Here is the last Tech Talk from Jude Skeers who will be our Knitter-In-Residence in one week! So exciting.
As noted in the first Tech Talk article (posted January 15, 2015) he has sent these articles to Roisin to be shared with us.
The article was first published in the Australian magazine Yarn which you can see at the store.
By Jude Skeers
What we know today as Intarsia knitting became hugely popular in the 1980’s. When the Princess of Wales was photographed wearing Jenny Kee’s Koala motif jumper hand knitters flocked to create what at the time was commonly referred to as picture knitting. Before this popularity, Intarsia technique in hand knitting was used in limited styles as in Argyle and a feature in children’s garments. It took someone very famous to launch intarsia as a ‘must-have’ adult knitting fashion.
The word Intarsia is derived from Italian, which according to Wikipedia is “an elaborate form of marquetry using inlays in wood, especially as practised in 15th-century Italy.” Richard Rutt, in the Historical Glossary appendix in A History of Hand Knitting, (1987), writes, “Intarsia 1863. An Italian term for decorative wood inlay; 1957 applied to multicoloured flat knitting in which a separate strand is used for each colour area, the fabric being held together by twisting the two yarns at every colour change, without stranding or weaving on the wrong side of the fabric.” 1957 is the year referenced in the Oxford English Dictionary. However, the term wasn’t used widely in publication until the 1980’s.
An intriguing aspect when researching Intarsia hand knitting is the lack of reference to it among the major knitting book writers. Mary Thomas who wrote, two reference books, in the 1930’s makes no reference to Intarsia technique. Barbara Walker in the 1960’s and 1970’s wrote seven books on hand knitting including three in her ‘Treasury of Knitting Patterns’ series without including Intarsia.
Authors writing after 1980 began to include the term, Intarsia. Montse Stanley Knitter’s Handbook (2001), originally published as The Handknitter’s Handbook (1986) gave a detailed description, “Intarsia. Also called geometric, tartan, collage or patchwork knitting. A technique used for working totally independent blocks of colour, as in large geometrical arrangements and ‘picture knitting’”. A more detailed description of the technique came with Kaffe Fassett in his first knitting book, Glorious Knitting, (1985). He distinguished the technique of Intarsia from stranded knitting: “Intarsia, where colours are knitted in place and knitting-in where they are carried across the back of the work and either stranded or woven in. Intarsia method creates a single thickness fabric whereas knitting-in creates a double or triple thickness depending on the number of colours in the row.”
Liz Gemmell was one of the Australian knitwear designers who created Intarsia patterned garments in the 1980’s. In her book Knitting for the home (1991), she uses the title Picture Knitting when detailing the technique, but writing in the description “… this method, also called intarsia.” This suggests that term Intarsia wasn’t being widely used in Australia. Liz was one of a group of Australian designers including Jenny Kee, Ruth Fitzpatrick, Michael Glover, Jenni Dudley, Robyn Malcom, Ken Killeen and Yolanda Chommley Smith. They were known for their use of brightly coloured motifs, many of them with a distinctive Australian flavour.