Fair Isle knitting

Fair Isle knitting originates from an island called Fair Isle off the coast of Scotland. When you knit Fair Isle it forms a fabric of double thickness, so it is extra warm.


To knit Fair Isle, you need nothing more than the basic knit stitch. You don't need to use purl stitches if you work in the round, using circular needles or double pointed needles (learn more about different knitting needles in my blog). Traditionally, Fair Isle jumpers are worked in the round.


Although many colours can be used throughout the knitted fabric, you only work with two colours at a time. While you are knitting with one colour, you hold the other colour to the back of your work. This is known as 'stranding'. Traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited number of colours, maybe 5 or 6 different colours.


You rarely knit more than 4 stitches of one colour before swapping to the other. If you do need to knit more than 4 stitches of one colour, you can twist the two colours of yarn around each other every 3 to 4 stitches at the back of your work, so that the colour you are not using is 'woven' into the back of the knitted fabric.

It is common to work from a chart when knitting Fair Isle. The chart I used to knit the Fair Isle in the photograph is shown here. It looks complex, but like any knitting pattern, you soon get into the rhythm of it.

Top tips when knitting Fair Isle:

If you pull the yarn running behind your work too tight it can stop your knitted fabric from being smooth and flat. Keep the stitches on your working needle (right hand needle if you knit right-handed) well spaced out. When you change yarns, from one colour to the next, this helps ensure you don't pull the yarn too tight.

Make sure you keep the yarn you are running to the back of your work loose. When you swap to use it, don't pull it tight. This will help you keep the final fabric smooth.

It is quite easy to get the two yarns into a tangle. To avoid this, keep one ball of yarn on one side of you, and the other on the other side of you. This makes it easier to stop the twists and tangles from happening.

Press or block your work when you've finished. Look at my how-to guide to understand more about blocking your work.