From Slant to Curve: Shaped Intarsia

A few weeks ago, we discussed intarsia. One thing you may have noticed when knitting diagonal lines in color work is the characteristic jagged or stair-step edge you get at the color changes. That stair-step might be acceptable in smaller, intricate designs but when you have large sweeping diagonals or curved lines, it blurs the strong edges and dulls the sharp delimiting lines. If you work such a design in thicker yarns that result in larger stitches, the jagged edges become even more pronounced! Shaped intarsia turns those jagged edges into smooth lines.

The concept behind shaped intarsia is to tilt or slant the offending stitch that creates the stair-step effect to the left or right to create a gentler transition. It’s like creating a ramp to move more easily from one level to the next. In knitting, you force stitches to lean one way or the other by using directional decreases. You will have already encountered them if you’ve incorporated waist shaping, full-fashioned decreases, neckline and raglan shaping in your past projects.

Let’s review the directional decreases: working a k2tog (knit two together) leaves the top stitch leaning to the right, whereas working an ssk (slip, slip, knit) leaves the top stitch leaning to the left. Now keep in mind, since you’ve decreased a stitch to create your slant, you will then have to work a one-stitch increase to maintain your stitch count. Because of the use of a decrease to create the slant you will be able to shift the color by only one stitch per row and typically, you work the shaping on right side rows only.

Applying the Shaped Intarsia Concept

To apply this shaping concept to your intarsia color transition you will: 1) work a decrease on one side of the color change; 2) twist the colors at the color transition point just as for traditional intarsia; and then 3) pair it with an increase on the other side. This ensures that the total stitch count will always remain the same. For increases you will mainly use invisible increases, also called lifted increases (abbreviated as RLI, right lifted increase, and LLI, left lifted increase), and variations on the make 1 increase, i.e. M1L (make 1 left) and M1R (make 1 right). Lifted increases will make the new stitch grow out of the stitch below whereas the M1 variations will insert the new stitch between two existing stitches. Yarn over (yo) increases and double center decreases could be used as well.

By varying the type of increase and decrease and their placement you can achieve significantly different effects at the color change. You can either create a decorative effect at the color change by using an increase/decrease pair that outlines the edge more prominently, or you can minimize the attention drawn to the color change by using an increase/decrease pair that diffuses the strong lines created by the slants. Or, you can even separate them completely as long as one of them is worked at the color transition to build the ramp! It all depends on what you want the stitch image to look like. Feel free to experiment with the many different kinds of increases and decreases available to you to find the right combination for your purpose.

Right Slanting Color Change Line

If you want a right slanting color change line (Figures 2, 3, and 4), you will decrease on the right side of the color change and increase on the left side. You will work to 2 stitches before the color change, work the decrease of your choice, twist the yarn strands at the color change, then work the increase of your choice. See below for some example combinations.

shaped intarsia

Left Slanting Color Change Line

If you want a left slanting color change line (Figures 5 and 6), you will increase on the right side and decrease on the left side. You will work to 1 stitch before the color change, work the increase of your choice, twist the yarn strands at the color change, then work the decrease of your choice. See below for some example combinations.

Separated Increases/Decreases

You can also separate the pairs of increases and decreases as long as one of them is worked at one color change edge to build the ramp and the increase is worked on the other side so that there are equal numbers of increases and decreases on each row to maintain your stitch count (see right). This allows you to become really fancy with your combinations and you can apply additional shaping aspects to your fabric. For example, by using a double center decrease I can add chevrons to the fabric on top of my slanted color transition lines. Or, use a yarn over that is a bit wider than a regular stitch to spread the fabric farther apart and create a more bent color change line (see below).

shaped intarsia

Curves

Let’s add one more variable into the mix. Besides choosing between many different types of increases and decreases and their placement ,we can also play with the rate at which we are going to work the increase/decrease rows. By varying the rate we can create shallower or steeper angles to transform the color change into sweeping curves.

shaped intarsia

When you work the shaping on every RS row you will create a 45 degree angle for the diagonal line. If you slow down that rate to, for example, every other RS row (i.e. every 4th row) you create a steeper (more oblique) angle. You could also work the shaping on every row for a shallower (more acute) angle, turning a k2tog into a p2tog and an ssk into an ssp on the WS row, but keep in mind that a decrease does thicken and distort the fabric ever so slightly, so you should use the shaping sparingly. Experiment to get the right curve going! I think it is well worth the effort.

Want more information? Check out the Shaped Intarsia video!


Author Daniela Nii seeks new challenges with every project and uses a diverse range of techniques and media to produce designs that highlight simplicity and elegance. She is also the founder of www.localfibers.com. You can find her on Ravelry (username: nikkistudio) and on her website at www.nikkis-studio.com. Check out her Shaped Intarsia Tunic and Hourglass Pillow patterns to see this technique in action!


Shaped Intarsia for You to Try!