Fair Isle Knitting: Weaving in Ends

Fresco Fair Isle Mitts
Fresco Fair Isle Mitts by Pam Allen

There are so many techniques to master when you’re working on a Fair Isle project.

You have to figure out how to manage two yarns. (I throw my contrasting color and pick my main color.)

You have to keep your yarn balls from getting hopelessly tangled. (I keep one ball on the right and one of the left. I also like the Ziplock bag method where you seal each ball in a bag and thread the yarn through a snipped corner.)

You have to keep even tension throughout the project without any of the dreaded puckering. (I’ve found the simplest way for me to avoid the pucker is to spread out the stitches on your right needle every inch or so. You don’t have to spread them too far apart, just far enough to make sure your tension is even and not pulling too much in one color or the other.)

When I was doing the Fresco Fair Isle Mitts knit-along, though, my biggest problem was all of the ends that were left hanging after the project was finished. Tons of them! It’s actually pretty easy to sew in ends in Fair Isle projects because you have two layers of yarn to work with so you can sew the ends into the inter later and they never show on the outer layer.

But there’s a way to weave in ends as you go so when you’re done, you’re done—after this in-line weaving method all you have to do is snip the ends so there’s about a fourth of an inch hanging free.

Knitting Daily TV host and Interweave Knits editor Eunny Jang is working on a really cool mitered scarf (which is available here) and in the process she demonstrates how to change colors and weave in the tail of the previous color as you go (at about 2:00 into the video). Take a look:

This method is also great to use to secure yarn when you need to carry it for more than four or five stitches. You can tack it down so there’s not a really long float that might catch on fingers in mittens or gloves, or toes in socks.

I weave-as-I-go all the time now. The process comes in handy any time I have to switch colors in a striping project, too. I’ve even woven in a tail when I’ve had to join a new ball in the middle of a row (not my favorite thing to do, but sometimes you just get caught short!).

I hope you’ll enjoy using this technique, and for even more tips and tricks for working Fair Isle knitting patterns, check out Eunny’s Knitting Daily Workshop Introduction to Fair Isle: The Ivy League Vest.

And please share your Fair Isle tips with me in the comments! What makes these projects easier for you to manage?


Other Things You May Like to Check Out:


Knitting Daily Blog
Kathleen Cubley

About Kathleen Cubley

Hello daily knitters! I'm the editor of Knitting Daily. I've been obsessed with knitting for about ten years now and my favorite projects are sweaters. I like the occasional smaller project, but there's nothing like yards of stockinette with a well-placed cable or a subtle stitch pattern here and there. I crochet a bit now and then—especially when I need to produce a baby blanket in time for the baby shower. I've been in publishing for 20 years and I'm finally exactly where I want to be: at the crossroads of knitting and communication. I live in Spokane, Washington and when I'm not knitting I enjoy gardening, snuggling with my dogs, swimming, reading, and playing in the snow in the winter. But, really, I'm pretty much always knitting!

32 thoughts on “Fair Isle Knitting: Weaving in Ends

  1. When using only two colors, I hold one skein in my right hand, and use the usual throw method and hold the second in my left hand and use the European (Don’t know if this is the correct name) method. This way, the yarn doesn’t get tangled, and automatically crossed the colors. No tangled mess!

    Barbara Orza

  2. Kathleen, I learn so much from your Knitting Daily posts, your explanations are clear and the videos you choose to demonstrate the techniques are perfect. Thank you for knowing just what I need to learn next to step up my skills! It’s as if you are right here in my living room answering the questions I have as I knit!

  3. Do you have the name of the sweater shown at the end of this clip? Mustard coloured raglan T with a lovely front cable and cap sleeves? I’d love to try that.

    Love the weaving in technique and will try it right away on the sweater I’m working on.



  4. Kathleen, I’m working on a Fair Isle mitten for my Master Knitting course and am I ever challenged. I usually love working in Fair Isle and just like you, work each yarn throwing and picking and keep the balls of yarn on each side of me. But, with the small circumference of this child’s mitten my tension is all over the place. I finally discovered turning the mitten inside out and knitting with the right side inside. My tension ends up nice and even!

