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How to : knit Fair-Isle

Fair Isle is a knitting technique that is used to create patterns with multiple colours. This technique owes its name to Fair Island, a tiny island in northern Scotland, part of the Shetland Islands.

Traditionally, for a pattern to qualify as Fair-Isle, it must meet the following criteria:

  • There must be only two colors used on a single row: as you have to carry the yarn that is not used at the back of the work. If you carry more than two yarn on the same row, the fabric at the back may be uneven and too thick. Moreover, most patterns have no more than 7 stitches of the same colour on a row in order to have a regular change between the colour of the pattern and the main colour of the knitting.
  • The pattern must have diagonal lines so that the tension is well distributed. In this way, the work is firm but elastic.
  • Traditionally, fair-isle is knitted in the round, with circular needles and this is more advantageous because this technique is easier, quicker and therefore more effective.
    • As you work with the right side of your knitting in front of you, you can see your pattern all the time.
    • You knit only with “knit” (and not purl), which gives a tension more equal to your knitting
    • Your project is seamless, making the finishes much more beautiful!

* How to read a Fair-Isle pattern?

The patterns are written on a paper with small squares, where each square represents a stitch and each line represents a row. The squares of colours represent the colours of the fair-isle pattern, while the white squares represent the main color of your knitting. The colours to use when and where are always explained in the caption. It is necessary to read the grid starting from the bottom right, where the number 1 is usually written, and knit from right to left. (and from left to right for each row on the wrong side, which is not the case if you knit in the round).

* Which colours should you choose for your Fair-Isle?

  • Choose your yarn colours in natural daylight and start with a bunch of colours you like.
  • Separate into a group of light colours and a group of dark colours.
  • Place each colour group ​​from darker to lighter.
  • Choose three colours from each group: a darker colour, a medium colour and a lighter colour.
  • Select a couple of more pitchy colours that you may want to use as occasional accents and position them to the side.
  • Align your choices next to each other. Is there enough contrast between groups? The darkest colour of the light group should be lighter than the lightest colour of the dark group. Designate one group as pattern colours and the other as background colours.
  • Once your colours are chosen, try them out. Whether in pencil or felt drawings, or with samples. This will give you a better idea of ​​the result.
  • Tip: To check that your colours contrast well enough, you can take pictures of your yarns next to each other and put them in black and white. One colour should be darker than the others.
    • If your fair-isle pattern is mixed with the main colour of the pattern (as on the Lighthouse sweater by Carrie Bostick Hodge), the main colour must really contrast with the colours of the fair-isle, otherwise they will mix. This colour will appear different from the others on your B & W photo.
    • If your fair-isle pattern does not use the main color of the project but another (as on the Riddari sweater), the colour most used in the pattern must really contrast with the others. For example on my project, navy blue really contrasts with light blue and mustard. If I had chosen a lighter color, the colours would have mixed.

* Which technique should I use to knit Fair-Isle?

In knitting there are mainly two techniques very frequently used :

  • English knitting, when you hold your yarn in your right hand
  • Continental knitting when you hold your yarn in your left hand

To knit Fair-Isle, it is therefore interesting to combine these two methods, holding one colour in the left hand and another colour in the right hand. Another technique, more difficult, also consists of holding the two wires in the right hand.

However, if you are not able to perform these two techniques, you can hold your thread in your right hand, and drop it to take the other color every time.

* How to carry your unused yarn at the back of your work?

To carry the yarn that is not knitted at the back of the work, it is necessary to fix it to the one your are knitting. To do this, pass the unused yarn at the back of the work over the yarn that you are going to knit. It is then caught in the stitch, but it does not appear in front.

* Here are some tips to have a good Fair-Isle result

1. Use the same brand of needles for all your project: your tension may change if you switch between bamboo or metal needles.

2. Know that generally, when knitting Fair-Isle, our gauge is often tighter than knitting simple stockinette stitch. Feel free to adjust this using 1/2 larger needle size (or 1 size). This will avoid your Fair-Isle section to be tighter than the rest of your project. Some patterns will mention it, and others not because they assume you already know it. If you do not like the results you have, do not be afraid to undo and start over. If changing the needle size does not work, try changing your tension (either too tight or loose).

3. Always hold the yarn loosely at the back of your work. Tension is what is most important in Fair-Isle : if your work is too pleated, it means that your tension is too tight, and that you run your yarn too tightly at the back. It is better to have a tension a little too loose rather than too tight. When a knit has a good tension, it must be easily stretchable, without holes. It should have the same tension everywhere, with the yarn running at the back, in straight lines.

