How to knit intarsia in the round

A step-by-step tutorial on knitting intarsia in the round without a seam using double-pointed needles.

Intarsia is a great way to transfer pictures and other complex designs into knitting. But there is one major flaw: You need to knit it flat. Knit it in the round, and your bobbins will always be in the wrong place as you start your new round. They will still be dangling down on the far end of the color block, and not at the beginning, where you actually need them. So, in this tutorial, I want to present you with a solution on how to knit intarsia in the round nevertheless.

someone knitting intarsia in the round with neat joins

Before I start, I want to urge you to read my intarsia knitting guide and my list of 10 important tips for advanced intarsia knitting. All the basic principles of this amazing technique apply to knitting in the round as well. There are just a couple of additional things you need to take into account. Also, check out my tutorial on knitting in the round on DPNs. I will concentrate strictly on the intarsia specifics in this post and not touch on more basic techniques.

I also want to stress that this is a very advanced technique and I’m not entirely sure it’s suitable for knitting beginners. While the basics are in fact quite simple, it’s quite difficult to achieve neat results with it. And when you are knitting more complex patterns, then it’s incredibly hard to manage all the yarns.

close-up of a provisional join for intarsia in the round

Note: If you are looking for a fun intarsia pattern, check out my love socks or my cherry blossom socks. If you are wondering if this technique is right for you, here’s a guide exploring the differences between Intarsia and Fair Isle knitting.

Explaining the technique

Note: I earn a small commission for purchases made through links in this article.

The intarsia dilemna - the bobbins end up in the wrong place when you knit in the round
The dilemma: The bobbins end up in the wrong place after you finished a round

I already quickly touched on the more general problem in the introduction: When you knit across a round, all your bobbins end up on the left side of their respective color blocks. But as you start the next round, you need them to be on the right side. There is only one way to solve this: You need to knit back and forth!

There are three ways to do this:

  1. By creating provisional joins
  2. By slipping stitches of the background color as you knit the color blocks and thereby creating floats (a bit like in fair isle)
  3. By using a “seaming” technique to hide the point where you changed directions.

(And of course, you can knit flat and join in the round using mattress stitch.)

a swatch knitted in intarsia in the round

I am only going to show you version 1) in this tutorial, because it’s the only technique that produces consistent results in my opinion. Plus it can be applied to almost any pattern. It’s also the only truly seamless way to knit intarsia in the round.

Important: Knitting intarsia in the round works best with a double-pointed needle set (I am using these Knitter’s Pride Dreams DPNs*). If you are using a magic loop, then I advise knitting with two circular needles. As you are working back and forth, you absolutely need to make sure your purls and knits have the same tension. Knitting backwards can be a smart solution for skilled knitters in this case.

Instructions: How to knit intarsia in the round

someone showing how to knit intarsia in the round using dpns

Intarsia in the round works best when you create provisional joins and knit both the right and the wrong side. It can be a bit fiddly but it creates a truly seamless experience.

Active Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Instructions

  1. Start a new color block by weaving in a new yarn (color B) as normal (you can also use Twist & Weave).

    joining in a new color to start knitting intarsia in the round
  2. Continue knitting according to your chart/to the end of the color block.

    knitting across the first intarsia in the round color block using color b
  3. Once you reach the end of the block, you need to turn the project around and create a provisional join. To do so, bring the tail of the previous color forth from the start of the color block, and twist it like you normally would. In that manner, you'll create a little loop of yarn.

    creating a provisional join by twisting color a around color b
  4. Continue by purling one stitch in the other direction. Then, enlarged the loop in color A generously by gently tugging at it. You'll need this loop for knitting later on.

    knitting one stitch in color b and then enlargening the loop of color a
  5. From here, you can continue purling all the way back to the start of the color block, ignoring the loop in color A for now.

    purling across the full color block in color b
  6. Once you reach the end of the color block, you pick up the loop you created in color A, twist the yarns as usual (so pick it up from underneath).

    twisting the colors for a secure join and picking up color a again
  7. Continue purling the wrong side with color A until you reach the other end of the color block where you created the provisional join.
    purling across one full round in color a
  8. Before you reach the end of the color block in color A, you have to untwist the yarns by pulling the bobbin/different color through the loop.

