Quick Tips for Knitting Fair Isle Colorwork

Fair Isle can be an intimidating technique, but it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes, all you need is a little encouragement and guidance to get you going. At least, that’s all I needed. A few years ago, I took a 3-hour class with Sally Melville, and my knitting life suddenly expanded.

Tips for knitting Fair Isle. www.aknitica.com #knittingtips #write31days

Tips for Knitting Fair Isle

1. Try holding your yarn in different ways until you find a way that feels comfortable to you. (Read: least awkward.) Then, keep plugging away at it until your fingers hit their rhythm and you gradually speed up.

2. Some ways to hold your yarn:

  • with one color in each hand, knitting continental on one side and English on the other. (ie, alternating picking and throwing.)
  • with both colors in one hand: You can hold them together like a ribbon, side by side on your finger. You can have one strand wrap under your finger and the other over your finger. You can have one strand on your index and one on your middle finger. You could keep them on the same finger but separate them with a ring or a hair elastic.

3. Whatever way you hold your yarns, always keep them in the same positions in relation to one another. For example, if I hold my foreground color in my left hand, I keep it there for the entire project. I usually need to write it down because when I set it down for a while, I forget.

4. The color you hold underneath will be the more prominent color. The strand that runs overtop of the other will recede slightly. This is why, if you switch hands or yarn positions halfway through a project, it will look like your design has changed. So, whatever color you want to pop out, hold it in the bottom position. (In my case, that’s my left hand.) Actually, whatever way you hold the yarn, the strand that’s held to the left will be the bottom, popping-out one.

5. To prevent bunching of stitches between color changes: Every time you switch colors, spread out the knitting on the right-hand needle, then start with the next color. Actually, keep spreading out your knitting as you go. I think Sally recommended doing it every 3 stitches or so.

6. Your colorwork might look uneven at first, even if your tension was pretty good. Washing and blocking it will help.

7. Fair Isle gauge won’t be the same as your plain knitting gauge, even if you’re using the same yarn and needles. The floats tend to pull the fabric a bit tighter, making the stitches more like squares than little short rectangles. You must measure your gauge over a colorwork swatch, preferably in the same pattern as your project.

8. If your color changes happen further than an inch apart, you might want to “catch” the strand of the dormant color halfway across the gap to keep a long strand (float) from forming. This just means that you’ll bring the floating yarn in front of the working yarn (but not the knitting needle) before knitting one stitch. Then, you’ll return it to its original position and keep knitting.

9. Wool is more forgiving and is the best fiber for Fair Isle.

Sources: Mastering Color Knitting by Melissa Leapman and Two Hands, Two Colours Class by Sally Melville.

31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. www.aknitica.com #write31days #knittingtips

This post is part of my 31 Days to Your Nicest Knitting series. Every day, I’ll post a new tip or trick to make your knitting nicer. You can follow along easily by subscribing. If you have any knitting problems you’d like me to fix, let me know and I’ll try to answer your question as part of the series. You can find all the posts in the series here.

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  • Doreen

    Thanks Amanda for this information about Fair Isle knitting. I’m sure I will be referring to it when I start a Fair Isle project, hopefully soon. Thanks for all the other posts as well they are all excellent.