5 Tips for Knitting Fair Isle Socks


Sock knitters know that there's nothing more rewarding than knitting a challenging Fair Isle or cable sock pattern. The sense of accomplishment is pretty fantastic. When I knit socks, I prefer the self-patterning sock yarn, mainly because I'm a lazy sock knitter who want's my socks done quickly. (Or, truth be told, I buy my socks at Nordstrom or Target. Sad face.)

But knitting Fair Isle socks isn't out of reach for even the novice knitter. Designer Terry Morris, who knits on her sailboat in Guatemala—cool!—has a spectacular Fair Isle sock in the spring 2014 issue of Sockupied: the Spectrum Socks. These socks are designed for novice to advanced knitters; they're the perfect socks to help you practice your skills.

Here's Terry to share some of her best tips for knitting Fair Isle socks that fit.

Why Is this Fabric So Tight?

The culprits are the strands, or floats: lengths of yarn not being knitted and simply carried along the back. The knitted loops create the elasticity of knitted fabrics; these straight sections of yarn do not have much stretch capacity. What's a knitter to do? Here are some of my favorite tips for knitting Fair Isle socks.

Stretch: Gently stretch out the stitches on your right-hand needle as you strand the unused yarn across the back of these stitches. Aim to space the stitches across the needle more widely than your goal gauge—remember that you will stretch the sock when you put it on. This will ensure that the unused yarn strand will later relax against the back of the work. Avoid over-spacing your stitches on the needle until you've had some success and know how much is too much.


Get Bigger: Try using needles one to two sizes larger than normal for the stranded areas of the sock, especially on the leg portion. Overly loose stranding and a bigger gauge are preferable to short floats and tight knitting. I work the cuff, heel, and toe at about 8½ stitches per inch, then change to a larger needle and work the stranded areas at a gauge of 8 stitches per inch. You can't see much difference between the gauges, but it makes a difference in the elasticity of the fabric.

Turn Inside Out: Here's a trick I use for every round of stranded colorwork I knit on my socks: I flip my sock inside out, then knit these rounds. Start by turning your sock inside out on the needles so that you see the right side of the work inside on the needle farthest from you. The wrong side of the sock with the floats will be outside. The outside of the circle has a larger circumference than the inside, which forces you to make your floats a bit longer. The greatest benefit of working this way is you can't inadvertently "jaywalk" your strands diagonally across the corner between needles. This would pull the float tighter than the stitches it should relax against on the back side. With the sock inside out, you can easily see both the color patterning from the previous rounds and the behavior of your floats at the same time.

Measure: After you've worked a few inches of the stranded colorwork areas on your sock (either on the leg if working cuff-down or on the foot for tow-up socks), it's time to measure. Wrap a tape measure around your foot (or your intended recipient's foot) around your heel and up and over your instep, which is the widest point where the sock will need to stretch the most. Next, measure the circumference of your knitting while stretching it out as much as possible. Compare the two measurements and make sure your sock is able to stretch to match or exceed your foot measurement. You can even try your sock on to do this, taking care not to break your needles (if you're using wooden double-points.)

Block It Out: The last step is to block your finished socks with plenty of moisture. Stretch your wetted sock gently in several direction to even out the stitches and floats.

—Terry Morris, from Sockupied, spring 2014

Houndstooth, by Stephanie Van Der Linden

The spectrum socks are shown in a pretty combination of blue, cream, and tan, but you can choose any color pallete for these socks. That's one of the best parts of knitting Fair Isle patterns: picking the colors.

The spring 2014 issue of Sockupied has so much sock goodness packed inside! You'll get the Spectrum pattern, plus more tips on knitting Fair Isle, an in-depth feature on designer Kate Atherley, and lots of beautiful sock patterns to knit, such as the stunning Houndstooth socks, shown at right.

Download this issue of Sockupied, and experience on of the best interactive digital magazines out there!


P.S.What kind of sock knitter are you—lazy like I am, or adventurous and brave? Leave a comment and share your style.

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