What is the best way to organize colors when knitting?

Is there some gadget to organize colors when you are doing intarsia or fair isle? Right now I am working with two colors and have a bunch of embroidery bobbins that I wound up with the colors I need for each spot. They are all getting tangled. Is there some recommended product? I am careful not to carry long threads across the back so I have a lot of bobbins to start and stop in small sections!

I’ve only done two colors of fair isle in the round and in my case I knit with two hands when I’m doing it so I keep the yarns on each side of me.

I’ve been doing 4 color striped hats and I keep the balls in a row next to me and move them up one at a time to knit the next color.

I’ve not done intarsia so I can’t say from experience. I’ve heard that the bobbins get twisted though. Some people just leave a longer yarn dangling for each color rather than put them on bobbins. It may mean a few more ends to weave in because you can’t make them too long, but it sounds preferable to me.

I’ve just discovered on Amazon that are such a thing as “knitting bobbins.” Surely these must be better than embroidery bobbins. Besides getting tangled, my yarn comes off my bobbin because it does not stay stuck in the slit. Perhaps knitting bobbins are better?

Oh! For some reason I thought you were using knitting ones. I think they can still be a problem, but I’m sure that some love them. Worth a try if you don’t want the dangling ends. There is a video her in KH under advanced techniques. You might see what Amy has to say, too.

You can tie little butterflies of yarn if you want to neaten things up. They pull from the center and work reasonably well. I have to admit that my intarsia is usually frightening to look at until I stop and untangle everything.


Kaffe Fassett, who is the King of Intarsia knitting, recommends using long strands rather than bobbins and butterflies. The strands get tangled, but they are easier to pull out periodically than trying to keep the other options straightened out.

I’ve used the plastic bobbins, hand-wound little hanks, and left long strands. He’s right. The long strands are easier to deal with than the others which tend to get caught on each other.

Hi Ingrid! Do you remember how long the sections were that were easiest for you?
I ask because I’m imagining the whole skein as a section. So far, I’ve only done two and three color projects and even then the skeins were a real bother. I want to try more intricate colorwork but it’s a little frustrating.
I recently watched this youtube video where Brandon Mably says to use a “manageable length of yarn”, but he doesn’t really define what that is. It looks to me like he’s holding a strand that’s not too much more than arms length. He starts the color tutorial around the 6:00 mark. All those ends, it makes me shudder to think of weaving them in.

For intarsia work, I generally try to gauge the length of the strand based on the section I’m knitting, anywhere from 3 feet for a small section up to 10 feet for a larger section.
Yes, I sometimes run out in a section, but more often have too much yarn than too little. You have to weave in ends, anyway, at the end of an intarsia project–why make yourself crazy with tangles and hangy things on the back of the work along the way?

I just did an intarsia project where I did 18 or 19 leaves across the yoke of a sweater. I decided to try just leaving strands. I made up a swatch of one of the leaves to see how much yarn it took and made the green strands that long. They were around 6 feet or maybe a little more. I knew I would need more of the oatmeal color but made those strands shorter intending to make joins, which I did. I used the Russian join and it worked well but was tedious to do and made the work a bit thicker where it was done, but doesn’t spoil the FO.

I haven’t done scads of intarsia where I did short pieces and didn’t know how long I could make them without getting a hopeless tangle. I had zero problem with them tangling. I think I could have made the oatmeal strands longer than I did, but whether I could have made them 3 times longer (what I needed) I don’t know. When I joined in my second piece of oatmeal I made it quite long because now my greens were shorter :slight_smile: so I thought I could get away with it. I ended up with 76 ends to work in. But I don’t mind working in ends. Thank goodness.

Here is what my project looked like in progress and you can see the FO in “What’cha Knitting”. I think it is called FO: Sweater for myself.