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Fair Isle Knitting

Aug 3, 2008
Views: 111,379
Downloads: 7,083
Comments: 41
File Size: 195.4kB
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Skill Level: Easy Easy

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'lll 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.

This tutorial walks you step-by-step through a practice swatch, teaching you how to handle more than one color (and more than one yarn ball!), as well as how to read a colorwork chart. Included are tips and tricks!

+ Add a comment


jewels wrote
on Feb 1, 2010 9:57 AM

I would love to see a tutorial on how to use a yarn guide or Norwegian knitting thimble that shows both styles of knitting--Continental & English. I knit English style & I am having trouble finding some basic photos or a video that goes slow enough that I can catch on to what the person is doing. Everything I have found has been Continental style.

Suzanne@5 wrote
on Apr 18, 2009 7:42 AM
How do I order the fFair Isle Knitting a sweater as seen on the second page of Free patterns? Suzasnne Love
Anita@2 wrote
on Jan 22, 2009 9:38 AM
To whom it may concern: The link seems to be working now.
LorSmith wrote
on Nov 14, 2008 3:58 PM
I can't get the link to work :( It downloads but there's an error when opening...anyone else having this problem?
T. J. wrote
on Oct 29, 2008 12:50 PM

I'll keep the words I used internally, out of frustration over this mix-up, out of my response. The short version is the correct pattern, the Fair Isle Knitting pattern, is now properly downloading here.

I’m very sorry for the confusion and frustration some of you might have had during this “adventure”.

T. J.

Jaya wrote
on Oct 29, 2008 8:26 AM

I sent an e-mail to the webmaster and I think the problem has now been resolved.  However, I am now unable to download the file at all.

Babs05 wrote
on Oct 28, 2008 12:04 PM

All of the fair-isle links are going to the

mitten instructions.

What's the problem ??

ChrisD27 wrote
on Oct 25, 2008 7:12 AM

I too tried to get this file and got the mittens.  Hope you can help with this

Lia wrote
on Oct 25, 2008 1:14 AM

Still getting wrong file.

Wanda wrote
on Oct 24, 2008 1:17 PM


As you can see, as of today,  Oct. 24, 2008, those of us trying to download the fair isle knitting pattern are getting the mitten pattern instead.  I reallly would like the fair isle tutorial.  Please help.  Thank you.


Milli wrote
on Oct 23, 2008 11:14 AM

I tried to download the Fair Isle chart but like Monica and Debra already mentioned it is the wrong file attached to the download button. Can someone please correct that?

Thanks in advance!


MonicaL wrote
on Oct 22, 2008 8:30 PM

Um, excuse me, but when I opened the file I found a pattern   to knit mittens.  Thinking I had clicked on the wrong thing I tried again and found the same me thing!  file under the Intarsia indication.  I think I'll look for someone or something more serious.  Sorry ladies.

Just in case,

DebraG wrote
on Oct 22, 2008 8:29 AM

I am getting the next selection also and can't seem to download the fair isle tutoring. Any suggestions? Deb

LoreD wrote
on Oct 20, 2008 12:22 PM

I got mittens too.

I really would like the fair isle pattern.

LadyOutlaw wrote
on Oct 16, 2008 5:29 PM

I am also getting the mitten pattern.

I even checked the address in the url - still it is linking to the mittens.

Hope someone can fix this.

craftingrama wrote
on Oct 16, 2008 3:30 AM

for some reason I keep getting the mittens from the next selection am I the only one to get it or what. I was so hoping to get the fair isle pattern hrm.

leafygal wrote
on Sep 21, 2008 5:03 PM

With a piece knitted flat you can also manage to weave the ends in up the side of the piece if there aren't too many colours and you don't have to go too many rows up.

You just need to make sure that you catch them in every couple of rows and that you don't pull it too tight



leafygal wrote
on Sep 21, 2008 4:59 PM


You can add Fair Isle patterns to any plain knitted sweater. All you have to do is look at how many stitches are in the pattern and match that to your cast on number.

It is easier if the sweater doesn't have any side shaping, just a straight up and down shape.

You may have to drop a motif from each side of the pattern to make it fit - just keep the whole pattern centered on your sweater.

