Fair Isle Knitting – What It Is, History, & Stranded Knitting Tutorial

Fair Isle knitting isn’t complicated. This knitting technique is fun and easy to learn. It looks beautiful when completed!

Welcome to my complete guide on how to do Fair Isle knitting.

Fair Isle Knitting Feat Img

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Table Of Contents

What Is Fair Isle Knitting?

Fair Isle, a.k.a stranded colorwork, is a technique for creating multicolored knitting. Usually, you use two different strands of yarn, but you can use more.

It became a popular design when the Prince of Wales (who’d later become Edward VIII) wore a fair isle jumper in public in 1921.

Why Is It Called Fair Isle?

It’s named after one of the Shetland Islands in Northern Scotland. I’ll give you one guess what the island’s name is.

Curious to try something different? Take a look at the best arm knitting tutorials.

What Is A Fair Isle Pattern?

It’s usually created using two contrasting colors of yarn. This creates a perfect balance between the background and foreground colors.

It makes an intricate, detailed picture with two different shades; one light and one dark, commonly known as motifs.

Traditional Fair Isle patterns are composed of five or so colors. Traditional fair isle knitting has more detail than other knitting techniques because it doesn’t obscure stitches.

The pattern is also easily viewed from all angles.

Make your colorwork project easier with a knitting bowl for yarn. Keep colors separate!

Fair Isle Knitting How-To

How Do You Hold The Yarn For Fair Isle?

Here is how to hold yarn for Fair Isle.

If you’re a beginner, you can pick up the yarn when you need it; you don’t have to hold it. After you’ve done that for a while, you could try to hold both yarns in the same hand.

Before I explain how to do this, here’s a quick tip.

If you started with the darker color on the right and the lighter one on the left, keep them that way in your hand. If you swap them, it’ll get twisted and messed up.

So, on to knitting with two colors in the same hand. Tension the yarn as you normally would, but make sure they aren’t twisted.

When you’re knitting, make sure you’re only picking up one of the yarns at a time and not both.

Another way to hold your yarn is using two styles of knitting at the same time.

Don’t worry. It’s not too hard. In your left hand, have the dominant yarn, and make stitches by picking. In your right hand, have the other yarn, and make stitches by throwing.


How Do You Knit A Fair Isle Swatch?

Knitting fair isle swatches can be a tedious and frustrating task. It’s necessary to ensure you have the right gauge. To knit up a beautiful swatch in a technique called speed swatching, follow these steps.

(Note: For the speed swatch, you’ll need to cut it open, so you can’t reuse the yarn.)

  • Use the required knitting needles to cast on the required amount of stitches
  • The cast on at least six more stitches than the gauge for 4″ to get an accurate gauge
  • Slide the stitches back to the start of the needle
  • Hold the main yarn behind the needle, so you’re ready to begin knitting again
  • Look at the first row on your pattern, and knit it
  • Stop before you reach the final stitch, and use the knit stitch with all the colors used in the same row
  • Slide the stitches back to the beginning of the needle
  • Look at the next row in the pattern, pick up any needed yarns and drop any unused yarn
  • Knit the first few stitches, and the rest of the row
  • Stop before you reach the final stitch, and knit it with all the colors used in the row
  • Continue until your swatch is roughly five inches long
  • Cast off using one color you used in the final row
  • When you’ve finished knitting, block your swatch (wet it and give the appropriate care, and set it out to dry)
  • Once it’s dry, cut the slack yarn on the wrong side of the fabric, straight down the middle
  • Make sure you only cut the slack yarn. You don’t want to cut any of the colorwork stitches!
  • Trim the cut yarn if you want to
  • Now, measure your gauge! Make sure you do it down the center
  • If it’s too big, use a smaller needle. If it’s too small, use a bigger needle. If it’s right, congratulations! Start making your fair isle project

Here’s a tutorial on how to swatch in the round.

YouTube video

How Do You Knit A Fair Isle Sweater?

A great knit-along with Marly Bird.

Part 1.

YouTube video

Part 2.

YouTube video

A technique often used when knitting sweaters or other garments is called “steeking.” (A Scottish word.) It’s a way of cutting into your knitting without destroying it to create openings. Like for sleeves.

How Do You Knit A Fair Isle Yoke?

A yoke (commonly misspelled as yolk) is the part of a garment underneath the collar and coming towards the shoulders. These sweaters are known for their colorful patterned yokes.

Here’s how to knit a shirt with a colorful yoke design.

YouTube video

How Do You Knit A Fair Isle With Three Colors?

