Since the crocheted plaid I blogged about last time proved so challenging, I decided to branch into intarsia. Intarsia is a technique that involves knitting with multiple strands of color simultaneously, spaced across your piece. I have never been a big fan of intarsia because keeping track of different thread ends or bobbins can be a pain and inevitably they tangle on each other.
If I do have to use bobbins, however, this is my favorite kind:
I find they are the easiest to manage as they hold onto the yarn and are easy to hook or unhook again right at the back of your piece which means that they tangle less than the others.
However, Brandon Mably, who taught an intarsia class at my LYS five years ago, advocated no bobbins at all. Instead he just cut off strands of yarn and let them hang off the back of the work. What an amazing workshop that was! Using a painting as an inspiration, we improvised a cubist intarsia square, being as imaginative with colors as we liked.
It was a fabulous experience but it still did not conquer my doubts about intarsia. First of all, as a rank beginner, my intarsia joins were terrible--it is almost as if I deliberately framed each diamond with a rim of loose stitches! Second of all, I just couldn't face the enormous number of ends that were generated by that small square, which I still haven’t woven in!
Still, that was five years ago and my knitting skills have improved since then, so I decided it was time to give intarsia another try. For my intarsia plaid square, I tried both using bobbins and using long strands. There were 9 color stripes in my square so I put the six beige stripes on bobbins, as those are easier for me to manage, and I allowed the three red stripes to hang loose in long threads.
Does this image strike terror into your heart? It should! Nine colored threads over nine inches means that every inch I was managing a different color in addition to the color of the main row. Why did I do this to myself you ask? I wasn’t needlessly torturing myself. The plaid pattern I used in this swatch is based on a real plaid jacket I want to knit, and it has a lot of stripes. To complicate matters, this plaid jacket, like many other jackets, is knitted in moss stitch, to give it enough body and stiffness to maintain a jacket shape. For that reason, I had to use moss stitch at the same time that I was switching colors back and forth, which was a challenge.
I have not yet blocked this square, which is why the stripes seem to bow in a bit. What was the overall result of this experiment? I was quite pleased in the end. Did the intarsia square take longer to knit than the crocheted square? Yes, it was at least double the time. However that is not entirely a fair comparison because the intarsia square was knitted in moss stitch and the crocheted square was knitted in stockinette. It is difficult to make a direct comparison, but I still say with confidence that manipulating nine color strands will be more time-consuming than knitting simple stripes and crocheting on top of them every time. You must also factor in the labor of weaving in the extra yarn ends from your intarsia afterwards. However, I personally like the look of the intarsia better than the crocheted plaid. I feel that the crochet creates a 3D effect because of the way the stripes sit on top of the knitting, which makes it obvious that the vertical lines were added after the fact:
By contrast, the intarsia plaid is more uniform and resembles a “woven” fabric, which is what I am aiming for in my heirloom knitting projects. Many designer jacket textiles are woven, and that is the look that the moss stitch together with the intarsia achieves, I think.
I am also attracted to the intarsia plaid because I believe I have found a simplified approach that it is not nearly as aggravating. Halfway through my square, I saved my sanity by discovering that I only needed one light colored bobbin paired with each red stripe, not two. Since the light stripes are so close to each other, as they frame the red stripe on each side, I was able to fair isle those sections by stranding between the two light colored stripes on either side of the red. Since I only needed one beige bobbin and one red strand for each beige-red-beige stripe sequence, that cut my number of overall strands down from nine to six, which was a significant improvement.
This will not apply to any plaid, but for plaid motifs that use two thin stripes of color to frame a central one, you can do this modified intarsia/fair isle technique to cut down your number of bobbins. Since the stripes are so close together, you will not significantly add to the bulk of your garment by doing this, but it does mean that the fabric in those stripe sections will be more bulky than in the other sections, which could lead to some irregularity. Here you can see the difference in bulk of the fabric between the fair isle and non fair isle sections, from left (fair isle beige section) to right: (green intarsia section.)
To simplify the intarsia even further, and create a uniform surface, I discovered I could quite easily strand the entire piece with beige yarn so that the beige stripes were knit entirely in fair isle while the red stripes were knitted in intarsia. This means that the overall density of the fabric is greater, but the time saving is enormous. Once I was down to only 3 red bobbins because I could strand the beige, I smiled again, and my knitting sped up considerably. Here you can see the difference in bulk of the fabric between the intarsia rows (top) to fair isle rows (bottom):
This experiment was quite a plaiducation! Now I feel much more prepared to knit an actual, full jacket in plaid and I will know which color motifs to select, based on my preference for maximizing fair isle and minimizing intarsia techniques!
Now, I am curious about your opinions. Comparing the look of the three plaids I have blogged about, and the three different techniques, which do you prefer and why?
Technique 1: Crocheted plaid in stockinette
Technique 2: Intarsia+ Fair isle plaid in moss stitch
Technique 3: Duplicate Stitch Plaid in slip stitch
Please write your thoughts in the comments section!