For cap sleeves you could just do a narrowish band of FI around the edge of the sleeve and keep the rest plain

As the motifs in Fair Isle are usually small it is also easy to drop one off each side completely once you get to some armhole or neck decreases, rather than doing half motifs but however you decide to do it is your way of knitting it.

You could  try knitting a face cloth or something small and regular in shape as a practice run!

You get such a feeling of achievement when you tackle something a bit  more challenging - and it really is easier than it looks

Have Fun


Betty BJ wrote
on Aug 24, 2008 9:31 AM

Thank you so much for offering this tutorial in a PDF format.

It will be much easier to find this again (and again) - much easier than searching thru back issues (of paper magazines or online magazines - no, it does not replace either of them, it's an added bonus !).

I LOVE Knitting Daily !!!

You do a wonderfull job, Sandi !!! (Yes, feel free to show this to your bosses :D)

Take care,

Betty BJ in Ontario

Cavebear2 wrote
on Aug 7, 2008 8:51 AM

I shall put some time - and yarn - aside to look and play with this tutorial.  Things always work better for me with a bit of hands on involved.  Thanks for the pdf Sandi!

ShellyO wrote
on Aug 6, 2008 8:58 AM

Sandy - I love the colors and the pattern for that bandeau, especially the way the ribbing at the bottom is form fitting.  I'm just venturing into stranded knitting and would love to make this sweater for myself, but I'm 43 and the style is more for the younger generation.  Could someone modify the pattern to make it a full sweater maybe with little cap sleeves and a scoop neck?  Thanks!  Shelly O.

AprilD wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 6:11 PM

Thanks so much for this tutorial.  I am in a knit-a-long with some friends at  We are working on an afghan where each square is a done in a different technique for each month.  This month is color stranding/Fair Isle.  I was nervous about it.  Then this tutorial was posted here.  Fate, or what?  LOL!!!  Thanks again.

MelissaH wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 1:12 PM

I've never tried Fair Isle or intarsia knitting - I'm still a novice knitter.  But, I desperately want to learn and this pattern is beautiful.  I saw the coolest "trick" somewhere when working with multiple colors.  The lady rolled all of her yarn into separate balls and put each color in a wide-mouthed Mason jar without the lids.  The yarns stayed in the jars, which she lined up in a row at her feet, and smoothly unrolled out of the jar without tangling when she picked up a color.  I just love learning nifty new tricks of the trade!  Thanks for another tutorial!

Yolanda wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 10:17 AM

Thank you, this sounds super helpful! I've been on and off trying to learn, poking at books looking for a good tutorial and this sounds like it may be the one!

JaniceD wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 10:00 AM

I have only been knitting for about 4 years. This was my biggest fear to start learning. But,,,,WOW, I love you guys. I have knitted say ,,,A LOT of your patterns. My friends love you too. It is people like you at Knitting Daily that brings great satisfatction to trying and acheving sucess in my endevors of love. I am totally hooked or should I say I am on Needles for your next article Janice Davis aka Knitsterqueen

KathrynH wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 6:33 AM

Thank you so much, KatherineM.  I was having one of those "have I gone crazy?" moments, having never read that bit about Fair Isle and the Faroe Islands.  To build on what you wrote, the Faroe Islands have been affiliated with Denmark for about 700 years. And, of course, they have some lovely knitting as well-- it's just not Fair Isleknitting!  ;)

Also, an excellent article devoted to steeks can be found here:

Rovinglady wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 3:38 AM

Just to correct a bit of history:  Fair Isle patterns are from Fair Isle in the Shetland Islands, northeast of mainland Scotland.  The Faoroe Islands are a different place with a different stranded knitting tradition.


LindaG@3 wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 2:36 AM

Thank you!  This is just what I've been waiting for!  Looked all over for tutorials on fairisle, but couldn't find anything!  

Linda in NJ

RachelS@4 wrote
on Aug 5, 2008 12:34 AM

Hi MicheleM, not stupid at all! From an aesthetic viewpoint, they're both just colour knitting - intarsia at one end of the spectrum, Fair Isle at the other, with a variety of other traditions and techniques in between. Technically, though, they're in different universes!  Here goes...

Intarsia is picture knitting, usually but not necessarily of a single large non-repeating image, and often using a wide range of colours. For a complex pattern, it makes more sense to wind off small amounts of the various colours onto bobbins, etc., than to try to work with a gazillion full-size balls of yarn hanging off the back. Generally, the yarn would be cut at the end of each row/section, and re-started as necessary on the next, with no weaving or stranding at all - so lots of ends to weave in at the end!

