Fearless Fair Isle

Fair Isle swatch

A note from Kathleen: I think Fair Isle is one of the most satisfying knitting techniques to master. It's so eye-catching, and the color palette possibilities are endless. I have a sweater on the needles now that has a Fair Isle yoke, and I'm almost to the colorwork section. I can't wait.

The Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits has a really interesting article about overcoming Fair Isle fears, and after I read it, I felt I could conquer my sweater with ease.

Here's Knits editor Eunny Jang to tell you more.

How much do I love Fair Isle knitting?

Walking into a store that stocks shelves of glowing Shetland wools makes me feel like a kid in the proverbial candy store—my candy just happens to be hairy and soft. I love modern stranded colorwork, too, knitted in unorthodox yarns and with striking, geometric patterns, as well as new-wave knits in allover motifs or pictorial patterns—basically, I just love color in knitting. Nothing (with perhaps the exception of crazy cables) is quite as satisfying to watch grow under your needles.

You have to walk before you can run, though, and stranded colorwork can seem overwhelming to those tackling it for the first time. Or maybe the pictured colorway in a pattern you'd like to try just isn't for you, and you'd like to substitute. Where do you begin?

Enter Mary Jane Mucklestone. She's a prolific designer who's explored many Fair Isle variations over the years, always bringing her own fresh spin to a traditional technique. In "Beyond the Basics: Fearless Fair Isle Knitting" in the Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits, Mary Jane presented a collection of tips and tricks to get you over the initial hurdles and on to the fun part—knitting!

Here's an excerpt from her article.

Overcoming Technical Fears

There's an approach that addresses every Fair Isle knitting fear. Here are some common anxieties and ways to overcome them.

Too Many Colors. In traditional Fair Isle Knitting, you never have more than two colors in any row, ever. One color is for the pattern and motif stitches, and the other is for the background stitches. You have only two yarns to work with at any time.

Twisting Yarns. Simply keep one ball of yarn on each side of your body, well away from each other. Unless there are only one to three rounds before you use a yarn again, break it each time you finish with that color.

Bunchy Fabric. As you happily knit along, stay relaxed and spread out your work along the right-hand needle as you go. This way, when you strand the unused yarn behind the working stitches, it will automatically be the correct length. With practice, smoothing out your just-knitted stitches will become second nature, and you'll avoid the puckering that occurs when the floats are too short.

Does your work still look bunched? Proper finishing will eliminate the worst of it. Give your item a good wet blocking. Wash it carefully in a mild soap and rinse thoroughly. Gently press out the moisture between towels and dry flat, pinning it into shape.

—Mary Jane Mucklestone

Mary Jane has some sage advice on choosing colors, as well. Here I am outlining some of her tips.

For the full article, check out the Spring 2011 issue of Interweave Knits. We love exploring and demystifying traditional techniques—subscribe today to make sure you don't miss a single issue!

Happy Knitting,

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