Free EBooks



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

Aug 4, 2008

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 new Fall 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 colorwork 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 now sold-out 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" 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.


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 Tutorial!

Want to learn more about colorwork in your knitting? A beautiful, beautiful book that teaches you how to work with color is Deb Menz's Colorworks: The Crafter's Guide to Color. She uses over 300 handmade swatches to illustrate her lessons, and those pictorial guides are alone worth the price of the book!

Purchase Colorworks: The Crafter's Guide to Color

Of course you can buy our books online, but don't forget to give your local yarn shop some love--and your business!


Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. She is now the author of the popular Knitting Daily blog: What's on Sandi's Needles.


Knit Cardigan Patterns From Knitting Daily: 7 FREE Knitting Patterns

Every knitter has dreamed of the perfect cardigan pattern that he or she might knit some day. From a cozy cable knit to luminous lace, this free ebook will be your dream come true. This is a wonderful and varied collection of cardigans-which is one of the most important pieces in your wardrobe. You'll want to make every one of these knit cardigan patterns, so download your free eBook now and get started (and don’t forget to tell a friend so they can enjoy their own copy!).

Download Your Free eBook Today



Featured Product

Interweave Knits Fall 2008

Availability: Out Of Stock
Price: $9.99

Magazine Single Issue

The new fall classics


Related Posts
+ Add a comment


eliZZZa wrote
on Jun 8, 2012 12:34 AM

Well you shouldn't fiddle around with more than ONE thread of yarn when fair isle knitting. Watch my Fair Isle Knitting Revolution:

Kind regards from Austria,


lolajl wrote
on Aug 6, 2008 2:58 AM

It's possible to throw both colors.  I knit with both colors on my right hand.  What I do is I flip my finger up for one color and down with the other color.  And the yarn doesn't get tangled up too much.

Lora Clare wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 11:50 PM

I second the picking with one color and throwing with the other. It works really well and you get to learn how to knit in two different ways just for fun!

ps it does take some practice, so patience is a virtue for sure in this case!

Lora Clare wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 11:49 PM

I second the picking with one color and throwing with the other. It works really well and you get to learn how to knit in two different ways just for fun!

ps it does take some practice, so patience is a virtue for sure in this case!

GerdaP wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 2:03 AM

Have any of you tried knitting Fair Isle by picking with one color and throwing with the other.

This way the yarns never get tangled and your tension is fine without having to space out your knitting.

If you are a picker you can even hold both colors over your finger, you space them by wrapping them opposite from each other on your hand.

This is very easy to learn and after parctice goes super fast.

KelleyD wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 8:02 PM

Oh come on....yes she made a mistake, but it's online media, so she'll change it and it will all be good.  

What i want to know is where are the shawls?

It used to be that every issue had at least one gorgeous shawl pattern in it, but it seems like the last few have been missing to be replaced by sweater after sweater.  

Sandi, please hunt down the AWOL shawls while you are on the Shetlands and bring them back to us landlocked knitters!!

Give us SHAWLS!

ElanaV wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 7:52 PM

What perfect timing. Just yesterday, having knit to the underarm of a sweater for my daughter, I realized I probably didn't have enough yarn to complete the yoke. I decided that the way to rescue it would be to turn it into a Fair Isle, but haven't tried that before. This will help. Thanks, Sandi!

SusanN wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 4:22 PM

Tess wrote:

>Maybe Interweave should send you to these places so you can do >some on site research just to make sure this is correct!

I'd be happy to carry her knitting bag when they send her! Just send me an email stating date of departure, and I'll be ready to hop a plane. (What do porters get paid these days?)


Tess wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 3:40 PM

Gee, Sandi, you just ticked off a lot of knitters in the Shetland Islands, and particularly Fair Isle!  While there is stranded color knitting in the Faroese Islands, I think it is generally agreed that what we call Fair Isle knitting - sweaters knit circularly with stranded colorwork and steeks - comes to us from Shetland and Fair Isle and not the Faroese Islands.  Even today you can find Fair Isle sweaters being knitted by the locals in Shetland on long double points, using a knitting bel, and the yarns from the local spinning mill.  Maybe Interweave should send you to these places so you can do some on site research just to make sure this is correct!     ;-)

Knoldine wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 3:32 PM


Fair Isle is actually an island near the Shetland islands, and has very little to do with the Faeroe Islands.

Faeroese patterns are not as colorful as Fair Isle patterns (but are very pretty despite that fact!)

And here's another did you know: Faeroe islands means Sheep Islands!