  9. Finish the color block in color A, and close the provisional join by pulling on the working yarn.

    closing the provisional join at the end of the round in color a
  10. From here, turn the project around again, and create another loop/provisional join by placing the working end of color B between the yarn and your working yarn.

    turning the work around to create another provisonal join for color b
    Things should look like this now:
    how inarsia in the round should look like after a provisional join
  11. Continue knitting all the way back to the start of the color block in color A, ignoring thes loop in color B for now.

    knitting across a full round in color a
  12. Pick up color B again and twist the yarns as usual.

    twisting the yarn and picking up color B again
  13. Continue knitting across the color block with yarn B, making sure to pass the bobbin in color A through the loop before you reach the end.

    knitting across and then passing the bobbin in yarn a through the loop
  14. Once you reach the end of the color block, close the provisional join by pulling on the working yarn.

    closing the previously creatinged provisional join for yarn b
  15. Turn the work around, create another provisional join, and continue repeating steps 3-15 until you reached the desired length.
    turning the work around, creating another provisional join and continueing to knit intarsia in the round

Notes

In a nutshell, this technique boils down to knitting back and forth and creating provisional twists/joins before you reach the actual point in your chart. Half of the time, you will be knitting with the yarn of the loop and not the actual working yarn.

How to create diagonal color transition with the intarsia in the round technique

back side of intarsia in the round with neat joins

Now, I showed you the basic technique and it should be pretty straightforward once you completed a couple of rounds. But how do you enlargen or shorten a color block? Let’s say you want to knit a diamond or an argyle intarsia pattern in the round. Of course, you can do this as well but it’s a bit more complicated compared to flat knitting as you have to find the correct timing for a neat join/transition.

#1 Enlargening a color block

The best spot to make any given color block wider by one stitch is at the end of one full intarsia in the round repeat. Meaning after you finished knitting across the right side with yarn A.

Step 1: At the end of a knit round, simply knit one stitch less in color A. Then twist the yarns as usual.

knitting one less stitch in color a and twisting the yarns

Step 2: Pick up color B and start the color block one stitch earlier.

starting the intarsia color block one stitch before

Step 3: Knit across the color block as usual, close the provisional join as before, knit one more stitch, turn the work around, and create another provisional join by twisting color A around the working yarn.

knitting one more stitch in color b, turning around and creating a provisional join as usual

#2 Making a color block narrower

If you want to reduce the size of a color block, it works the other way round. You should start it right when you purl across the return row in color B.

Step 1: Purl one less stitch in the return row in color B. Twist the yarn and pick up color A.

purling one stitch less to start the color decrease

Step 2: Finish purling across, close the provisional join by tugging at the working yarn. Then purl one more stitch.

purling one more stitch with color a

Step 3: Turn the work around, create a provisional join for color B, and knit across the right side in color A.

turning around and creating a provisional join as usual

#3 Faster color transitions with more than one stitch

Diminishing any given color block by one stitch is somewhat easy. If you want to decrease a color panel faster than this, meaning by 2 or more stitches, you have to create a float before you can do that – otherwise you will end up with super wonky joins.

Step 1: One round before the color change, create a float by twisting the yarns at the position where you want to switch

faster decrease intarsia by creating a float

Step 2: Bring up the next color from below and twist them as normal.

and then twisting the colors from that float

I do have to warn you, though. It takes a lot of experience and very even tension to achieve consistent and neat results with such fast color changes. I would only use them sparingly.

Problems you should be aware of

This technique works totally fine as long as you only knit squares in a single color. But as you probably want to knit some more complex intarsia patterns in the round, there are some issues you need to be aware of:

1. Knitting diagonally can be a challenge

My Love Stocks

When you want to knit a diamond or a heart, then you have to enlarge or decrease your color block by a stitch every round or two. But here’s the problem: In the return row, this means you might have to knit stitches in a different color you actually have not knitted yet.

You can fix some of these problems with slipped stitches to a certain degree (meaning, in the row before, you are not knitting the first sitch after you turned the project, but just slip it).
When you are plotting your chart, make sure you don’t have any color decreases or increases that you cannot knit. A simple way to solve this problem is only decreasing or increasing every second row.

