"Intarsia" is color knitting comprised of large areas of color. This Stars + Stripes Felted Hot Pad is a typical example of intarsia knitting:


The truck in this pattern from Roo Designs is another good example:


Some Basic Rules

Intarsia knitting isn't hard, but there are some basic rules to know.

Unlike fair isle knitting, the yarn is not stranded across the back of the work in intarsia knitting. Instead, you have a separate ball of yarn for each area of color. If you have a lot of color changes in one row, you may want to wind the separate colors onto bobbins to help you stay organized. 

The other important rule to keep in mind is that when you switch from one color to the other you have to "twist" the yarns in order to avoid holes. I like to think of it as "trapping" the yarn, because you put the yarn you're finished using in front of the new yarn, trapping it between the new yarn and the knitting. This manoeuvre is always done on the wrong side of the work.

Here are all the scenarios you will encounter knitting intarsia:

Vertical Lines

The red lines in this picture show color changes that form vertical lines:


When the color change forms a vertical line, knit to the change, bring the old yarn in front of the new yarn (again, on the wrong side of the work), and knit the new color stitch.

Here is what that looks like when you're knitting a right side row:


And here it is purling a wrong side row:


Diagonal Color Changes

When the color design is at a diagonal, twisting depends on if the design is slanting to the right or to the left. If it is slanting to the RIGHT as you're looking at it, you need to twist the yarns, regardless of whether you're on the knit or the purl side of the piece.

The moments marked in red are right slants on the knit side:


The twist in that case would look like this:


On the purl side, the right slant color changes happen along this red line and also require a twist: 


The twist on the purl side looks like this:


If the design is slanting to the LEFT, like this: 


Or like this:


You don't need to twist the yarns at all. You can just drop the old yarn and start knitting or purling with the new yarn.

If you find this right versus left slant confusing (sometimes I do!), it's fine to just always twist the yarns. When in doubt, twist!

32 Responses to Intarsia

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    I've been searching for instructions for a knitted intarsia diamond, Argyle, patterend throw. I'm on my second week of searching, can you help ? I need to know how many stitches to form the diamond shape. I wanted to make the diamonds quite large with a single stitch for the cross stitch, which intersects the diamond. I do know how to knit intarsia.

  2. terry says:

    This is probably a dumb question, but…

    Since there is blue on both sides of the star, will there be a blue bobbin for both sides with blue yarn? ie: blue bobbin, white bobbin, blue bobbin?

    Also, when at the end of the pattern, do you just drop one of the blue bobbins and the white bobbin and start knitting again with all blue?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. purl bee says:

    Hi Terry,
    There is no such thing as a dumb question in knitting!
    Yes, you will need two bobbins in white and three in blue at the bottom of the star.
    At the end, just drop the bobbins and knit with all blue.

  4. pat says:

    how do you choose the most appropriate lining material for an intarsia project. For example, a baby blanket in intarsia might have an ugly wrong side. Assuming the yarn cannot be ironed (but is machine washable) what kind of lining material would be best??

  5. nafeesa says:

    This was so useful,i forgot to check your tutorial before i started the baby hat pattern.Im following Amy Barht”s baby hat pattern which has this intartia technique.Im almot done with the hat and now im seeing there is a lot oF puckering on the right side of the wrk.Is there a way i can make it straight??I was thinking of cutting the yarn and tieing knots at the back.Please help!

  6. Tiffany Richard says:

    I want to thank you for all of your helpful tutorials. I always know I can come to your site to find the answers I need. You have made me feel more confident in knitting. You have the best pictures, too!

  7. nicole says:

    Thanks for making this tutorial, it will help my knitting to look more professional.

  8. Michelle says:

    Thank you so much for your helpful tutorial. Could you help me clarify something on my pattern? I have an afghan that says, “[Cast on 2 sts with MC, cast on 2 sts with CC] 28 times,” in the beginning instructions. Further instructions state, “Do not carry/strand yarn across back of work. Use separate balls of yarn for each area of color.” Now, because I am using each of the two colors 28 times, I will have 28 balls or bobbins of yarn. The pattern is a cable knit from beginning to end with no top or bottom border, so it is the cabling with will kind of “tie” the stitches together. Am I right?

