Fair Isle Knitting: Tips and a Step-By-Step Tutorial

Fresco Fair Isle knitting pattern

Fresco Fair Isle Mitts

Note from Sandi: I’ve heard that a lot of people have fallen in love with Pam Allen’s Fresco Fair Isle Mitts (see the photo? Pretty!) in the Fall 2008 issue of Knits. I think it’s the soft colors waving across the back of the hand, with the one unexpected splash of brightness in the middle. Some of you, however, are wondering if you can pull off the Fair Isle knitting required and still have the mitts be flexible, comfortable, and stretchy enough to fit.

I remembered that there was an excellent Fair Isle tutorial in the Fall/Winter 2005 issue of Knitscene magazine, and decided it was a perfect time to reprint it here on Knitting Daily. Below, I have given you the overview from the article, plus a few important tips to make the best of your stranded knitting. However, the fab part of that section of Knitscene was the step-by-step tutorial and practice swatch instructions. I’ve put the entire Fair Isle tutorial into a free downloadable PDF.  Good stuff!

Did you know? The term “Fair Isle” refers to a special kind of stranded knitting, one in which the colors form one of hundreds of the traditional patterns of the Fair Isles. If the pattern is not one of the traditional “Fair Isle” knitting patterns, then even if it only uses two colors per row, it is more properly referred to simply as “stranded knitting.” All Fair Isle is stranded knitting, but not all stranded knitting is Fair Isle, in other words.

Fair Isle Knitting: It’s Easier than You Think
excerpted from Knitscene Fall/Winter 2005

Knitting in Fair Isle involves working two or more colors on one row of a pattern. It isn’t much more complicated than knitting or purling in one color, but it can produce some really stellar fabrics. Basically, you’ll work a few stitches in one color, then the next few in a second  color—both balls of yarn always staying attached to the work. The color that isn’t being worked is carried across the back of the knitting, making a snug loop—a “float”—before being worked again. Floats add thickness and warmth to a garment, as they essentially add an inside lining to the sweater. Most Fair Isle patterns only call for two colors in any given row.

Tips for Fair Isle Knitting

Make sure your floats aren’t carried too tightly across the wrong side of the work, or the fabric will pucker. An easy trick is to spread out the stitches on the right needle every time you change colors. This will give the float the same horizontal stretch as the stitches on the needles.

To prevent tangling of the two strands of yarn, always pick up the first color over the second, and pick up the second color from under the first. Sometimes keeping one ball on your right side and one between your legs helps keep them apart.

Download our free step-by-step Fair Isle Knitting Tutorial!

Want to learn more about colorwork in your knitting? Daniella Nii’s Video, Stranded Colorwork Styles, is a wonderful resource. Daniella covers everything you need to know, both color theory and color knitting techniques, to make you a confident color knitter.

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