Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn CrawlΒ is on through Sunday, September 25.

Warning: Extreme Graphic Intarsia (Mature Audiences)

Dear Ann,
Intarsia is one of those techniques that is not so much in vogue these days. (Or in Vogue, for that matter.) You got your lace, your cable, your fair-isling in all directions and dimensions, but you don’t see a lot of cool new intarsia designs. (Important exception: skull and crossbones motifs. Those are classic. Those we will always, always keep alive in Our Craft.)
About 10 years ago, as a fairly new knitter, I didn’t look at patterns the way I do today. Today I look at a picture and think, “Cablicious!” or “Lace-intense!” or “WTF?” Back then, I only thought, “Purty!” And proceeded to buy 18 colors of cotton yarn without realizing that the idea would be, when I got home, to knit with all 18 colors at the same time, following a chart. With the result, at the end of a long and tangly process, being a sweater that made me look eggzackly like a sofa (or a love seat, I was slimmer then) in a Laura Ashley slipcover. Even if you are very careful to avoid reindeer, bells and candy canes, an intarsia sweater can quickly go Christmassy on you. I gradually came to avoid them. Intarsia was for children and Other People.
But the other day I stubbed my toe on a basket, looked down, and saw an abandoned WIP. Memories rushed back. Years ago, in one of Kaffe’s ‘passionate’ or ‘glorious’ books, I saw a room that he had done up all in squares. A vintage postage-stamp quilt, squares on the ceramics, squares everywhere.
And you know, I love a square. One particularly alluring item was a needlepoint cushion with overlapping squares, approximately a million of them. The book included a full-size chart to make this needlepoint, with different black and white symbols for each of the tapestry wool colors. In my youthful hubris I thought, ‘Hey! I could knit this chart, no problem!’ I started out heedlessly. Bobbins? To heck with bobbins! Brandon Mably says to just ‘pull from the tangle’, no? I like the zen of that, and if it’s good enough for Brandon, it’s good enough for me.
Y’all. When Brandon says ‘pull from the tangle’?— This would be the tangle.
The tangle was not the real issue though. The real issue was the chart. It is no fun to follow an elaborate intarsia chart. You are no longer knitting. You are reading and stopping and checking and losing your row and figuring out a system to keep track of your row and then you are deciding maybe to knit something else for a minute, just until the Advil kicks in.
After just one partial row of boxes, I abandoned the project– tangle, needle, connected balls of yarn– and all, for a good six or seven years.
Then I had An Idea. An idea that couldn’t have occurred to me seven years ago. A truly Kaffe-ish idea. Why not knit the overlapping boxes WITHOUT A CHART? Can you stand it? Boxes are SQUARE. Knitting is square. You can SEE THE BOXES in your knitting. They are meant to OVERLAP so you can do them any whichway. LET’S DO IT!!!
To make it more fun (could it possibly get more fun?), I ditched the notion of a cushion cover (so ‘1999’), and decided to just make a piece of fabric. And bam! to kick it up one more notch, I would knit it really fast. Over and out. Speed intarsia. An afternoon’s knitting, and wherever those boxes stood, they would be bound off.
This is what I got. You just have to believe me when I tell you, it was a hoot and a half to knit this thing.
What am I going to do with it? I’m feeling a little…..blankety.
Love, Kay




  1. kay,
    there is a special brand of crazy that until now i had been reserving for ann and her keava.
    no longer…
    (kidding – that looks like it’s going to be a stunning blanket!).

  2. Oh I love it. Please don’t do this to me. Again.

  3. kay,
    You could consider making it into an art deco wall hanging. I love it! It is pretty. I know about the tangles. Wonderful Ann has been my teacher in learning to knit.. ( she is quite a patient and good teacher). Tangles.. that’s what I am thinking of for my personalized license plate. LOL.
    Great Work!

  4. That’s why I never discard an unfinished project.
    The blanket looks great. That isn’t *denim* you’ve paired it with, is it? πŸ™‚

  5. Great idea Kay. Good use of thing gone bad. I love it. ?????? State Fair entry????????????

  6. An inspired use of a bit of intarsia. I can’t wait to see the finished blanket.

  7. Oh, Kay! Heavens to murgatroyd or however you spell that. I have looked at that square thing, too, and thought exactly the same thing, but I have stopped there… How wonderful that you carried on, just far enough. Now just tell me, are you mixing this in with those sampler denim squares you showed us a while ago?

