Bristol Ivy talks intarsia

We've been beavering away behind the scenes to get A Year of Techniques ready for the final copy editing and layout process, which is why it's been a bit quiet around here. In between all that I've been knitting like mad on my Brambling Shawl. I'm feeling a little bit sad that it's nearly done, as I've enjoyed it so much. But I'm also bursting with excitement to share May's pattern with you next week. It's a corker!

So how have you found intarsia? Was it as tricky as you thought? Or were you already a seasoned intarsia expert who had knitted a heap of picture sweaters in the 80s? I've been chatting to Bristol Ivy (the genius designer of Brambling) about her experience of intarsia, and I've pumped her for pattern inspiration for my next intarsia project. Here's what she had to say:

JAC: Having had a terrible first experience of intarsia, I have since discovered intarsia can be fun thanks to your patterns. But was your first intarsia project love at first knit, or a bit of a nightmare?

BI: I kind of stumbled into intarsia! I had offered to finish up an argyle Christmas stocking for a family friend, and finished it in some weird unvented combination of intarsia and stranding. The inside was not pretty, but they were happy! After that, I was pretty bound and determined to figure out a way to use it again, on MY terms this time.  

A lot of the time when I’m designing, the typical reaction to a technique doesn’t factor into my plans, and I’ll use whatever techniques I need to get the finished product I’m looking for. So I didn’t feel particularly intimidated by the idea of intarsia the first time I used it for designing, because I knew it was the way to get what I wanted. It was either get comfortable with it or find a very circuitous route to recreate it some other way. And I’m much more interested in getting exactly what I want!

 Joni, designed by Bristol Ivy. Image © Pam Allen

Joni, designed by Bristol Ivy. Image © Pam Allen

JAC: My Ravelry-fu shows me that you’ve published 6 designs featuring intarsia. If people have enjoyed making a Brambling Shawl, which of your patterns should they try next?

BI: Ooh, good question! All of my intarsia patterns are worked on the same principle of the stitches themselves shifting rather than the color shifting, so they should be an easy transition from Brambling. But I would say Joni or Vienne (both published with Quince & Co.) are good choices, since they have good clean graphic lines to use as guidelines for where the joins should be.

 Vienne, designed by Bristol Ivy. Image © Carrie Bostick Hoge

Vienne, designed by Bristol Ivy. Image © Carrie Bostick Hoge

JAC: I absolutely love the intersecting blocks of colour in Brambling, but how on earth did you go about planning how to make the colour shifts work to create those curves?

BI: Hoo boy! Graph paper all the way (or the digital version of graph paper, Adobe Illustrator)! I drew the shapes out that I wanted, and then used the graph paper grid to block off sections of the curves that intersected with the grid. I used the ratios there (3 squares up by 4 squares over, etc) to work with my row and stitch gauge to figure out the formulas. I did a little tweaking to get the rate changes to happen in the different colors at the same times, but it’s pretty close to my original plan!

 Bristol's Brambling shawl design for A Year of Techniques features clever, intersecting curved colour blocks.

Bristol's Brambling shawl design for A Year of Techniques features clever, intersecting curved colour blocks.

JAC: And finally, are there any other knitting techniques that you think have an undeserved bad name?

BI: Steeking! Bohus! Complicated lace! Turning a heel! Short rows! Picking up at a ratio that doesn’t make the fabric pucker. Making buttonholes. . . I could keep going. I think that the fact that we live in an age of such information and such communication is amazing and has made incredible strides in the knitting world. But I also think it means that we are inundated with other people’s opinions of the difficulty and scariness of certain techniques, before we get the chance to try them on our own. I would love to challenge everyone to take one technique that intimidates them and sit down for an afternoon and give it a try. Maybe it’ll take a group of friends cheering you on, maybe a class, maybe a large glass of gin, maybe just some quiet time, but I guarantee that it’ll be far less intimidating than originally expected. The knitting world then becomes your oyster!

Thank you so much Bristol! If you'd like to try another of Bristol's wonderful designs, do head over to her Ravelry page and have a good look at the beautiful patterns on offer. Bristol and I are in absolute agreement about the benefits of just diving in and trying a new technique. If you would like to try your hand at a range of new techniques, each accompanied by a pattern, photo and video tutorials, as well as a virtual living room of knitting friends to cheer you on, do join us in A Year of Techniques. You can purchase the ebook (£19.99) or print+ebook (£19.99 plus shipping) options over in our online shop. The next pattern will be released on Wednesday 3rd May - not long now!