How to Choose Colors from Your Stash for Fair Isle Knitting

Is your yarn stash overrun with a rainbow of half skeins? Use up these “halfsies” with some Fair Isle knitting! The ultimate stash busters, Fair Isle patterns often call for a number of yarns in different colors, which means you need less yardage of each.

But how do you start sorting through all those colors in your stash? It can feel like a daunting task, but Fair Isle expert Mary Jane Mucklestone has your back! In addition to the cache of timeless yet trendy Fair Isle patterns found in her book Fair Isle Style you’ll discover a design journal filled with helpful tips for designing your own Fair Isle knit. Follow along as Mary Jane shares her method for selecting the perfect colors from your stash for some flawless Fair Isle knitting.

Choosing colors is half the fun of Fair Isle knitting. Although there are never more than two colors in any row or round, stunning color effects are possible, from relatively simple stripes to visually rich mosaics. It’s helpful to understand a bit about color theory and follow some guidelines when making substitutions or designing your own Fair Isle knitting from your yarn stash!

fair isle knitting

Combining Colors

To apply color theory to your yarn stash, gather a group of colors that you like (they can be from divergent color groups), and then separate the light and dark colors into separate piles as shown below. Weed out any supersaturated colors, such as vibrant red or electric blue, and set them aside in a third pile. Until you’ve had a lot of practice, such colors are best left for occasional accents. Add any odd colors to this third pile, as well as colors that you might not like much. You’d be surprised how a bit of something from your yarn stash that you didn’t care for can add just the right zing to a Fair Isle pattern.

fair isle knitting and color selection

Arrange your stash yarn in 3 piles: one of light colors (right), one of dark colors (left), and one of supersaturated and odd colors (top).

Fine-tune the arrangement of colors in each group by arranging your stash yarns in a sequence of value from dark to light, as shown below. This can be tricky, and there will be times that you’ll have trouble deciding where some colors fit into the sequence, but it is a very good exercise in color and value and will help you recognize subtle differences. Plus, there are hours of enjoyment to be had playing with your yarn stash—you can make any number of pleasing arrangements by simply rearranging the same group of colors.

fair isle color selection

Arrange the colors in value sequences from light to dark.

Next, choose 3 colors of yarn each from the light and dark groups (the colors do not need to be the same hue, just from the same group) and place them side by side as shown below. To ensure there will be enough contrast between the two groups, the lightest dark color should be darker than the darkest light color.

fair isle color selection

Choose a sequence of three light colors and a sequence of three dark colors.

If you’re unsure that there will be enough contrast between the colors of your stash yarn, take a black-and-white photograph like the one shown below to focus on the value differences. If you can see contrast between the colors in the photo, there will likely be enough contrast when they are knitted up.

fair isle knitting color selection

Take a black-and-white photograph of the two sequences to ensure there is enough contrast between the two groups.

Finally, add one or two of those wacky colored yarns that you set aside at the beginning for the very center row of a pattern motif. Chances are that a “wild” color that you might have been avoiding in your yarn stash will bring an unexpected touch of excitement and zing to your other color choices (as illustrated below). Sometimes, colors you don’t particularly like can become magically beautiful when strategically placed in a sequence of other colors.

Although these 4 colors make a nice palette, the overall effect is a bit dull.


Add one or two lively colors for more visual excitement.

There’s no end to the fun you can have experimenting with colors! Train your eyes to see the color relationship possibilities within your yarn stash and you’ll soon find you have many more color combinations than you have time to explore.

Start busting through your yarn stash with some patterns from Fair Isle Style today!

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