Intarsia in the Round

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Carol asked about intarsia in the round and whether we know any tricks to make it work. She mentioned that she has tried it by slipping the stitches of one color, then knitting backwards to work the other color. Great question!

The simple answer is that intarsia doesn’t work in the round within the essential definitions of  Intarsia or Circular Knitting. It always requires an adaptation that makes the whole process a hybrid of either one or both techniques. That being said, if you’re up for it, GO FOR IT!

Intarsia can be described as blocks of color created by adding a separate source of yarn anywhere there is a boundary between two colors; the result being that no yarn is carried across the back of the work. Each area of color is independent of any other.  When you finish a block of color on the right side of the work, that piece of working yarn stays at the left-hand edge of the block of color. That’s great, because when you turn the fabric around to the wrong side, the left-hand edge of the block of color becomes the right-hand edge and the working yarn for each color is perfectly positioned for picking up to continue across on that wrong side row.


Circular Knitting can be described as always working on the same side of the fabric, with no seam or edge in the fabric; the fabric created being continuous tube with no break in the working yarn.

Here’s the rub: When attempting intarsia in the round, beginning the color design seems to work just fine. Attach a new color and off you go. Attach another new color and continue on. The problem comes when on the next round: when you get to the first block of color, there is no working yarn waiting for you. It’s stuck where it landed on the left-hand side of the stitches worked in that color and is not available for you to use to knit that section.

In order to work it in strictly the round, you’d have to pull the yarn across the back of the work to where your needles currently are, twist it around the other color, then work across, leaving it stuck on the other edge yet again, necessitating the same move on the next round. But then that leaves your original yarn stuck in the wrong place and leaves long floats across the back of the work, which don’t look nice, and would inevitably snag and/or be difficult to keep tensioned properly thereby causing the color blocks to pucker and tighten.

If you are completely inspired to add intarsia to something you really, really don’t want to sew up, it can be done, but not without some flexibility of mind in terms of definitions. Grab some yarn and needles and work along with the instructions below to get the hang of it.

The first was already mentioned by Carol and involves slipping and turning to purl OR knitting backwards each time you come to a color section.

  1. At the first block of color, instead of knitting it, slip purlwise all the stitches of that color, until you get to the working yarn for that section.
  2. Work the stitches of the color block in the opposite direction (or TURN and purl the stitches on the wrong side). Twist the yarns.
  3. On the right side, slip purlwise all the stitches of the color section again.
  4. Repeat each time you come to a new color.
  5. On the next round, work as usual.

As you can imagine, this has you going back and forth several times within a round, and it doesn’t work well at all if there is only one intarsia section on a plain background. It also gets quite fiddly if the charted design isn’t fairly simple and geometric.

The second method is really knitting flat, but “seams” the work as you go so it becomes a tube as you’re knitting rather than needing to be sewn after the knitting is complete.

  1. Work the first row of the pattern, adding in all yarns needed for intarsia color sections.
  2. At the round marker, instead of continuing on, turn the work. You’ll now be working on the wrong side.
  3. Make a backwards YO before working the round.
  4. Work around on the wrong side, working intarsia sections as they appear and according to the chart or instructions.
  5. At the round marker, work the last stitch of the round together with the YO.
  6. Turn the work.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6.

There is a third method very like the second, but instead of a YO at the beg/end of round, work a wrap and turn. This of course will leave a visible wrap on the right side, unless you hide the wrap on a subsequent round, and mechanically, working the second method has the same end result, so I’d recommend that one.

Gwen and I find it interesting that there are techniques that seem to go hand in hand, such as intarsia and flat knitting or stranded knitting and working in the round. Intrepid knitters do like to push the envelope though, and if you feel confident going for intarsia in the round and  making one of these methods work for you, we hope this information will get you started!



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