True Fair Isle uses small repeating geometric designs, where the yarn has to be carried no more than 5 stitches across the row - usually by just carrying it at the back of the knitting without weaving in (floats, stranding). You will find some so-called Fair Isle patterns that call for the yarn to be carried over more stitches, by weaving the yarns together at the back, but these are actually part of the Scandinavian tradition, not Fair Isle - sorry, can't be more helpful on this, as I don't know a lot about these traditions (anyone care to jump in?).

Although the designs look complicated, ONLY TWO yarns are used in any one row - a background colour and a 'pattern' colour. However, the background and pattern colours may change places every X rows, or the background colour may be changed for another, giving a striped effect which adds to the complicated look (but it's still just 2 colours per row). For example, on row 1-5, you may have a blue background colour and a white pattern colour. Then on rows 6-10, you might use the blue yarn as the pattern colour, and the white yarn as background - or swap it for red. You could stick to this 3-colour scheme (2 colours in play at a time), or use up all your leftover stash for that Kaffe Fassett look! Most Fair Isle patterns will use only a few colours though.

You ask what happens to a yarn you're not using for a few rows. IIRC, Fair Isles are supposed to be knit in the round with the pattern facing you at all times, and the 'striping' effect means any particular yarn is rarely out of play for more than a few rows (1-8 rows, not more than 10).  So the out-of-play yarn could certainly be carried up to where it will be used again, by stranding or weaving it up the intervening rows (that's what I do - it may not be official FI practice, but nah, boo, it works). If you're knitting flat, however, the yarn would need to be cut and the ends woven in later...




JudithS@2 wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 11:44 PM

Thank you for the great tutorial on Fair Isle knitting.  I have been intimidated before about this but now I will attempt a project using this technique.  Thank you for all your great technique tutorials.


MicheleM@3 wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 7:33 PM

This may be a stupid question, but is Fair Isle knitting the same as Intarsia?  Also, what do you do at the end of the row if you're not using a color for a few rows?  Do you cut it?  Carry it?  How many rows would be considered normal and not disruptive to have a color attached at an end and not in use, ready for the next row that it'll be needed?

Thanks everyone!


ChristineH@5 wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 7:12 PM

Another great Fair Isle resource is the two handed technique that is taught by the folks at Philosophers Wool.  I am unable to get their website to come up tonight, so I don't know if there are any online resources available, but the book Fair Isle Simplified does a great job of explaining it.  Instead of having floats between the colors, each stitch is formed in such a way that it locks the other color in.  I've found for me, that is makes a much stretchier finished product.

MarilouM wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 5:45 PM

In the past my fair isles have always puckered. Perhaps now I stand a chance for some "smooth" patterns. Thanks so much for the help.


SusanL@3 wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 5:45 PM

Thank you.  You are such an outstanding resource and support...not to mention inspiration!

Susan Leibowitz

Carl ML wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 4:34 PM

i have done fair-isle but this is a great way for any one to use, to leqarn or renew some thoughts,


diz wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 4:13 PM

I have admired the look of fair isle knitting for years and just never had the "gumption" to try.  With your comments and pattern I am

certainly going to give it a try for handwarmers.  fran miller

TriciaS wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 3:49 PM

Hi Sandi,

Thanks for the tutorial, I've always wanted to try Fair Isle, but thought it to advanced for me.

You're moving to Canada? Will you still be the editor of Knitting Daily? I hope so!!!


Julie AnnP wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 3:34 PM

Thank you so much, Sandi, for this tutorial and others.  Keep 'em coming!  I've got a gorgeous Fair Isle turtleneck to finish this winter as soon as I'm done with new twin granddaughter fun stuff ... which I'm sure will be in about 18 years!!!  Love all your free patterns, too...and your commentary.  I look forward to you each day.

Knit On!!!

Julie P in the Berkshires of MA

labbelee wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 3:29 PM

Me too!!!!

tnm wrote
on Aug 4, 2008 3:24 PM

This is just what I needed to get started on a Fair Isle project. Thank you!   ~NM in MN

on Aug 4, 2008 3:16 PM

Thank You!!!  I've been waiting for something to help me learn fair isle!

Linda in TN