  9. purl bee says:

    Hi Michelle,
    The cabling might help, but the main thing to do, even though you are not carrying the yarn across the stitches, is to twist the new color up around the old color before you start knitting with it. This will secure the two colors together. Hope this helps!

  10. Michelle says:

    Thank you. That helps a lot.

  11. Azucar says:

    This intarsia tutorial is very helpful. Thank you!
    I just have one question: how can you distinguish between the diagonal twist and the vertical twist? I have this patter I am doing, it’s a phoenix bird, but I can’t seem to find when the vertical twists are and when the diagonal twists are. Please respond when you get a chance. Thanks so much!

  12. Maegan (@Byndthebandaids) says:

    This is a great tutorial! Thanks for the awesome pictures!

  13. Ellie says:

    Hi, Thank you for posting this tutorial. I'm trying to see how to bring the old yarn across (maybe fair isle?) when adding more than 1 stitch to each side of a change. For example, I have 3 balls of yarn, blue-green-blue. I have say 5 stitches of green & need to add 3 to each side so the green totals 11 stitches. I can't twist the yarns because the blue is too far away from the green when the change is made. Do you have a suggestion?
    I've looked in books & on the web but can't find anything about this.
    Thanks for any help you can give.

  14. purl bee says:

    Hi Ellie,

    Let's say you're on the knit side, knitting along with the blue. You would stop where you want to change colors, twist the yarn following the tutorial's instructions for a right slanting twist (just leaving a little slack for the short distance the green has to travel), knit the green until 3 stitches past the blue, and continue to knit with the blue, again leaving a little slack, this time in the blue (no twist necessary because it's a left leaning color change!).

    In this case, three stitches is not a very long way for your yarn to travel, but if the distance gets significant, you may need to start a new ball.

    I hope this helps clarify! If not, please ask again and we'll work it out!


  15. kate says:

    Hi Purl Bee!

    Any advice for if you realize a few rows later that you didn't wrap for a row or two of color change? I have a big old nasty hole that I REALLY don't want to have to rip down to fix.

  16. purl bee says:

    Hi Kate,

    If there are is a tail nearby, you could use it to sew up the holes. Or you could use a new piece of yarn to sew them up, weaving in its ends when you're done.

    I hope this helps! Thanks for asking!


  17. Cassie says:

    how did you handle the bottom middle of the star, where the 2 legs meet in the center? it seems like you'd have to start another blue right there just for one stitch, then it would be used for the center of the 2 legs? now that i “talk” my way through it, seems like the star is easier than what i'm doing lol.

    I'm knitting an “M”, so i'm going to have the “v” that's formed in the middle of the M, at the top of it and at the bottom of it, and I'd tested stranding for a few stitches til it was wide enough to use intarsia, but then.. this is going to be a blanket so i dont want it to have any strands. i'm not sure i'll be able to avoid just a a few short places of stranding in that area.


  18. purl bee says:

    Hi Cassie,

    I'm not sure I totally understand the problem, but you can start a third ball after just one stitch of the “M” color. Or if you have to, I think stranding across one (or even two) stitches would hardly be visible on the wrong side.

    Please let me know if you have any more questions or if we can clarify this one!


  19. Melanie Snellings says:

    Question regarding this tutorial:

    Hello. My name is Melanie. I work and teach classes at The Yarn Lounge in Richmond, Virginia. I am teaching an Intro to Intarsia class soon and was wondering if I might get permission to print and give this tutorial to the students in my class. It would not be distributed to anyone else.

    Best regards,

    Melanie Snellings

  20. purl bee says:

    Hi Melanie-

    Thanks for getting in touch about this. Yes, you may use this tutorial as long as you make sure that each copy has our logo and and website address clearly printed at the top.

    Good luck with your class!



