4 Tips for Knitting Fair Isle Designs & Fun Patterns to Try

Posted by on Mar 29, 2014 in Knitting | Comments


There’s something about knitting Fair Isle designs that makes you feel like such an accomplished knitter. Knitting with two colors? Of course I can do that! But the first time you dive into Fair Isle knitting, things can be a little intimidating. Here are a few tips to help you out, and a look at some great patterns to get you started.

Man Wearing Fair Isle SweaterPhoto via the Craftsy class Simple Sweaters: Stranded & Steeked

1. Holding the yarn

A lot of online tutorials assume you’ll be holding the yarn with two hands. However, if you’re a new Fair Isle knitter (or like me, just a diehard fan of English knitting), it is possible to hold and knit two strands with your right hand. This will take time to get the hang of! With your first project you may be inclined to put the yarn secondary color down every time you switch colors, and that’s OK. But the more you take the time to knit while holding both strands as you intend to knit with them, whether with two hands or one, the sooner the knitting will begin to feel natural.

2. Tension

A nice loose but even tension is important when knitting Fair Isle designs. You will want your tension looser than normal. This too will take some practice. It may feel like the tension of your project is too loose and sloppy but when your stitches are too tight your knitted fabric will ripple and pucker.

3. Blocking

Blocking a Fair Isle design is so important! This is what is going to help settle those loose stitches and make them look uniform. For Fair Isle knitting, I’d suggest wet blocking then, after you’ve gotten all the water out of your project, give it a really firm shake to even out those stitches.

If you’re finding that stitches need a firmer hand to lie well (or maybe your knitting tension was too tight), I have been known to get a wooden spoon out and give my project a firm whack. A bit unorthodox? Perhaps. But this too will help even out those stitches. Just make sure the spoon is clean.

4. Sizing

Choose a size that is as close to the true size you want from the finished piece. Fair Isle designs do not have much stretch in them and you’ll be sad when you’ve finished those awesome new socks only to find you can’t squeeze your foot in past the heel.

Ready to give it a try? Here are a few of our favorite Fair Isle patterns to get you started!

Woman Wearing Blue Fair Isle Sweater - Craftsy.com

Photo via Craftsy instructor Miriam Felton

Fair Isle sweater

Miriam Felton, instructor of the Craftsy class Lace Shawl Design, brings us this beautiful pullover pattern, which features a simple-to-follow Fair Isle motif in a worsted weight yarn. This would make a great project for a beginner as the colorwork is featured over only the bust section of the pullover, while the rest of the sweater is knit in stockinette stitch in one color.

Get the Metamerism Pullover pattern.

Red Cowl with Fair Isle Design - pattern available on Craftsy.com

Photo via Craftsy member Knitarella

Fair Isle cowl

A less traditional colorwork pattern inspired by the Southwest is worked up on this cowl. Knit in a DK weight yarn, this would be a quick knit, but still pack a big visual punch. Knitarella’s patterns are always full of really vibrant charts and visuals for the knitter, making this a great pattern for the more visual learner.

Get the Sonoran Cowl pattern.

Scandinavian Sweater - Pattern on Craftsy.com Photo via Craftsy member 5pennies

Scandinavian pullover

If you really want to try your hand at Fair Isle knitting, this is the sweater! Although featuring more Scandinavian inspired patterns, this adult pullover employs a variety of peti patterns (those are small motifs in Fair Isle design lingo). While using multiple colors within the design, only two colors are used per row. This sweater will give you plenty of time to practice knitting with two strands in the same row and you’ll end up with a fantastic sweater you can be proud of.

Get the Scandinavian Sampler Knit Pullover pattern.

Are you ready to try some Fair Isle knitting but feel like you could use some more support?

Check out the Craftsy classes Stranded Colorwork: Basics & Beyond and Simple Sweaters: Stranded & Steeked to enjoy up-close, step-by-step instruction on the satisfying and addicting world of Fair Isle knitting.

What Fair Isle project would you like to tackle first?