Managing long floats in Fair Isle knitting

Aijro Scarf from Vintage Modern Knits
The Ajiro scarf from Vintage Modern Knits

My UPS gal surprised me again the other day with several new Interweave books full of wonderful, inventive projects.

The project that that strikes my fancy for today’s post is from Vintage Modern Knits by Courtney Kelley and Kate Gagnon Osborn. The project is a scarf called the Ajiro Scarf.

According to designer Courtney Kelley, “This scarf was inspired by a picture in Handschuhe, a vintage knitting book from Germany by Eva Maria Leszner. The basketweave pattern is reminiscent of fishing nets, so I chose blue and natural colors to accentuate the ideas of sea and shore. The Japanese word ajiro describes a herringbone pattern in basketry, which seems fitting for a country known for its long fishing traditions and bold graphic representations of natural elements. This scarf is knitted in the round, which simplifies the Fair Isle patterning (no wrong-side rows) and creates an insulating double layer of fabric. This scarf will keep you warm even on the coldest windswept shore.”

I’ve never knitted a scarf in the round; it forms a tube and when you’re done knitting the main part of the scarf, you knit the front and back together with a version of the three-needle bind-off without actually doing the bind-off part. Then you finish with 4 rows of garter stitch. After steaming, the scarf is so cozy and warm! With this weather we’re all having, doesn’t this scarf sound tempting?

The colorwork pattern for the Ajio scarf calls for a 7-stitch float.

This looks like a really fun project, and the authors have included a little tutorial about how to deal with long floats, too, which is one of the challenges lots of Fair Isle knitting projects.

When you have a pattern that calls for long floats (the strand of yarn that you carry behind the color you’re knitting with at any one time), it’s a good idea to tack them, or “trap” them. If you don’t, it’s a good bet that you’ll pull the non-working yarn a little too tight, causing puckering problems. This pulling can also really tighten your gauge and make garments too small. (Ask me how I know!)

Here’s the tutorial for you!

Tacking Long Floats

When working a stranded pattern, you never want to carry the non-working yarn across the back of the work for more than about 5 stitches, or whatever constitutes about a inch at your gauge. Some patterns, such as the Ajiro Scarf, require that the non-working yarn is carried farther—7 stitches in this case (see chart at right).

To help shorten the floats while maintaining good tension, “tack” these long floats to the wrong side of the work.

Figure 1 Figure 2
Step 1. Knit 2 or 3 stitches with MC (2 stitches shown in illustration), insert the right-hand needle tip into the next stitch on the left-hand needle, place the non-working yarn (in this case, CC) over the right-hand needle (Figure 1), then knit the stitch with the working yarn (in this case, MC) as usual.
Step 2. Lower the non-working yarn and knit the next stitch to trap the non-working yarn against the back of the fabric (Figure 2). As with any stranded pattern, keep the floats nice and loose against the wrong side of the knitted fabric.

Here’s an extra special tip for you: I use the tacking technique to weave in ends as I knit all kinds of projects, color knitting or solid knitting! When you join a new ball of yarn, just weave it in for 1 1/2 to 2 inches using the tacking technique. Cut off the excess yarn, leaving about a 1/2-inch tail. You can clip off a little more after you block the piece. I’ve found that this method of weaving in works best with worsted-weight and smaller yarns. It can elongate the stitches a little bit because you’re adding bulk as you’re knitting the stitch, which is especially noticeable when using larger-gauge yarns.

I really love this scarf. I’m going to queue it up today and start looking through my stash for appropriate yarn (or I may just have to spring for the luscious Fibre Company Road to China Light that’s used in the book!). Get your copy of Vintage Modern Knits today and queue up your version of the Ajiro scarf—or one of the other 25 designs in this fab book—today!


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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!

5 thoughts on “Managing long floats in Fair Isle knitting

  1. As a new knitter who’s been apprehensive about colour work, I want to thank you for the excellent tip on tacking floats! I’m not so scared now, and I think I might just queue up something outside my comfort zone thanks to this!
    –Jan aka WireMySoul

  2. When I knit fair isle or stranding, I use both hands; the main color I knit continental style and the contrasting colors are knit English style. I have found that the yarns just cross each other automatically as I knit. In the knitting, there is never more than 6 stitches together of a single color before changing colors. If there is then an intarsia knitting style needs to be done. I just found this works for me. Happy knitting everyone!

  3. Hi to everyone

    altho I really like your scarf, I do not use long floats when i knit fairisle..I don’t like the mess it eventually becomes thru wearing..but i weave in my yarn ,never carryiing it over more than 3 stitches and never drawing the yarn up tight. the front looks nice. the back is wearable and the complete project will last for years.Be sure not to leave a hole when bringing in the new color by bringing the new yarn under the one just used Zoe has the right idea..Thanks Zoe


  4. Why, since the motif of this scarf is unrelated to traditional Fair Isle pearie and banded designs, is this referred to as “fair isle” instead of stranded knitting which is a more precise term and avoides downgrading the name of a

  5. Why, since the motif of this scarf is unrelated to traditional Fair Isle pearie and banded motifs, is this referred to as “fair isle” instead of stranded knitting which is a more precise term with the added advantage of avoiding downgrading the proper name of a geographical location to lower case letters?