Unlike suits or shoes, knit construction isn’t something even the most clothing-obsessed guy thinks about often. But consider what’s in your pile of sweaters. Most designs feature solid colors or repeating patterns: intricate Fair Isle stripes, checks or rows. The reason for this is technical: traditional “in the round” knitting requires a full loop around the body before changing color, producing the familiar horizontal bands of color and pattern. But what if you want something more creative? This is where intarsia comes in.
Named after an Italian term for mosaics, the technique goes against the constraints of old-fashioned knitting and, like a puzzle, incorporates blocks of solid color into a single pattern. The stitches become like pixels, embellishing the stitches without printing or embroidery. As a Swedish designer Laura Dalgaard says, “It’s like painting, not only with colors but also with different techniques and textures.” Established Scottish knitwear names such as Pringle and Begg & Co have used the method for more adventurous designs, such as sea ââcamouflagewhile contemporary brands like Aimee Leon Dore and casablanca have adopted it in sweaters that are, essentially, a nerd alternative to graphic tees.
AT special, a couture boutique in London’s Notting Hill that balances Florentine craftsmanship with a British countryside sensibility, intarsia is used frequently. Sweaters and cardigans are framed by hand, which means that each color is added on the loom by hand. The results are particularly delicate and tactile. Speciale’s color palette evokes the Welsh hills (deep greens, peat brown and rust red) and, fittingly, its 4-ply cashmere jumpers depict distracted landscapes who are more Ellsworth Kelly than Vincent Van Gogh. A series of tapestries and intarsia blankets are on the way, to complete the brand’s indulgence cashmere throws.
In Hong Kong, Carolyn Yim knits intricate cashmere sweaters in a factory founded by her grandmother. After studying literature at Columbia, she returned to the family business to design her brand, Dreyden. “I named my men’s collection after John Dryden, England’s first Poet Laureate,” Yim says. Robb Report. âHe writes that ‘poetry should be simple but majestic’; I’m looking for the same with Dreyden cashmere.
Yim’s meshes are scrupulously designed but full of personality. A recent collaboration with illustrator Mr. Slowboy meticulously translated his charismatic sketches onto fine paisley using 8-color intarsia. As Yim explains, such complex images present an engineering challenge: âLike woodworking, the physics of each different thread must balance the tension of the other or it will collapse. The process takes weeks and dozens of tries to perfect, tweaking the mathematical formula each time. It’s a fun mix of art and science.