Fair Isle vs. Intarsia

Fair Isle vs. Instarsia

Many knitting patterns involve color changes while most crochet patterns do not. Why is that? Having changed colors in knitted and crocheted projects I will say that it’s not because it’s easier to do when knitting. I actually found it easier to change colors while crocheting. There are two ways to change colors when knitting or crocheting, Fair Isle and intarsia. I have used both methods and the method I use depends on the project being made.

Fair Isle

Fair Isle, also called “stranded colorwork”, has several characteristics.

  1. It’s usually done in the round, like hats and sweaters.

    Flame Hats and Mittens

    Flame Hats and Mittens

  2. It traditionally uses only two colors per round. Other rounds may use two different colors, but each round uses two.
  3. The yarn is not cut but is crocheted over or dropped (to the back/wrong side)and picked up when needed. This leaves a strand of yarn on the back. For mittens, it is easy to snag the strands on the inside with a finger when putting the mittens on.
  4. The Flame Hat and Mittens are great for learning Fair Isle as the color work is only along the brim of the hat or the fingers of the mittens.

Mittens

Pictured left is a pair of mittens from our Flame Beanies and Mittens Set. The mitten on the right shows the wrong / inside of the mitten. Strands of yarn are carried along the inside until it is needed again.

As mentioned above, these are crocheted in the round. The beanies have a similar stranded look inside.

Intarsia

Intarsia has several of its own characteristics.

  1. It’s usually done in rows on flat pieces.

    Panda Set

    Panda Set

  2. A ball or bobbin of yarn is used for each color section and is dropped and left dangling until is it picked up and used on the way back.
  3. The yarn is always dropped to the project’s wrong side. Because it is worked in rows, sometimes it is dropped to the back and sometimes it’s dropped to the front.
  4. The Bamboo Blanket has only two color sections, black and white, making it a great beginner piece for Intarsia work. That means there are only two skeins or balls to keep track of when crocheting. The bamboo stalks are crocheted separately and sewn on.

Both Fair Isle and Intarsia use charts/graphs instead of written out instructions. Generally one box in the graph equals one stitch. Graphed work looks best in single crochet though half double crochet can work, depending  on the graph. Keep in mind, stitches in crochet do not line up one on top of another like knitting does. When trying to make vertical lines and things like letters, they will end up looking a little wavy. The stitches will line up a little more when working in rows. A vertical line will tend to lean right when working in the round.

There are just a few other tips for creating a successful piece of color work.

  1. When changing colors, you should use the new color for the last YO that is pulled through the loops on the hook.
  2. Tension can be a problem. If part of the project changes colors and part of it does not, sometimes one section is tighter than another. Be aware that you may need to relax during the color changing section.
  3. It is also easy to make a tighter section if there are long sections where a color isn’t used in Fair Isle. Crocheting over the unused yarn every 2-3 stitches helps keep the tension relaxed. Imagine trying to put on a hat that has no give because the strands are too tight.

My first projects were hats and scarves. They were small enough to practice on and I could pull them out and try again if something wasn’t quite right. With a little practice, it is possible to get into a rhythm with dropping and picking up the different colors. There is no reason Intarsia and Fair Isle can’t be just as popular in crochet as it is in knitting.

For a fun Fair Isle project, try the Flame Hats and Mittens.

For a fun Intarsia project, try the Bamboo Blanket.

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