The tension is too tight and the Fair-Isle is not stretchable 

Yarn at the back has been carried to tight 

Good tension : yarn at the back is not too tight and the work is stretchable and net 

4. Whatever technique you choose: one thread in each hand, two threads in your right hand, or just holding one at a time in the left hand (stranding), the goal is that you are comfortable to knit.

5. When knitting two yarns, be careful to always keep a colour on top, and a colour underneath, and take them that way all the time. That way your balls will not get tangled.

6. When you knit in two colours, one colour will appear more than the other one. When a background colour and pattern colour are worked in the same row, the lines in a color will appear larger, more dominant, than the other colour. More specifically, it is the yarn that passes under the other one that will appear the most. The yarn that covers the other one will be less perceptible, or non-dominant. So choose the colour that you want to be seen more, and knit it under. If you knit in continental, take your background colour in the right hand and your dominant colour in the left hand.

7. If one of your yarn is not used until the end of the row, follow it along your main colour. In this way, your knitting will remain the same thickness and you will not notice the difference: do not forget that running a yarn makes the work thicker, so you would see the difference if you only used one color at the back.

8. It is advisable to carry the yarn unused every three stitches and no more, in order to keep a good tension. If your design consists of 2 yellow stitches, then 5 white stitches then 2 yellow stitches, carry your yellow thread after 3 white stitches: if you wait to have to reuse the yellow colour, the thread will run on 5 stitches, which could affect the tension of your knitting.

9. When you need to add a colour in a row, tie a loose knot at the beginning of the row to hang your new colour (even if you will only knit it in a few stitches).

10. For your colours to line up at the beginning of the row : Start your new color, knit a full row, then on the first stitch of the second row of the new colour, lift the stitch from the row below, put it on the left needle and knit two stitches together. (Source Meg Swansen’s Knitting)

11. During your project, you may feel that the result is not very uniform. Know that blocking is a very important finish, especially in Fair-isle. However, it is nevertheless necessary that your knit is elastic as I have already mentioned above.

12. And above all, be proud of yourself even if it does not seem perfect! Fair-isle is a technique that requires quite a lot of training but you will see that by trying a few times,  your knits will be more and more beautiful!

Sources : “Book of fair-isle knitting” by Alice Starmore Meg Swansen’s Knitting TinCanKnits website “Working with Two Yarns” par Beth Brown Reinsel Fearless Fair Isle by Mary Jane Mucklestone (from Interweave Knits)

Comments

  • 30 January 2017
    reply

    Génial !!! Merci merci pour tous ces précieux conseils !!!!
    Angele.

  • 30 January 2017
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    Marie Glowing Yogini

    Merci pour tous ces conseils !
    J’ai déjà tricoté du jacquard mais je ne fais pas vraiment suivre le fil toutes les 3 mailles… Je tricote avec une couleur dans chaque main et je ne vois pas trop comment croiser les fils sans lâcher le fil de gauche… Tu aurais une astuce ?

  • 31 January 2017
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    Jessica

    Wouah merci pour toutes ces infos! Je ne suis pas du tout débutante au tricot mais jamais eu encore l’audace de me lancer dans le jacquard. Avec tes conseils pointus, je me sens presque prête et plus sereine pour me lancer 🙂

  • 31 January 2017
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    Atelier de Dodey

    Merci Anna pour ces vidéos et tout le reste (je suis ton blog depuis un moment et c’est la première fois que j’ose laisser un commentaire). Je débute en tricot et me suis lancée dans une paire de mitaines en jacquard… La première est terminée, mais le résultat n’est pas au top car je n’ai pas bien géré la tension du fil. Avec tes explications, je pense que la deuxième sera mieux réussie.

  • 31 January 2017
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    Dalle

    Merci beaucoup pour toutes ces explications précises qui très certainement m’aider à l’avenir!!!

  • 31 January 2017
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    IsaFutile

    Superbe article, très bien écrit et qui donne vraiment envie de s’y mettre. Merci pour tous ces conseils.
    J’ai trop de projets que je veux faire avant mais si je trouve un projet en jacquard qui me plait j’oserai plus me lancer grâce à toi.

  • 1 February 2017
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    Merci beaucoup pour ton article ! J’aime beaucoup le principe de la technique d’un fil dans chaque main. Je la tenterai…

  • 1 February 2017
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    AB

    Bonjour Anna et merci pour ces conseils et et pour les vidéos. Si je peux me permettre, j’ai récemment fait un pull jacquard, en rond, et j’ai eu du mal à trouver une bonne technique pour qu’il n’y ai pas de décalage au niveau du changement de rang: ça serait super si tu pouvais nous montrer ta technique en vidéo 🙂 Merci.

