together. :)

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  6. Sophia Benn says:

    With rare exceptions, intarsia is worked flat, back and forth in rows. This is due to its special construction. When changing colors, you drop one strand of yarn and leave it hanging for use in the following row. Each time you change colors in an intarsia design, you do it the same way, regardless of whether you are working from the right or wrong side of the piece.More at —

  7. LucyBean says:

    Thanks for this – only place I’ve found clear instructions for joining a new piece of yarn. I was totally stuck!

  8. Carolyn says:

    My heavens, I was planning to do Intarsia and I had no idea. Bit of a problem though, in that I’m not just doing a square, I’m doing a paisley pattern. My first row of the new colour is six stitches, but my second row is nine stitches. How do I get my new colour stretched out to the extra stitches?

  9. intarsia knitting tutorial - computer tutorials says:

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  10. Robyn Thomas says:

    This is the best visual and written description I have found for Intarsia knitting. I have been doing plain stuff for a long time and am now experimenting with our new church logo to make some corner bookmarks. Thanks for writing and taking such clear photos!

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