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Ask Amanda: What’s the difference between Fair Isle and intarsia?

When you’re starting out with color knitting, it can be kind of tricky to understand the difference between Fair Isle and intarsia.

At its most basic, the difference lies in where the colors are in your pattern. If the colors run across the width of your knitting, you’ll be working stranded, or Fair Isle knitting. If the colors are more blocked off, and don’t show up throughout the row, then you’ll be doing intarsia knitting.

Stranded knitting is defined by knitting patterns in alternating colors, and stranding the colors not in use along the back of the fabric. Traditional Fair Isle knitting follows specific rules regarding how many colors are used, and are limited to only two colors per row. The term has since become looser over the years, and now often refers to any stranded knitting pattern. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here are a couple of our patterns that use stranded knitting techniques:

Stranded Knitting

From left to right: Calico BlanketTolmieBuss

In intarsia, a sizeable section of stitches are worked in only one color before changing to a new color, and it’s not necessary to strand the unused colors along the back of the fabric. Instead, you’ll have patches of color in certain areas. Here are some patterns featuring intarsia for reference:

intarsia knitting

From left to right: Moravia , LukchunModerne

Working either stranded knitting or intarsia is an easy way to step up your knitting skills – it adds interest to plain stockinette and opens up a wide range of exciting possibilities! When you’re ready to start trying out either of these techniques, be sure to check out our how-to videos, Stranded Basics and Intarsia Basics, for extra guidance.

2 thoughts on “Ask Amanda: What’s the difference between Fair Isle and intarsia?

  1. When the color design is at a diagonal, twisting depends on if the design is slanting to the right or to the left. If it is slanting to the RIGHT as you’re looking at it, you need to twist the yarns, regardless of whether you’re on the knit or the purl side of the piece.

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