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Knitting With Colors

Updated on October 9, 2014

Knitting in Technicolor

There's something irresistible about a colorful yarn stash, and one of the most exciting aspects is the great variety of ways to knit with colors. Here's a quick list of just a few of your choices:

Intarsia knitting

Stranded knitting

Jacquard knitting

Domino knitting

Knitting with handpaint yarns and other yarns that change colors for you

Applique knitting

Slip stitch knitting

We'll be taking a look at all of these and more, so stop by often.

So many projects, so little time! Knit ON (high-5!)

intarsia knitting example
intarsia knitting example

What is intarsia knitting?

With intarsia knitting, you knit blocks of color using separate balls or bobbins of yarn, twisting them together on the wrong side of the garment wherever you change color. Each block of color uses a separate ball or bobbin, you don't carry colors along from one block to the next.

Here is a great written description of how to knit using the intarsia method.

Video Instructions for Intarsia Knitting - for those who like to see it being done

tangled yarn colors
tangled yarn colors

Great tips for Intarsia knitting

it doesn't have to be difficult to knit in many colors

The secret is to not use bobbins, so forget how many times you've read about bobbins in patterns. Read on to learn why this makes perfect sense, and seems so obvious once you've read it.

Just another example as demonstrated by the esteemed Elizabeth Zimmermann who dedicated her book Knitters Almanac "To all those who do not yet know that they can design their own knitting"!

Products for Knitting in Living Color - yarn, patterns, and instructions

Lion Brand BonBons Yarn Pack Brights, Brights
Lion Brand BonBons Yarn Pack Brights, Brights

Nothing like vivid, bright colors to get you inspired!

Mastering Color Knitting: Simple Instructions for Stranded, Intarsia, and Double Knitting
Mastering Color Knitting: Simple Instructions for Stranded, Intarsia, and Double Knitting

Here's three of the techniques I'll be discussing, all in one book.

fringed intarsia scarf
fringed intarsia scarf

Fringed Intarsia Scarf

I never thought I'd enjoy intarsia so much!

This scarf is knitting up so slowly, because of size 2 needles and all the color changes. The colors are crazy wild and I'm having fun doing this.

I pick up this project for an evening now and then to break the monotony of knitting yet another pair of felted slippers with chunky yarn on huge needles. Each stripe is started separately and slipped onto a thread for holding until all 7 stripes are knitted for the fringe, then they are all knit together onto a circular needle and the intarsia begins.

Once the body of the scarf is completed, the stripes will be finished up separately as fringe on the other end.

Thanks to The Best of Interweave Knits for the pattern.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Beach

Intarsia Scarf Close Up - brace yourself for lots of ends weaving

intarsia scarf closeup
intarsia scarf closeup

This is a closeup of the fringed intarsia scarf that is one of several projects on needles at the moment. You can see the detail of how the edges of 7 colors come together thanks to bringing the new color up under the old and pulling both color strands tight after knitting the first stitch of the new color.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Beach

Intarsia Untangled 1, Lucy Neatby a Knitter's Companion
Intarsia Untangled 1, Lucy Neatby a Knitter's Companion

Lucy Neatby is quirky, fun, and adventurous. She's also a fabulous teacher, and this DVD takes the kinks out of learning how to knit intarsia style. If you like to learn by seeing, this DVD should do it for you.


How to choose a knitting color palette

I sometimes struggle with picking a palette when working with several colors in a project. Laura Bryant is a master. This video is a hands-on introduction to her DVD, A Fiber Artist's Guide to Color. Her voice is so calm and soothing as her hands show you what she is referring to - bless her, she knows how anxious I can get. And the DVD is currently on sale so you can share your relief with your wallet.

Fair Isle jumper
Fair Isle jumper

Stranded Knitting

aka "Fair Isle" knitting

Stranded knitting is best understood by comparing it to Intarsia knitting. The Intarsia technique is best used when you have large blocks of color you want to knit, as in the picture above. Stranded knitting is useful when you are knitting patterns that require color changes within a row of knitting. Traditional Fair Isle knitting is done with only two colors per row, but modern patterns often call for more color changes.