You keep the dominant yarn in your left hand, but you alternate yarns in your right hand.

Something to keep in mind is the phenomenon called “yarn dominance.” It’s where one yarn appears more pronounced than the other. This strand travels a shorter distance than the others.

Here’s a great video tutorial.

YouTube video

Fair Isle Knitting Charts

A Fair Isle chart is like a normal chart. Each box in the chart represents one stitch unless the pattern says otherwise.

The chart has different symbols in the boxes, but there’s a key to tell you what symbol means which stitch. (There’s a tongue twister for you, try saying which stitch fast.)

I’ll summarize it for you –

  • One box = One stitch
  • Different symbols mean different stitches
  • Check the key if you’re unsure what a symbol means

Fair Isle Knitting Patterns

Here are a few free stranded knitting patterns.

Your Questions Answered

How To Catch Floats In Fair Isle Knitting

When using 2 or more colors in Fair Isle knitting, sometimes one color doesn’t get worked for a number of stitches.

For example, you work 4 stitches in yellow and then the next stitch is white. At the back of the work, the white stitch has to “float” over the back of those 4 yellow stitches in order to be worked again.

Tight floats will bunch up your texture and you don’t want that. In order to carry floats so they are not tight follow these tips:

Using my example above. Stretch out the 4 yellow stitches you worked, so that the white yarn has a bit further to travel. Then work the stitch with the white yarn.

This means the float will be nice and loose at the back.

Here’s a tutorial on how to catch floats when knitting fair isle.

YouTube video

How To Keep Your Balls Of Yarn Tidy When Working With Two Colors

If you’re using two colors, keep one ball to the right and the other to the left. Don’t move them.

Keep the balls on the table, the couch, or the floor. (But not if you have pets!)

What Is The Difference Between Fair Isle And Intarsia Knitting?

You use Intarsia for adding big blocks of color to a plain knitted fabric. Fair Isle uses more than one color in almost every row.

How Do I Stop My Fair Isle From Tangling When Knitting?

Some tips to stop your yarn from tangling –

  • Put them in separate zip lock bags, close them except for a small hole for the yarn to come out
  • Put them in yarn bowls!
  • Place one yarn on either side of you, make sure to keep them away from each other.

Here are some helpful suggestions from Arne & Carlos.

YouTube video

Is Fair Isle Knitting Difficult?

Fair Isle seems difficult, like knitting colorwork. It’s the same with any new skill, it’s hard at first, but with practice, patience and persistence, you’ll get there!

How Do You Knit With Two Balls Of Yarn At The Same Time?

By using a colorwork technique, such as fair isle, Norwegian knitting, or stranded knitting.

How Do You Knit A Fair Isle Flat?

YouTube video

How Do You Prevent Colors From Changing In Knitting?

YouTube video

Are Fair Isle Sweaters Only For Christmas?

Who said you can only wear a pretty sweater at Christmas? It’d be a waste if you only wore one once a year! Wear it whenever you feel like it.

Can You Knit With Two Yarns At Once?

Sure you can! That’s the whole point of knitting fair isle.

Congrats! You’re on your way to becoming a Fair Isle master! Before you go, I have a joke for you. What sort of knitting do you do when you’re stuck on a desert island? STRANDED knitting!

Let me know if you want to try fair isle, have done it before, or have any questions.

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About Jodie Morgan

Hi. I’m Jodie Morgan, creator of Knit Like Granny. I started this site to show 1,000,000 people the joys of knitting & highlight alternatives to fast fashion. Please say hello!

Jodie Morgan Profile Pic

About Jodie Morgan

Hi. I’m Jodie Morgan, creator of Knit Like Granny. I started this site to show 1,000,000 people the joys of knitting & highlight alternatives to fast fashion. Please say hello!

2 thoughts on “Fair Isle Knitting – What It Is, History, & Stranded Knitting Tutorial”

  1. Hello,
    Can I just say a YOKE refers to a wooden bar that attaches two cos together at the neck and the yoke of a sweater refers to the neck shaping in knitting. A YOLK is the yellow part of the contents of an egg and has nothing to do with knitting. (Perhaps yolk/yoke is acceptable using American English?)

    Although your account of Fair Isle knitting is easy to read it is not absolutely accurate.

    • Hi Marilyn, thanks so much for letting me know! I really appreciate you picking up that mistake, whoops! I’ve updated it in the post with the correct spelling, and have added a note about how it’s spelled so others don’t make the same mistake as me. Thanks again!


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