3 Colorwork Crochet Techniques

In the April 2023 issue of Crochet World, we have an entire section devoted to using colorwork to add images to crochet pieces: Picture Perfect. We hope they have caught your eye and you are wanting to create some of these lovely pieces! Several of them use different crochet colorwork techniques but perhaps you find them intimidated. These techniques can be used on their own in a design but many times they are used interchangeably in a pattern to get different effects. Let’s breakdown a few of the techniques and when you might use one over the other. Another side note: Colorwork does use charts so be sure to familiarize yourself with how charts work.



Intarsia crochet is generally used when you are working large chunks of a single color. The Desert Landscape Throw by Melissa Hassler and the hearts and center pad on the paw in the Paw Print Pet Mat by Lisa McDonald are great examples of intarsia. In intarsia you use a different ball of yarn for each color in the row. When you no longer need the color, you drop it to the back of the work and pick up the new color to continue the row. Generally speaking when you change colors, you work the last stitch of the current color to its last pull through, drop the current color behind your work and then make the last pull through with the new color. This makes for a seamless look from one color to the next. On the wrong side of the work, when you pull up the next color to work with it, you will have a longer strand of color running upwards on the back of your work (depending on height of stitches and distance to usage). This can be noticeable but if it bugs you, you can work over the strand to hide it in the stitching.

The downside of intarsia (and colorwork in general) is that you can have several balls of yarn that you are working with all at once and they can easily tangle up. Be sure to find a system that works for you to  keep them untangled as you work. I have heard of several techniques for managing the yarn balls. Some folks will use yarn bobbins. You wrap the yarn around them and secure the end in the bobbin to keep things tidy and neat. You can create a yarn butterfly if using a small amount in a certain area. Here is a video showing how to make one. Others place each color in a yarn bowl, mason jar or small bag to keep them separated. I like to sit on the floor when working colorwork and keep all the balls out in front of me as I work. I also have a special project bag with holes (similar to this one) that each yarn strand can be run through. Then all the balls are inside the bag and not rolling all over the place.

Stranded Colorwork 

Stranded Colorwork is used when you are working with more than one color across the row and the repeats of color are rather short. In the Fields Of Poppies Hot Pad where there are a few quick sections of color in the flower centers and stems this technique would be handy. In stranded colorwork you carry the yarn loosely behind the work until it is needed. This creates a float or visible strand along the back of the work. Generally this technique is used when no one will see the wrong side of the work or you do not care if there are long strands of color. As with intarsia you will change color by pulling the new color through the last pull through of the stitch, use the new color, letting the old color hang on the backside until needed. When the old color is needed again, on the last pull through of the stitch, drop the color you were using and pull through with the previous color. When you do this the previous color will have a strand behind the stitch from the point you quit using to this new point of usage. That is the float. You don’t want to tug on it tightly or it will pucker your work. Be sure it is laying there nicely and work your first stitch with the color again without pulling roughly on it. This creates nice uniform stitching.

Tapestry Crochet

Tapestry & Intarsia Crochet

Tapestry crochet is another technique you use when you have more than one color across the row or the repeats of color are shorter. This technique however hides the non-working color in the stitches so that there are no floats on the wrong side. The small toe sections on the Paw Print Pet Mat could use tapestry crochet as well as the lemons on the Lemon Slice Kitchen Mat by Rachel Alford. This technique is used when you want the back to remain as pretty as the front. If you are careful with working the stitches and working over the strands both sides of your piece will be tidy and pretty. Here is a great video tutorial for working tapestry crochet. To help keep the color that you are working over hidden this style of crochet is generally worked tightly. The tight stitches help to hide the color not in use. Generally you only want to work over one strand of color at a time (maybe two but then the colors not in use may be more visible).

Did you enjoy the projects in the Picture Perfect section of the issue? Here are some more great patterns and books that also use the colorwork techniques described above:


Crochet Colorwork Projects

Pet Mug Rugs by Lisa McDonald

By the Sea Dishcloths by Lisa Mc Donald (yes, she has a couple great books!)

The Cat’s Meow Blanket by Christine Naugle, Sweet Potato 3

Bobble Bunny Blanket by Rachel Alford

—Britt Schmiesing, editor

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