  • 5 February 2017
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    Vanessa

    Merci beaucoup pour cet article détaillé sur le jacquard. J’ai appris énormément de choses et j’ai hâte de pouvoir les mettre en pratique dans mon prochain tricot jacquard. Merci.

  • 5 February 2017
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    Caladhiel

    Voilà un article que je sauve dans mes favoris immédiatement car il risque de s’avérer très utile dans les prochaines semaines 🙂
    Merci d’avoir pris le temps de le faire et de tourner les vidéos explicatives!

  • 10 February 2017
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    Barbara/Elpida

    Merci beaucoup pour tous ces bons conseils! Je comprends pourquoi mon premier jacquard gondole… 🙂 Le prochain sera mieux! Encore merci!

  • 23 April 2017
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    Mari Ohana

    Chere Anna
    Comment recevoir le tutorial d un pull comme celui ci?

    merci beaucoup

  • 29 October 2017
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    sandra

    Bonjour Anna, je suis en train de faire du jacquard et je me sers de ta vidéo, je tricote avec deux couleurs en continental. mais dans ta vidéo tu indiques que la couleur que l’on veut voir le plus doit se mettre dans la main droite mais je viens de lire ton article et tu dis que c’est le fil de la main gauche qui se voit le plus. Est ce que tu peux m’éclairer stp ? Je te remercie !!

      • 29 October 2017
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        sandra

        Merci beaucoup! J’ai suivi ta vidéo jusque maintenant, je vais rectifier pour la prochaine partie de jacquard !

      • 3 January 2018
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        Alix

        Merci pour ta réponse, je voulais justement mettre un commentaire pour poser la question !
        Premier essai en jacquard pour moi donc merci pour tous ces bons conseils. Un peu stressée de savoir si je vais y arriver mais tes réalisations font tellement envie que ça vaut la peine d’essayer !!

  • 19 January 2018
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    claudie93

    merci pour ce précieux conseil, je voyais de belles choses en jacquard mais je ne me suis jamais osée les faire car cela me paraissait beaucoup trop difficile à faire, mais la avec vos explications je crois que je vais pouvoir commencer ( par un petit bonnet ) , encore merci
    bises et bonne journée

  • 19 February 2018
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    vray

    Merci pour vos videos pedagogiques
    je vais me lancer dans le jacquard et le modèle que je dispose se tricote en tubulaire et les diminutions se trouvent dans le jacquard du plastron donc ma question je comprends les diminutions mais comment se fait le jacquard des le rang superieur merci beaucoup

  • 24 February 2018
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    Naniluce

    Merci pour cet excellent article qui regroupe tout ce qu’il faut savoir avant de commencer du jacquard!

  • 10 September 2018
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  • 27 August 2019
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    Elysabeth

    Bonjour Anna
    j’ai le projet de me lancer dans un jacquard mais alors simple. Je viens de terminer ton modèle Suzie et j’aime beaucoup le RÉSULTAT.Comme je débute le tricot en circulaire je souhaite un patron pas trop compliqué, que peux tu me proposer? merci de ta réponse.
    PS: ton livre arrive ds ma lingerie le 5 septembre et je pense que je vais y courir pour le voir de plus près!

  • 23 November 2019
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    Sophie

    Bonjour Anna,
    J’aimera beaucoup faire le marIeke mais tu Conseille de tricoter avec de la fingerine. Je voulai Le faire avec De la baby alpaca. Est que c’est possible?

  • 19 December 2019
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    Manu

    Bonjour Anna
    je voudrais ME LANCER DANS UN PULL ISLANDAIS, je tricote en aiguilles circulaires depuis 40 ans sans problème mais je tiens mon fil de la main gauche , faut il que j’apprenne la méthode à 2 mains pour un plus beau rendu ou apprendre à tenir mon fil de la main droite ?? le tout est de savoir comment passer le fil derrière !! merci beaucoup pour ce tuto 😉

  • 3 January 2020
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    Marielaine

    Merci pour toutes ces precieuses informations.

  • 9 February 2020
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    axelle

    Bonjour Anna, j’aimerais commencer un pull en jacquard, à savoir le pull Marieke. Alors que je suis en train de lore attentivement le patron afin d’être bien préparée, je rencontre déjà une première épreuve, à savoir le graphique afin de réaliser le dessin en jacquard. Ma question est de savoir qu’est-ce que je dois faire quand il est mis “pas de maille”… je n’ai jamais tricoter un vêtement du coup je ne me suis jamais confrontée à ce genre de problème. Seriez-vous me donner quelques indications ? D’avancer, merci beaucoup !

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