The color(s) not being knit are carried loosely across the back of the knitted fabric. In Intarsia knitting, it is not practical to carry the yarn not being used across a large number of stitches, this inevitably causes puckering of the fabric.

As Elizabeth Zimmermann used to say, there are very few real mistakes in knitting. only stitch patterns waiting to be discovered. Perhaps you'd like a scarf with a bit of pucker in it...if so, ignore the above advice!

~thanks to WikiMedia Commons for the photo~

Color Placement and Stitch Selection - Switch these up and see how your colors seem to change

striped knitted baby hat
striped knitted baby hat

I've known for years that the arrangement of colors next to each other can subtly or dramatically alter how they appear to the eye. I also noticed how knitting a color stripe in garter stitch instead of stockinette can affect color perception as well. This recently-completed baby hat shows all of this, albeit quite subtly.

Notice the pattern: 3 rounds of yellow, 3 rounds of light green, 6 rounds of teal. Notice how the rounds of yellow, when purled instead of knitted, hide most of the light green (which will change as the hat is worn and stretched out a bit). Since this green is now hidden from view for the most part, the yellow set against the jade appears slightly darker or duller.

When knitting 3 rows of each color as in this hat, I use the stranded knitting method. Rather than cutting the yarn after each stripe, I simply carry all the colors along, twisting the working color around the other two every 2 rounds.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Beach

Mastering Color Knitting
Mastering Color Knitting

Mastering Color Knitting

Simple Instructions for Stranded, Intarsia, and Double Knitting

If you're new to color knitting, then this is the book for you. All in one place, you are tutored in the fundamentals (how to read color charts, how to choose a color palette, and so forth) and you receive training in all three techniques, a pattern treasury, and a few projects to try out your new skill.

For the more experienced knitter, there's a designer's workshop for each technique, enough charts and patterns that you can probably find some you don't already have on hand in another book, and lots of good info in the Yarn Choice and Substitution and the Resources pages to make this book worth buying.

Get more info about Mastering Color Knitting: Simple Instructions for Stranded, Intarsia, and Double Knitting or check out my entire bookshelf at Powell's Books.

Very Simple Color Knitting - a colorful little elephant with a BIG attitude

knitted elephant toy
knitted elephant toy

When knitting a stuffed toy in lots of colors, you don't have to worry about weaving in all your ends after color changes. No one will see the inside of this elephant, ever! So I simply cut the working color, tied in the new color with a good ol' knot, and continued. Lots of color changes, lots of knots, so what! I just stuffed them inside with the wool fleece stuffing.

Photo by Kathryn Beach

Jacquard knitting
Jacquard knitting

Knitting in Color the Jacquard Way

what exactly IS Jacquard knitting?

True Jacquard hand knitting is virtually impossible, as the technique was developed around the jacquard loom, a punchcard-controlled loom that allowed manufacturers to crank out volumes of knitted fabric with complex, multicolored designs that were both stranded (as in Fair Isle knitting) AND reversible.

I have a sweater that I think of when I think Jacquard - I would never attempt knitting one like it. I suppose I could wear it inside-out, as the inside is all white and just reflects the textured design of the fabric.

The closest I will ever come to Jacquard knitting by hand is maybe stranded knitting with more than two colors per row. Even that is a stretch, however.

Photo by Kathryn Beach

Detail of Jacquard Sweater - machine-knit jacquard sweater

Detail of jacquard knit sweater
Detail of jacquard knit sweater

Try to count the color changes per row!

Photo by Kathryn Beach

Jacquard Loom - An impressive machine, I must say, even though I have no idea how it operates

Jacquard Loom
Jacquard Loom

How to knit a domino square - Just do it!

