I am seriously considering jumping into Fair Isle and Intarsia and have been wondering if I should be using bobbins.  As many here know, I love to collect vintage knitting accessories (not needles, however) and I've posted a photo of my favourite bobbins.  The largest are from Canada and made by Perfecto; they measure 4 cms.  The 2 at the left are from the UK, are unmarked and measure 12.5 cms.  The remainder (and I have lots of these) are labeled Yarn Bob'n and come from the US (Chicago).  That's their box with the original price sticker of .79 cents.   

Anyway, this discussion topic is asking if those of our members who do multi-colour knitting, in particular Fair Isle and Intarsia, use bobbins or if they have some other method.

The second photo is the cover of the American Weekly magazine dated July 1952 (at which time I was less than one year old!).  As you can see the hunky lifeguard is knitting an argyle sock and if you look closely you can see the bobbins hanging from his work.  My thanks to our newest member Chris Vandenburg for sending this fantastic vintage knitting picture to me.

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I'm working on a sweater for a 2 year old that has intarsia. I cut the cardboard that shirts come back from the cleaners in & used it as bobbins! You definately need something as I found. 

Knit away, knit away

"They say best men are moulded out of faults; and, for the most, become much more the better for being a little bad." William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Warren's picture

Jesse, good luck!  The pics are awesome, especially like the lifeguard....

JPaul's picture

I agree that bobbins would be helpful for intarsia.  You can also wind little yarn butterflies, but I think the little bit of extra weight added by the bobin would help to keep the ends under control.

 I don't use them for Fair Isle-type knitting.  Since I'm not working with a huge number of colors on one single row, the balls of yarn are pretty easy to control.  If you are in the habit of dropping the non-working yarn every time you change colors, then perhaps bobbins would be helpful.  I hold one color in each hand, but you can also hold them both in one hand and tension them with different fingers.  There's also a yarn thimble designed for fair isle that lets you run two or more strands of yarn over one finger and keeps them seperated.

Since you have the bobbins already, I'd use them.  I've always just used multiple balls of yarn, but you have to devote some time at intervals to untwist them.  Besides, if bobbins are good for a hunky lifeguard ....

Tallguy's picture

Jesse, Fairisle and Intarsia are very different things and you can't compare them.  They are colour knitting, as far as it goes, but that is where the similarity ends.

 Fairisle is using two (or more) colours in one row of knitting.  These are usually in relatively small repeats throughout the row.  Intarsia is whole blocks of isolated colour to create pictures, and do not repeat throughout the row.  Each colour is used only on its own section.

No, I would not use bobbins for Fairisle.  What is the point?  You will carry both yarns in the hand as you knit the row, using whichever colour you need to create your pattern.  You can carry them in one hand, or as most others do, carry one in each hand.  Tension can be a problem but I find that is rectified with some experience.  You have to remember to "weave in" the yarn that is carried along the back to avoid long floats.  You need to keep it loose to allow the knitting to stretch normally.

Intarsia would definitely benefit from the use of bobbins, although is not necessary.  You would wind on as much as you think you will need for that area of knitting, and hope you don't end up with a lot of short ends!  In this situation, you would knit with one colour, drop it, and knit with another colour for a section, drop it, knit with another colour, and so on across the row.  On the reverse row, you pickup each colour that was dropped and knit with it for the number of stitches required.  Each section has its own separate bobbin (or ball of yarn). You DO NOT carry yarns along the back.  You do have to remember to "hook" or twist the yarns around each other when they meet to avoid having holes in your fabric.

Kaffe Fasset doesn't use bobbins, even though he does a lot of intarsia and fairisle.  He prefers to use about an arm's length of yarn, and he changes colours often.  He doesn't have to worry about any tangles since the lengths are so short.  When a yarn ends, he simply picks up another one he likes.

I'm enclosing a pic of a Fairisle hat that I knit showing the inside, and the catching of the long floats.  I did this while at a conference in order to stay awake; to avoid a lot of people watching me instead of the speaker, I had to work with the knitting under the table and listen to the presenter.  It's really quite easy to do!  At least, I got something out of the conference! hehe (not sure how to attach an image!!) inside of Fairisle hat