How To... Stitch School: intarsia with Anna Nikipirowicz

Published on December 7th, 2016 | by Merion


Stitch School: Intarsia with Anna Nikipirowicz

Intarsia is a fabulous technique to add to your knitting knowledge – learn how to do it with Anna Nikipirowicz!

Intarsia by Anna Nikipirowicz

Intarsia is a colourwork technique in which blocks of colour are worked with separate balls of yarn or bobbins. Unlike Fair isle or stranded knitting, the yarns are not carried across the back of the work between colour changes, they must be twisted around each other at each change to prevent gaps or holes. Intarsia retains the same elasticity as stocking stitch.

Intarsia knitting is worked back and forth in rows and is much easier to work flat, rather than round, because at the end of the round, the yarns would be in the wrong position, which means cutting the yarn and reattaching it – but it can be done with lots of separate strands of yarn, but this entails a lot of sewing in of ends!

Intarsia is very easy and mostly worked from charts and in stocking stitch. Simply knit the right-side rows and purl the wrong-side rows, changing colour according to your chart. The only trick is twisting the yarns to prevent gaps at the colour changes as you end one colour, drop the yarn at the wrong side of work and then pick up the new colour from beneath the old one which will trap the old yarn – continue twisting yarns this way at every colour change.

Before I show you how to twist your yarns, let’s talk about managing your yarns.

Keeping your yarn supply organised whilst knitting intarsia will ensure a frustration-free knitting experience! The three of the best tried and tested options are: bobbins, butterflies and loose lengths:

bobbins and butterflies


Bobbins are usually made from plastic and easily available. You wind the amount of yarn required around the bobbin and then bring the yarn through the split to stop it unwinding.  You can release yarn as and when needed.


To make a butterfly – with the tail of yarn in your palm, wind the yarn in a figure eight around your thumb and little finger, when you have enough yarn wrapped, slip the bundle off and wrap the tail end tightly around the centre and feed it through the centre. Make sure that the free tail sticks out.

To use the butterfly simply pull gently on the free tail, make sure not to pull too much at the time as you want to keep the butterflies short at the back to avoid tangling them.

Loose lengths

If you only require small amount of yarn, then there’s no need to wind it or make a butterfly, simply cut a meter or two of yarn and use that. This is a very easy way of managing yarn and the lengths or yarn are very easy to untwist when they get tangled up with the rest of the yarns at the back. When you need more yarn, simply join a new length.

Lastly – if you need to calculate how much yarn you will need for a bobbin or butterfly for a specific area of colourwork, work out how many stitches the area will occupy and twist the yarn around the needle that number of times, adding a little extra for weaving in.

For example; if we look at the chart below the green colour occupies 120 stitches. Wind the yarn around the knitting needle used for our project 120 times, adding a little extra and that will be the amount to wind onto a bobbin.

Working from charts

Designs for intarsia are usually presented in charts, where each box in the grid represents one stitch. Whilst modern charts use colour in the grid to correspond with the yarn colour, older charts may use symbols, with a different symbol for each colour.

The chart below is a flat chart and is read from right to left on the RS and left to right on the WS.


You will need 4 colours of yarn and knitting needles suitable for your yarn. I’m using Rowan Pure Wool Worsted and 5mm knitting needles.

Using the cable method cast on 10 st in colour A, change to colour B and cast on another 10 sts.

Intarsia key

Intarsia chart

Using the cable method cast on 10 st in colour A, change to colour B and cast on another 10 sts.

Starting Intarsia

Following the chart, knit 10 sts using colour B, then you will need to change to colour A, to avoid a gap forming at the colour change you must twist your yarns, to do this on the knit row work as follows:

Bring colour A (new yarn) from underneath colour B (old yarn) and knit with the new yarn as in the pic below.

Work to the end of row in colour A.


On the purl row we start with colour A, so we knit until we come to our colour change.

The colour A now becomes the old yarn and colour B becomes the new yarn. To twist the yarns correctly just pick up the colour B (new yarn) from underneath colour A (old yarn) and purl with it, as in the pic below.

Picking up the new colour

Continue following the chart and twisting the yarns as instructed, make sure you pull the yarn a bit tighter at the colour changes to avoid stretched stitches.

Try knitting the vertical stripes on the chart below:

Vertical stripes chart

The back of your simple intarsia work should be rather neat and you should be able to see when the colours where changed:

Intarsia back

Put your intarsia skills to good use with Anna’s gorgeous Cassia Bag pattern, knitted here in Rowan Felted Tweed DK! 

Cassia bag by Anna Nikipirowicz

We’d love to see your intarsia projects – join our buzzing Community and share your photos!

About the Author

Merion admits that her stash is wildly out of control, but has many projects in dream-form! She loves knitting, crochet, Shire horses, cake and garden swing-seats.

Last updated: August 2nd, 2017.

12 Responses to Stitch School: Intarsia with Anna Nikipirowicz

  1. Kathy says:

    I For the first time I understand a little I think you are a great teacher and I would like to learn more from you.

  2. Marsha Mielke says:

    Very helpful. I will try this method. I don’t like all the yarn in my mitten and hat patterns. Thank you.:-)

  3. Cherie says:

    I have designed a Christmas sweater with snowflakes and trees, white and green. Though I knit fair isle all the time….not familiar with intarsia. Do I simply purl the color pattern on the wrong side?

    • Anna Nikipirowicz says:

      Yes, intarsia is worked in stocking stitch so all purls on wrong side, just make sure you twist the yarns when changing colour to avoid a hole. Have fun X

  4. very nice weldone says:

    I like your ideas’

  5. Margaret Ann says:

    Thank you Anna, explained so well and can’t wait to give it a whirl (that’s Aussie for “give it a try”)!!!!!!

  6. Cheryl Love says:

    Very simply explained! Waaay better to understand than other explanations! I can’t wait to try it when I get home.

  7. MaryLouise Stathers says:

    I cannot seem to move my stitches easily around the circular needle … They bunch up & the needle wire twists up. I am presently trying a cowl with chunky wool.😖 Ughhh

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