2. When you have more than two colors, things can become very complex

I showed you how to knit intarsia in the round with two colors. Obviously, you can add further colors and you can actually knit across these and set the turning point at the very end. You only need to decide on one “background-color” and use the edges as the places where you create the provisional joins and turn the work. So, that’s kind of sweet.
But when that background color block ends (for whatever reason), you need to plan where you do the turns in the next row.

3. Purls with a different tension will mess up your project

A lot of English knitters have tremendous problems with their purls. They are just so much loser than their knit stitch equivalents. It’s fundamental that you practice your purls before you start with knitting intarsia in the round. Otherwise, your final project will look quite a bit wonky. If you want to learn how to purl the continental way, read my purl stitch tutorial here.

4. Don’t be tempted to mix in Fair Isle floats

Sometimes, you end up with very small color blocks where you might think: Hey, I can use the same bobbin for the next block as well by bridging the gap with a float. Don’t! Even if you are a proficient Fair Isle knitter and really know how to create the perfect floats, they will still leave that portion of the fabric a bit puckered. This, together with the fact that the entire technique is already a bit difficult, spells out disaster. I tried and tried it again and again, but I was never able to get it right. I mean, go ahead, try it, but don’t expect a perfect result.

5. Use lifelines

Frogging intarsia is already quite a nightmare because of all the twists. But frogging intarsia in the round is even worse because of all that knitting back and forth. You will end up with a mistake eventually. But if you frog it, you will soon notice that it’s almost impossible to frog it one row at a time. It’s very easy to accidentally pull on a twist and frog one additional row of a color block.
So, either use lifelines every 10 rows or so or reverse knit. Everything else runs the risk of ruining your whole work.

Anyway, That’s how you knit intarsia in the round. feel to Comment below in case you still have any questions.

how to knit intarsia in the round

9 thoughts on “How to knit intarsia in the round”

  1. Thank you so much for this in-depth tutorial. Best i have read – and I have read a lot. With the video and the pictures i was finally able to start my first intarsia hat!

    Reply
  2. Thank you Norman!
    This is extremely helpful and have watched sections a number of times as I get to my color block. I will be adding a third color. Can you provide a bit more detail to your text, “You only need to decide for one “background color” and use the edges as the places where you create the provisional joins and turn the work.”
    I’m hoping it becomes more obvious when I add the third color with which colors to make the provisional join and when to turn.

    Reply
    • Hey Mary,

      glad you found my tutorial helpful. I think it will make sense once you come to the place where you add the third color.

      Let’s say you have a simple square and then you want to fill that square with another square in a different color. You would need 2 more bobbins to do this. If you keep the previous turning points, then you can simply knit across in the middle doing two traditional intarsia joins/yarn switches and then the tails will all be in the right place as turn around and purl backwards.

      Reply
  3. I agree that your intarsia in the round is the absolute best video. However I did find an error in two photos of the written instructions. “Step 3” & the “Continue repeating steps 3-11” photos show the create a provisional join yarn twist incorrectly. The teal yarn should come from under the red then over the red yarn. (sort of like a teal left leaning yarn over on the red yarn)

    Your video shows the twist correctly. I was struggling with the written instructions getting correct intarsia twists on the right side until I watched your video and slowed it down from 7:41 thru 7:51. Phew! I was so happy when I discovered the twist is wrong on your photos.

    Truly you do have the best instructions out there! Please fix your step 3 photo to match your video so no one else goes crazy like I was.

    Reply
  4. Hello, and thank you for this awesome tutorial.

    The provisional loop management certainly works, but it can be a lot of yarn management, more so when juggling 5 DPNs.
    Do you have any experience (or ideas) with just leaving the gaps open while knitting and then closing them afterwards ? In essence, it is a kind of sewing done in order to tidy up the intarsia borders.

    Reply
    • sure, you can always knit it flat and then use mattress stitch to fill things. I wouldn’t this across motifs tho as it typically doesn’T create neat seams.
      Also, if you are knitting socks, you will end up with an annoying welt on the inside.

      Reply
  5. Thanks for showing the provisional join with clear explanations and pictures! I had watched one video tutorial that started off in the middle of the project, it didn’t show what on yours is the first provisional join. When I watched intarsia done flat, the MC was cut so it went MC, CC, new MC ball. This was exactly what I needed to incorporate a CC line in the toe of my sock, thanks so much!

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Skip to Instructions