    Oakville, ON

  5. Kathleen, I attended a workshop a few years ago at Sew Expo, an annual event in Puyallup, WA, which now includes many other needlework activities other than sewing. The instructor taught a two-handed Fair Isle technique that included weaving of yarn and yarn ends. I have used it ever since. The instructor, Ann Bourgeois, and her husband, Eugene, have an interesting story, and you can find it and a video of Ann’s two-handed weaving and tucking method at http://www.philosopherswool.com. I love and appreciate all the tips I receive from you!

    Sherrey Meyer (Portland, OR)

  6. I use the two-handed Fair Isle technique that you use to carry the floats (steps 3 and 4) to weave the ends. It is much the same as Eunny shows, just the length of the tail matters more as you hold it as if to knit.

  7. I forced myself to learn to knit continentally (I’m normally an English-style knitter) so I could carry a differrent color in either hand.

    I love weaving in ends while you knit in the method shown in the video, and I weave my ends this way in non-fair isle knitting as well. The one caution I will share is that in stranded knitting, if your ends and your current working stitches are in very different, high contrast colors, your woven-end can show through the currrent working stitches and make them look odd in the color pattern. I discovered this while working a black/white stranded pattern and weaving a white end into black working stitches. In these situations, sometimes it’s better to weave it in after you finish, with a needle, even though it’s such a pain. With colors that are closer together in value, this will be less of a problem.

  8. Most Fair Isle knitting is done in the round. I don’t cut the yarns until I will no longer be using the color; I just carry the idle colors up inside the project, at the beginning of each round. That way there aren’t so many ends to work in, which is my un-favorite. As to running out of a ball of yarn in the middle of a row, if you’re using pure wool you can do a spit-splice. Perhaps other animal fibers will do the same, or a blend that’s heavy on wool. Happy knitting!

  9. I look forward to watching the video but have a brief question in the meantime: from what I’ve learned about fair isle knitting, the color that is held in the left hand, or that is used from the lower position if both yarns are held in the same hand, will produce slightly taller stitches than will the yarn held in the other hand/position. You mention that you hold the main color in the left (lower) hand. My understanding is that the results would be more appealing if the contasting color were held in the left hand so that its stitches would appear to be slightly more predominant on the background fabric (and pop more, and be more connected to each other diagonally). Do you have a reason for doing the opposite?

  10. When I have to finish up a project by weaaving in the dreadful tails, I thread my yarn on a needle, apply craft glue and weave it in to dry there. Those sentivitive items like infant wear are less apt ot give up a tail here and there and endanger the child’s life. I now use this on most projects because it means I’m less apt to do it again and again and again. Let me know how you feel about this idea. Thanks a bunch.

  11. I love fair isle, but as of yet it doesn’t love me. Tension, tension, tension. Not life, yarn. I’ve tried carrying with right, picking with left, I’ve tried the method used by Meg Swanson which is MC on second finger, CC on middle finger (I’m a continental knitter). While both are ok I cannot seem to get a handle on tension. First method tends to be too tight, second too loose. I realize that it is a matter of practice, but the road is still rocky. I’ve also become interested in twine knitting which I think of as a higher maintenance cousin to fair isle. My least favorite color knitting is without hesitation intarsia. But that said, it’s all knitting and I love it all to one degree or another.

  12. Tension is the thorn with fair isle, with any two yarn knitting I think. Be it twine, fair isle, intarsia. I have tried carrying one yarn on each hand, and also Meg Swanson’s method of “continentally” carrying MC on second finger and CC on middle finger. I tend to be too loose with the first method and too tight with the second. I realize that it’s all a matter of practice, but the road is still rocky. I love fair isle though, and don’t see myself giving up any time soon. Just read a post recently (don’t recall where) in which the knitter said that if you tend to tighten up with fair isle simply use a larger needle when starting a fair isle point. Logical. If the entire piece is fair isle? well, back to practice.

