Fair Isle Knitting for Beginners
What is Fair Isle knitting?
The main way to recognise Fair Isle knitting is by the often-colourful repeated patterns that are used. A Fair Isle pattern is usually symmetrical and arranged in layers or stripes across the knitting.
The key with Fair Isle knitting is to understand that there are only ever 1 or 2 colours on each knitted row. Over the whole piece, there may be as many colours as you want, but on each row there is only ever a maximum of two colours.
I think this makes it less intimidating; I originally thought I'd have to knit with several colours at once!
Fair Isle can be knit flat (i.e. 'back-and-forth' knitting) or circular (i.e. 'in the round' knitting).
Because this tutorial is for beginners, I'm only going to be showing flat knitting, which is the type of knitting you will no doubt have learned so far.
Fair Isle knitting is a stranding technique, which is the process of carrying strands of yarn across the back of your work. This means that on the back of your knitting will be horizontal strands of yarn called floats.
When a yarn is not currently being knit with, it is simply carried across the back of the work until it is required again in the pattern.
Photo by Poppy.
Fair Isle knitting was the reason I started learning how to knit in the first place; I just love the colourful patterns and the variety of designs you can achieve. However, I thought that it would be way too complicated for me to learn as a beginner, and thought I'd need loads of experience before I even tried.
Then one day I just decided to give it a go and I bought a Fair Isle knitting kit, despite my limited skills. I got stuck in and tried to get through the pattern by finding workarounds when I uncovered a gap in my knitting knowledge.
And it actually worked! It wasn't perfect, but I was knitting Fair Isle!
So I thought I would make a video to show you how I went about it, without the need to learn extra techniques, or even be a very experienced knitter.
I think the main barrier for beginners is that the most popular method requires knowing both English- and Continental-style knitting, and instructs you to knit with two hands at once.
With my method, you only need to know one knitting style (English), and you will only be using one hand to knit, as usual. Plus, you only need straight needles; not circular needles.
The aim is to open up the world of Fair Isle to beginners, and stop it feeling too intimidating and complicated to try.
I've tried to take away the 'scary bits' and just simplify the method as much as possible. It's not perfect, but it does the job.
For the demo, I cast on 60 stitches and walk you through 2 rows (1 knit row and 1 purl row) of a simple pattern. The main (dominant) colour is cream, whilst the secondary (non-dominant) colour is red.
I will show you how to change yarn colour, how to keep the 'floats' of yarn on the back of your yarn looking neat, and I'll give you a few more tips too.
Here is the video tutorial:
By watching this video you will see why I describe this technique as inefficient, but it's a great introduction to the concept of Fair Isle for beginners, and it will give you the confidence to challenge yourself more in your knitting.
Once you have mastered this simplified method, then you can work on improving your skills and technique by doing the following:
1) Learn Continental-style knitting: Continental knitting and English knitting are the 2 most popular styles of knitting. With Continental knitting, you hold the working yarn in your left hand, and with English knitting you hold the working yarn in your right hand.
This enables you to knit both styles at once using both of your hands.
The most efficient way to knit Fair Isle makes use of this by having one colour of yarn held in the right hand, and one colour of yarn held in the left hand.
For instance, I could have the main colour (cream) in my right hand, and the secondary colour (red) in my left hand.
When I need to knit with the cream yarn I use my right hand and English style knitting; when I need to knit with the red yarn I use my left hand and Continental knitting. Neat!
2) Carry each yarn from beginning to end: In my simplified method, the red yarn does not get carried right to the end of each row. To improve the consistency of your work, you will want both yarns you are knitting with to be anchored to your knitting from the first stitch to the last stitch of every row.
You do this by simply twisting the 2 yarn colours together at the ends of rows.
The result is a more consistent knit with an even thickness all of the way across.
3) Create shorter floats: Although you can leave floats of up to around 6 or 7 stitches long without much of an issue, the quality of your work will improve and just look neater if you limit the length of the floats and keep them of consistent lengths.
I think floats of 3 or 4 stitches in length (at most) is ideal.
4) Correct tension: Not having even tension is a big problem in knitting. I know that I have trouble with it as I'm naturally a tight knitter, but it's just something you can aim to improve over time.
When doing Fair Isle knitting, it's important that the floats, as well as the usual stitches, are neither too tight or too loose. So just keep an eye on this as you knit, and make sure you regularly space the stitches out so they don't end up bunched up.
If the floats are too tight, your knitting will 'pucker'.
I hope this has inspired you to give Fair Isle a go :)
Thanks for reading!
Photo by Jenni Konrad.