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.
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.
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
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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:
- By creating provisional joins
- By slipping stitches of the background color as you knit the color blocks and thereby creating floats (a bit like in fair isle)
- 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.)
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.
- Start a new color block by weaving in a new yarn (color B) as normal (you can also use Twist & Weave).
- Continue knitting according to your chart/to the end of the color block.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Continue purling the wrong side with color A until you reach the other end of the color block where you created the provisional join.
- 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.
- Finish the color block in color A, and close the provisional join by pulling on the working yarn.
- 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.
Things should look like this now:
- Continue knitting all the way back to the start of the color block in color A, ignoring thes loop in color B for now.
- Pick up color B again and twist the yarns as usual.
- 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.
- Once you reach the end of the color block, close the provisional join by pulling on the working yarn.
- Turn the work around, create another provisional join, and continue repeating steps 3-15 until you reached the desired length.
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
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.
Step 2: Pick up color B and start the color block one stitch earlier.
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.
#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.
Step 2: Finish purling across, close the provisional join by tugging at the working yarn. Then purl one more stitch.
Step 3: Turn the work around, create a provisional join for color B, and knit across the right side in color A.
#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
Step 2: Bring up the next color from below and twist them as normal.
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
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.