Call it a square, a diamond, a potholder, or a patch. Try it and you'll understand the possibilities for blankets, jackets, or kimonos.

Domino knitting of and by itself is not necessarily knitting with more than one color. You knit a mitered square in garter stitch by decreasing stitches in the middle of every other row. The easiest way to learn is simply to make a domino knitting square, and then learn how to join them together.

Self-Striping Yarn

fun to use when knitting socks

Self-striping yarn is dyed in such a way as to automatically form stripes as you knit. This sort of knitting goes fast because you are always tempted to knit just one more row, to see what will happen next!

Photo credit

Applique Knitting

Applique knitting is shown in this video - it's not necessarily knitting with color, but it shows you how to easily add embellishments (knitted or not) to a knitted project. Of course. this can include adding color.

closeup of pattern
closeup of pattern

Knitting with Color via Slipped Stitches

plus, knitting from side to side

Recently I bought yarn for a felted project, only to discover that I'd ordered superwash yarn by mistake. I decided to add the yarn to my stash and use it for something for myself when the spirit moved me.

I had equal amounts of two different colors. How to use the yarn without knitting stripes? I'm not as thin as I used to be, and don't like how horizontal stripes make my wide parts look wider. Vertical stripes would fix that, but this would mean intarsia knitting. Scroll up and you'll see that I already have a striped intarsia project on the needles and it's resting comfortably on the back burner...waaaaay in the back...

Here's my solution. I found an attractive Fair Isle-ish slip stitch pattern in Barbara Walker's pattern encyclopedia and am working it into a tunic, knitting from side to side instead of bottom up or top down. Using a two-color slip stitch pattern means that in each row I only knit with one color. The second color is introduced when needed by way of slipping a stitch of that color from a previous row where it was knit.

It's a lot of knitting for someone who doesn't sit and knit for very long at a time. It's in progress however and here's a couple pictures, taken by me of course. The first shows how the knitting looks as I knit it, the second shows how it will look as it is worn, with the "stripes" running vertically. I like how the slip stitch pattern is broken up enough so it doesn't look so much like stripes.

I know, silly me. But if you're going to all the trouble of knitting a tunic, might as well make it like you want it.

Vertical Alignment

knitting from side to side
knitting from side to side

This is how the fabric will be worn when the tunic is completed.

Colorful Comments - what are you knitting today?

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    • kimberlyschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel, MLS 

      4 years ago from Greensboro, NC

      Great lens! I love color knitting of all kinds.

    • profile image

      Donna Cook 

      4 years ago

      I knit hats for the homeless as meditation in motion. Definitely going to try the fair isle pattern in the video. Thanks for a really great lens!

    • jennabee25 profile image

      Jenn Dixon 

      4 years ago from PA

      I'm on a color knitting kick right now, and just taught myself double knitting. Well done here!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      @Kathryn Beach: :-)

    • Kathryn Beach profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Wallace 

      6 years ago from Greenbank, WA, USA

      @Wednesday-Elf: Clever weaver of yarns that I am, I can fix mistakes too. ;-) Poof! Stutter gone!

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      @Wednesday-Elf: Sorry for the 'stutter' (duplicate post) here -- it didn't look like my first comment 'took'. :)

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image


      6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      First, I haven't knit in 40 years. Second, I am SO impressed with these colorful knitted projects and just know I'd NEVER be able to do it. I reserve my crafty color changes to crochet! :) Thanks for visiting my fiber arts page... you really should open an Etsy shop with your colorful and creative knitting projects!

    • Kathryn Beach profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Wallace 

      6 years ago from Greenbank, WA, USA

      @SusannaDuffy: Super! My favorite colorful knits have been clothing and accessories for stuffed animals. Currently I'm knitting strips for a Tunisian afghan in between other projects, a bit of a challenge because using my stash means figuring out how to use different weight yarns successfully.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I'm just about to knit a fat and cuddly rabbit. In lots of colours of course


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