  8. Oh, NOW I remember why it took me 12 YEARS to finish the last intarsia sweater I made from a Rowan pattern…
    Thanks for the nostalgic yank, allthoseskanks aah the memory of those thingies hanging from the back of my sweater is making me lose the horizon.
    Intarsic epizootics?

  9. A blanket! Of course, what else!? πŸ˜€
    Brilliant! πŸ™‚

  10. Never underestimate a knitter’s drive for an FO.
    That is one hawt blanket, Kay. Now all you need is some skulls and crossbones. πŸ™‚

  11. Gaw-juss! Almost makes me want to try a little something Kaffee Fassett just so I can abandon it and years from now turn it into something as amazing as that blanket.

  12. Oh, that looks terrific! LIke a Klimt painting. I’m so glad you shook off the reins of the pattern and went for it!

  13. I had a few reactions as I looked over the pictures in this entry. The first was “it’s funny how I can always know who the writer of an MDK entry is when the first pic has lots of blue yarn in it.” The second, upon seeing all of those wretched end, was a shudder. I covered my eyes. You are a brave woman for soldiering on!

  14. Excellent epiphany! Way to run with the zeitgeist. That blanket will be fabulous!

  15. STFU that is gorgeous! I know you’re too busy to write a pattern but when you finish that please post a bunch of photos and then write something like “there’s a nobbly stitch there and a normal stitch there and a colorful thing there and the blue thing is Rowan demin” and then some creative type (not me!) will write the pattern and all of blogland will rejoyce.

  16. Beautiful…
    but will you weave in all those ends or casually and carefully cover them up real quick-like when no one is looking? Inquiring minds want to know!

  17. O for the Kaffe-ness of this! Yea! Way to go rescuing that forgotten project – it gives me hope!

  18. I love what you did!

  19. I’m speechless from laughter (at the post)and awe (at the blanket). Kaffe would be proud beyond words.

  20. KAAAAAAAY, you freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeak! You total freak! You blankety square freak! I love it!
    Make a lining for this one, puhlease? Just get a pile of that Kaffe fabric, pfaff the heck out of it, and let the ends be bygones.

  21. Fantabulous – way to put that nasty intarsia in its place – now it knows who’s boss! Patterns? We don’t need no stinkin’ patterns! Damn the man, save the empire!
    Whew, I got kind of carried away there. πŸ™‚

  22. oooh oooh,love it! I second the back it and ignore the tangle (or preserve the tangle, unseen) but do not let this near as State Fair. They’d never understand its genius. Or it’s genius, either.

  23. Okay, now, stop it right this instant. Stop making entirely too complicated and beautiful things that I MUST HAVE THIS INSTANT. We’ve been through all this before. So, no more.
    All right? Got it?
    (well, maybe just this one last time….)

  24. Slipcover! Wall hanging!

  25. Wow, your by-the-seat-of-your-pants squares are awesome!! The blanket idea is great. I recommend lining the squares section so that you don’t have to sew in all the ends….

  26. I have to say, I’m voting for the side with the tangles. They shouldn’t be tamed. After six years, they are a wild bunch, and won’t take kindly to being forced into something resembling not-tangley. (oh, I made a pun… Knot tangley… lol) I think you should let them stay free πŸ™‚

  27. I belive you have just earned yourself the brilliant moniker.
    that blankie is going to be lovely!

  28. Yes, yes, yes, BABY, YES!
    And how could you POSSIBLY do anything but “pull from the tangle”?
    And how do I continually underestimate your stash of cotton, that I could be suprised that you would let all of that gorgeous yarn sit unused for so long?

  29. Your squares instantly brought to mind my intarsia afghan, and you’re right–the irregularity of the squares in the chart messed with me, especially where I used “blue” and “turquoise” together (I subbed colors of Manos for colors of 1824 wool, see).

  30. FREAKING GENIUS! Kay is the new Kaffe.

  31. You are way too cool, I may have to turn the central heating up. Am I the only person in the world who ENJOYS weaving ends in? So satisfying, so challenging, getting them all neat and not showing on the right side, I really do love it. Yeah, I know, I’m odd.
    But you are just icy cool with that, really. x x x (Bit like the weather here tonight. Icy cool)

  32. Kaffe would be so proud– I think we all need some more pulling from the tangle and more knitting squares without charts. You’re an artist!

