Knitting Colour Work Explained

Knitting can be anything from plain and minimal to wondrously colourful and highly patterned.

That is exactly what makes it such a versatile and exciting hobby.

For beginner knitters it could be that you see a multi coloured design that you love, but don’t know quite what colour work technique was used to make that stunning effect.

This article will explain the main types of colour work in knitting.  You will also find links to some great websites that will help you to learn more about the various great ways that you can add colour to your knitting projects.

Read on to learn more about how to use colour work in knitting.

This post may contain affiliate links.  You can read more about what this is here.

Intarsia Knitting

Intarsia knitting is where you knit a picture into your work.  Children’s sweaters, for example, often use the intarsia technique for placing an image of a favourite character on the front of the piece.

Intarsia can also be used for adding small touches of colour work to knitting projects.  An example of this might be a heart on a hat or a star on a pair of mittens.

Intarsia is usually worked using a chart.  Sometimes the instructions are written, however this is quite rare and often only found in vintage knitting patterns.

Sesame Street sweaters worked using the charted intarsia knitting technique.

The picture above shows an example of a sweater knit using the intarsia knitting technique. Shops like this one on Etsy are a great place to find retro and vintage intarsia sweater knitting patterns.

Fair Isle Knitting

Fair Isle is also known as stranded knitting.  It is where a colourful pattern is worked across entire rows of knitted work, and the strands are carried across as you work.

This is where Fair Isle, which originates from Scotland, differs to intarsia.  In intarsia, a picture is worked just once.  In Fair Isle, the colour work design is repeated over and over to produce a set pattern.

An example of Fair Isle knitting.

Fair Isle, like intarsia, is often, but not always, worked by following a chart.  It is more suitable to knitting in the round than intarsia, which is usually knit flat.

There is a very nice Fair Isle tutorial here on the lovely Tin Can Knits blog that may be of interest to you.

You may also wish to check our 10 Easy Fair Isle Knitting Patterns article.

Mosaic Knitting

Mosaic knitting is another fabulous way to incorporate colour into knitting projects.  This technique involves slipping stitches as you work, and there are a multitude of different effects that can be achieved with mosaic knitting.

An example of a colour work headband made by using the slipped stitch mosaic technique. (Knitting pattern available here).

If you are looking for a knitting pattern that is pretty easy for anyone new to mosaic knitting, this cowl design is beautiful.

I personally love mosaic knitting and think it looks absolutely modern and unique.  I also think its the easiest and most colour work technique in knitting.  You may not agree with me of course.  Intarsia and Fair isle certainly have plenty of fans.

We have a great free mosaic hat knitting pattern on our website!


Knitting stripes into your projects is a really easy way to add some colour.  You can make large stripes, simply cutting and adding in new yarn as you go, or work narrow stripes in two or three colours.  When knitting narrower stripes you don’t have to cut the yarn, you can simply carry it up the work and finish off at the end.

The multi coloured striped effect in this headband design was made by knitting two strands of yarn held together.

You can of course buy self striping or self patterning yarn, which makes colour work extremely easy for any knitter.

US knitters will probably already be aware of the beautiful Mandala yarns from Lion Brand.  Such yarns make knitting stripes a breeze.

If you live in the UK/Europe you can find a multitude of self striping and self patterning yarns here on Lovecrafts.

Duplicate Stitch

Duplicate stitch is another, lesser known, method of colour work knitting.  It is best explained as a type of embroidery that is worked when the knitting part of the project has been completed.

The stitch that has been knit is ‘duplicated’ using a tapestry needle and a yarn in a contrasting colour.

Colour work can be added by using an embroidery technique once the knitting part of the project has been completed.

Duplicate stitch is a wonderful colour work technique for adding little splashes of colour to any knitted garment.

There is a great tutorial for working duplicate stitch here.

We hope you have enjoyed this article about the different types of colour work in knitting and found it helpful.

Do you have a favourite colour work technique and if so why? Please do let us know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Knitting Colour Work Explained

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback! Knitting is a wonderful hobby. It is a little bit like photography in that there is always a new skill and technique to master. I definitely recommend trying it one day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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