  21. Evelyn says:

    In a pattern I am following, I knit some rows in one color, then begin intarsia. I use blue, white, and blue. How do I add the two blues when I am ready to begin the intarsia? The white, I assume, I make bobbin-like wrap like you did, then begin with that when I'm ready to begin the technique. How do I put the blues on either side of the white? Thank you; help is appreciated.

  22. purl bee says:

    Hi Evelyn,

    For that section, you'll be working with three bobbins (or balls) of yarn. Start the intarsia row with a bobbin (or ball) of blue yarn, join the bobbin of white, and then join another bobbin (or ball) of blue.

    I hope this puts you on the right path. Please let us know if you have any more questions and thanks for this one!


  23. purl bee says:

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I don't know of any argyle blanket patterns currently available, although I have come across them in the past in vintage magazines and books.

    Generally speaking, you can make the diamonds any number of stitches. I would decide how wide across I want my diamonds to be (choose an odd number); cast on that number times the number of diamonds I want, plus the amount of space I want between the diamonds; and then start the diamonds with one stitch at bottom center of each proposed diamond area, adding a stitch on either side of the center stitch every other row or so.

    And as you suggest, the intersecting line is usually done at the end with duplicate stitch, cross stitch or some other kind of embroidery.

    I hope this gets you on the right path! Thanks for asking and good luck!


  24. JanetR says:

    Know that years after you wrote this, it's still helping knitters out there who are learning this new-to-them technique. This makes it so clear and will be kept on-screen as I begin my first intarsia project. Thanks so much.

  25. Bonnie Kinser says:

    I get it!! Thank you for the intarsia information. I could not figure out why my colored knitting was taller than the other knitting. Your illustration on what the back should like like showed me that I had it very wrong. I did not understand that you have to have a bobbin for each change. Thanks!

  26. Barbara says:

    I found the tutorial useful. The pattern I am knitting is a sweater on circular needles. I am trying to figure out how to knit intarsia when I don't have any purl rows. Do I carry my colors all around the sweater?

  27. purl bee says:

    Hi Barbara,

    In general, people work an intarsia pattern only when they're knitting something flat (turning the work at the end of each row). As you have discovered, when you're knitting something in the round, intarsia poses the difficulty that the ball is left on the left side of the design, making it inaccessible when you knit around to the right side of the design!

    However, there are some tricky techniques to overcome this problem. A quick search of "intarsia in the round" turned up many tutorials on the subject.

    Thanks so much for asking and good luck!


  28. Sophia says:

    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 hadnt 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.

  29. Susan says:

    I have started a diamond shape using the intarsia method, but notice after a few rows that the first row of one stitch in alternate colour seems to have a small gap – I twisted the wool on RH sloping pattern but not on LH sloping side as per most advice sheets . Should I try twisting on this first row also ? Trying to catch in the tail ends of the alternate colour and the second ball of main colour ( on other side of diamond ), should this be done on alternate rows ?

  30. purl bee says:

    Hi Susan,

    Sure, try twisting on the first row to see if this solves your problem. And I would recommend weaving the tails in as usual, rather than trying to knit over them, since adding new balls of yarn also creates holes and weaving in their tails fixes that problem.

    Thanks for your questions and please let us know if you have more!


  31. Meryl says:

    I'm trying to knit a hat with an intarsia heart and I'm having trouble finding step by step written/visual instructions on what to do. I found your post which is extremely helpful. Any advice for an advance beginner trying to do an intarsia heart on a hat in the round?

  32. purl bee says:

    Hi Meryl,

    I answered a similar question awhile back. Here's what I said…

    In general, people work an intarsia pattern only when they're knitting something flat (turning the work at the end of each row). When you're knitting something in the round, intarsia poses the difficulty that the ball is left on the left side of the design, making it inaccessible when you knit around to the right side of the design!

    However, there are some tricky techniques to overcome this problem. A quick search of "intarsia in the round" turned up many tutorials on the subject.

    If you'd like to avoid all this difficulty, you could instead knit a fair isle hat with hearts going all the way around. We have a pattern for one right here:

    Thanks so much for asking and good luck!


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