  33. courageous….spelled with a kay!

  34. I love the art deco wall hanging idea. your “intarsiaing” looks artsy.

  35. In honor of you, I cast on my Buster last night with my two big ol’ Fisher-Pricey-looking intarsia stars, one on each front panel. You are elevated to a special position of acclaim in my house. My sincere thanks for that pattern book. You saved my hiney.
    Now I look at your blocky Bride of Frankenstein, and I think, “Hmmm. That woman had, at one time, lost her marbles. Bless her heart. We’re glad she got them back.”

  36. you are all kinds of cool.

  37. I love it! I see you still don’t have Atlanta on the book tour! Please Please come but please don’t make it the last week of May/ First week of June I will be out of town.
    Hugs from GA

  38. I loooooooooooOOOOoooove it! Gorgeous. I cannot stand it. Kaffe has nothing on you.

  39. Kay, about 11 years ago I actually took a class from Brandon (an unknown person then) and the great Kaffe himself. It was transforming. After the class, I merrily went out and bought a whole mess o’ yarn and knit my husband a pullover in the overlapping squares, no chart, no rules about what color to put where. It was probably the fastest sweater I’ve ever knit.
    And…I’ve never done intarsia since. But it is burned into my knitting consciousness, and definitely made me a profoundly braver and happier knitter!

  40. It looks so pretty from the front… but the back gives me the willies! Good luck! πŸ™‚

  41. Inspired!

  42. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of square. Go Kay!

  43. Wow! Good for you for overcoming your frustration – that “tangle” picture looks seriously scary!

  44. Oh my the ends! I could never face those ends. Good for you on the blankety save. It’s got a backing right? Please tell me you just hid all those evils little ends behind the backing. πŸ˜‰

  45. That is…quite sick. I would have to be on drugs to start something like that.
    Major kudos.

  46. Cara is right – you are the new Kaffe …. Kayye … it has a certain ring to it.

  47. Uma – Oprah……….Kaffe – Kayye
    I hear the ring too!

  48. I’m going to paraphrase my son here:
    “yum yum!”
    stunningly delicious intarsia made yummier by the denim – it really makes the other yarn shades pop!
    (currently attempting to knit lace with silver wire & then fuse it into glass for mixed media module of the fine art textiles course – attempt being the operative word!)

  49. That’s definitely worth waiting seven years for. Wonderful!

  50. How well and truly nifty!

  51. Sounds like you found the workshop Pauline said she wanted to arrange – the vastly oversubscribed one with Kaffe F to which everyone brings their unfinished Kaffe knitting projects – the one I was telling you about.
    If not, you’ve done a great job on your own. I love the way you’ve incorporated it into something else instead of feeling duty-bound to finish the pattern. Looks great.

  52. As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking… maybe you could DO something with those ends. Like, start knitting up the other side. Or, and I know this might be sacrilege to mention “the hook,” but you could crochet the ends into a whole ‘nother side. Imagine if each one of those ends ended up as a crochet flower. A field of flowers on a field of squares all log-cabinned into a denim hug.
    And Ann, seriously, since when are you the authority on “lett[ing] the ends by bygones”? Ye who refuseth the simplicity of the sewing machine when the ends are at the SIDES and will be in a SEAM. Is it really she who heeds not the siren call “just carry it up the side ’til the next stripe” who suggests the Pfaff when the ends are all over the place in the middles of rows and everything? You got some new spring leaves you’re turning over down south?
    Officially bowled over,

  53. And see! I am one of those new knitters that looks at that project and thinks, “Wow! Purdy!” I now know what intarsia is because of this post! (And it explains those Christmas stockings my mom knit so many years ago.) Love it. The blue yarn you paired it with is purdy too. Is it denium?

  54. love, love, love the intarsia!

  55. I had to laugh – I bought a Klee scarf kit and am also doing intarsia squares, making it up as I go along, just like you. But I am not putting one square inside another, and the ends don’t show up much because of the way the yarn is colored. Sometimes I sit down and weave in a bunch of ends before knitting further so I don’t have them ALL to do at the end of the scarf.


A bit of news from us, every now and again.

(Your email is safe with us.)