Behind Fair Isle Knitting
Of the 2 techniques of colorwork in knitting-Fair Isle (or Stranding) and Intarsia- Fair Isle is the more simple of the 2. Commonly Fair Isle is worked by working 2 colors of yarn in each row while carrying the unworked yarn along the back of the knitting. Fair Isle can be worked with more than two colors in each row but it is not as common or easy as 2. There are many tricks to a successful Fair Isle Project but the most is the confidence and the desire to commit to this challenging technique.
1) In my opinion- the most important is tension or tightness in knitting Fair Isle. I, like many others, suffer from TIGHT stranding. It is important to spread out your stitches and keep them spread out on your right needle to keep from knitting too tight. Picture it this way: If your stitches are tight it is like a traffic jam where cars are bumper to bumper. If your stitches are spread out it is like regular traffic where each car is at least 2-3 car lengths behind the others. You want your stitches to be spread out (think 3-4 car lengths, if you can). Not enough to strain the stitches but enough that your strand will have slack to stretch when you wear the project. Regular knitting stretches from side to side more than along the length, making sure your strands are loose maintains the nature stretch from side to side. You can test how far you need to spread out your stitches with a good sized swatch.
2) Knit a swatch. A swatch will not only help you test your tension but will also give you an idea of how your colors work together with your design. It is helpful to see how colors and design work together in a swatch before you are a few hours into your project.
3) Decide which yarn is dominant. One of the frustrations of Fair Isle is yarn tangles. You can prevent this by deciding the dominance of your yarn. If you always keep one color on top and then other on bottom, your yarn will not tangle. In the picture of my project the grey was dominant with the light blue always in the middle and the dark blue always on the bottom. When I kept to this order my yarn stayed untangled and easy to pull.
4) When knitting Fair Isle for a flat project (blanket, sweater in pieces) consider knitting in the round and steeking. This prevents purling and really saves time!
5) Pick a yarn with good stitch definition. Mohair and Angora are too fluffy to show off color changes needed to enjoy a Fair Isle pattern. Wool, cotton and linen are great choices to display the minute color changes that make up a great Fair Isle pattern.