  13. To keep yarns separate, I take a clear, heavy plastic zippered bag (saved from the purchase of bed linens/curtains) and insert grommets near the top of the bag, about 3-4″ apart. Thread each skein through a different grommet, it keeps the yarn from getting tangled while keeping all the skeins in one place.

    Thanks for all of your great tips & instructions; I am a third generation knitter and still learning more!

  14. I make a lot of Norwegian mittens on four needles that have two colors. I have found the best way to avoid puckering is to work the mitten with the right side inside. In other words, after I complete the cuff and start the pattern work I rotate the knitting so the right side is inside and the wrong side is outside. This seems to leave just enough carried yarn to prevent puckering.

  15. Could you please explain what you mean by “throw” the contrast and “pick” the main. I’ve heard the term “throwing and picking” previously but can’t figure out what it means. Thanks

  16. My grandmother taught me this weaving in method at the age of 98, she was an extraordinary knitter and crocheter, however across here in scotland we very rarely use circular needles and tend to knit flat on 2 needles or for circular knitting 4 or 5 open ended cable needles, I’m inspired to knit with circular needles now and am looking for my new project now – lol.

  17. Thank you Sherrey . . . for the link to http://www.philosopherswool.com. What a great video. I can tell already that her her stitch three and four methods of weaving the yarn in to avoiding the strands/floats is about to transform my fair isle knitting. And no more concern for puckering. I have avoided fair isle in socks because of the strands but no more. And it is a MUCH easier way to weave in ends as you go than I was using.

  18. My comment refers to all the videos on the web. There are some of us poor slobs who have neither cable nor access to DSL. Budget constraints and/or country living are a couple of the causes for such lacks. I realize not everything can be sketched out and printed, but it would be nice if as many of these nice hints (weaving in ends as you go) as is possible were to be available on paper as well as in video.

  19. Can anyone tell me why I can never watch videos like this- I just get a big blank square with a little square in the upper left corner. I thought I downloaded the latest version of everything. Very frustrating. Thanks.

  20. Thank you!!! I’ve heard about this technique of weaving in ends as you go, but could never quite get it til I saw this video. If there’s one thing that will keep me from finishing a project, it’s weaving in all those ends!!

  21. Fair Isle tips…Twisting and weaving is great for carrying across long rows with two or three colours, but those large Fair Isle motifs using several colours over fifteen to twenty stitches and several rows are a real challenge.
    My trial and error solutions? First of all I use a fold up music stand to hold the graphs I enlarge at the copy shop. Secondly, I always cut yarn lengths that will suffice for any motif that does not go right to the edge of the work. It is then easy to pull them out of the wooly “fangle” created while moving back and forth, drawing the wool up the rows instead of across. Thirdly, knitting chartwork is seductive but tiring. As I like to get as much as possible done at a sitting, I don’t want to worry about tails at that point. Instead i knot the remaining strands loosely as i finish with them, and cut them with two to three inch tails.
    I get all my stranding sorted in quick bursts throughout the day, or when I put my feet up before dinner. I loosen the little knots, interlock the tails so they go in the opposite direction from each other, and whip stitch and inch or two of each yarn tail with a double strand of medium grey cotton thread and a 2-3 inch milliners needle. The needle is sharp enough to pierce the wool without distorting the pattern and simple sewing thread does not add bulk. Grey seems to work with almost any coiour. A good tack stitch to tie off the thread finishes the job neatly and securely. You can then trim the tail ends without fear of slippage.
    Kitchener stitching might be good for sock toes, but I use buttonhole weight thread to sew irregular Fair Isle seams. I unpick the knots formed with wool changes at the edges and tack them as I do in the body of each piece before seaming. I find sweaters and accessories have fewer wobbly seams, and with the patterns carefully matched thanks to the finer sewing, they look almost “store bought, not handy hands at home”.
    Thanks for sharing your tips- I have learned a lot of great tips from your newsletters.
    Nancy Dubblestyne, Stratford, Ontario, Canada