Intarsia Socks: Color In Between

We hear intarsia and we think color knitting. But intarsia is also an ancient technique of inlaying pictorial mosaics into wood—a technique that was highly developed during the Italian Renaissance. We take our term intarsia from the Latin interserere, to insert or to place in between, and whether you’re woodworking or knitting, that’s what intarsia is: inserting.

It helps me to understand the tricks of intarsia knitting more easily when I think of ancient woodworkers creating individual pieces of wood and laying them into a grounding piece to create a design. Intarsia knitting employs a similar technique by knitting the color motifs individually, so carrying the yarn isn’t necessary.

That’s appealing to me because sometimes I’m still traumatized by the memory of those wretched tight bunches of color the first time I tried stranded colorwork in the intricate design of a sweater I knit years ago. The motif was a chain of little birds, but mine looked as if they’d been strangled rather than flying effortlessly through the sky of my sweater.

As I’ve learned to overcome my colorwork challenges, Anne Berk has been a helpful guide. In her first video Inside Intarsia, she taught the basics, including single-strand splicing, the difference between knitting flat or in the round (yes it’s possible!), and how to read charts.

Anne also wrote an article for PieceWork’s January/February 2011 historical knitting issue about creating a pattern for a pair of Gordon Highland regiment tartan socks based on an 1846 photograph. It was a fascinating article, and the bonus was her cool argyle sock pattern that included some useful tips about knitting intarsia.

intarsia socks

Anne Berk’s re-created Gordon Highlander intarsia sock from PieceWork January/Feburary 2011. Photo by Joe Coca.

So I’m particularly excited about her video download, Intarsia InDepth, Advanced Techniques because it takes us a few levels deeper into the world of inserting colorwork. Anne is a great teacher, and her passion and delight for intarsia infuse each chapter of this video.

Yarn management is critical to intarsia knitting, and Anne deftly provides the info you need about how to manage large amounts of yarn, including useful tips for calculating how much yarn you’ll need for the various sections of any given project.

The video includes printable patterns for two projects: An iPad case that allows you to practice working a single motif and a more challenging traditional argyle sock knit entirely in the round.

Another fun segment of the video is learning to create your own motifs, where Anne offers practical suggestions and inspires your creativity.

Take inspiration from those Renaissance masters and Anne Berk and try your hand at intarsia.

—Karen Brock

Updated on October 11, 2018.

Find more knitted socks from the pages of PieceWork!

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