“Stranding” and “Weaving” are Fair Isle Knitting’s Best Friends

Prince of Wales 1903 – Fair Isle Jumper

Modern Fair Isle – Dublin Pullover from Interweave Knits Winter 2017

The August 2017 issue of In Style magazine includes Fair Isle sweaters as one of the Fall 2017 trends. What is Fair Isle? Off the northerly coast of Scotland in a group of islands known as Shetland, Fair Isle is the most southerly member, 3 miles long by 2 miles wide. This tiny island is the origin of Fair Isle Knitting, a circular, stranded form of color knitting. Since the 1920s, when the Prince of Wales sported a Fair Isle jumper, Fair Isle knitting has enjoyed commercial success.

If you’ve never tried this method of knitting with colored yarns, I’m showing you two important techniques, “stranding” and “weaving”, for successful Fair Isle knitting. For more information on the Fair Isle tradition, Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting is a great resource.

Fair Isle knitting involves changing colors every few stitches in one row. Traditionally, Fair Isle was worked on circular needles so all the pattern rounds are knit, making the yarn easier and faster to manipulate (you can use straight needles to knit Fair Isle patterns). When 2 colors are interchanged often in the same row, it is practical to carry each color not in use across the back of the work. One method for doing this is stranding. The colored yarns are picked up alternately over and under one another as you work across the row. Stranding is suitable for color changes over 1 to 5 stitches, and the result is “strands” or “floats” across the back or wrong side of the knitting. For color changes more than 5 stitch repeats, weaving is the preferable method, otherwise the floats are too long.

It is essential to keep an even tension when stranding. If the yarns are stranded too tight, the work will pucker, and alternatively if the yarns are stranded too loose, the fabric will gape. Note: Carrying yarn creates a thick fabric.

To neaten the work, the joining yarns should be woven in as you knit, or there will be many yarn ends to weave in when finished knitting. Both stranding and weaving are often used together in a project. Note: The gauge for Fair Isle knitting will be different than just working a stockinette stitch sample without color changes. Remember to always check your gauge.

Stranding can be accomplished with one or two hands. With two hands you must know how to knit in the Continental style. (See bonus how-to below).

One Handed Method

  • When working a knit row, yarns are carried across the back of the work or the wrong side. Knit a few stitches with the old color (working yarn) and then drop it in the back. Pick up the new color under the dropped yarn and knit next few stitches. Continue alternating colors this way, carrying unused yarn loosely across the back. It takes practice to get the tension even.
  • On a purl row, work in a similar fashion, but pick up the new color over top the dropped yarn, keeping the “floats” in front of the work.

Stranding yarn on knit and purl rows

What stranding should look like on back side

Weaving in Joined Yarn Ends or Large Color Repeats (more than 5 stitches)

  • Hold the working yarn in the right hand and the yarn to be woven in the left hand. *To weave yarn above a knit stitch, bring it over the right needle. Knit next stitch with the working yarn, bringing it under woven yarn. When you knit the next stitch the woven yarn is already under the stitch. Repeat from * across the row. When weaving in yarn ends, work as above across 7-10 stitches. This alleviates weaving in many yarn ends with a tapestry needle when the knitting is completed.
  • To weave yarn above a purl stitch bring the yarn over the right needle and purl the next stitch with the working yarn, bringing it under the woven yarn. Purl the next stitch with the working yarn by bringing it over the woven yarn. Repeat these steps across the row.

Weaving yarn ends on a knit row

Weaving yarn ends on a purl row

Fair Isle knitting is challenging at first, but after practicing and getting the tension even, it’s a rewarding experience. Non-knitters will wonder how you ever worked something so “complicated”.

Bonus How-To:

Stranding yarn – Continental style of knitting



Weekly Fave!

Easy Pullover – Purl Soho

A classic pullover for children, a free pattern from Purl Soho, is knit in fingering weight yarn. The fiber type is your choice, merino wool, linen, or silk. This design has the perfect neckline to pull over a toddler’s head. For such a classic piece, if you are an experienced knitter, with pattern design skills, you may want to make it oversized to fit an adult. I can see myself wearing this pullover oversized, and knit in a drapey, lightweight yarn.

Weekly Fave!

Cranberries Cardigan – Knitscene Fall 2017

Hills Cardigan – Knitscene Fall 2017

Believe it or not the fall 2017 magazines have started rolling out – Vogue Knitting Early Fall and Knitscene Fall 2017. I particularly like the Knitscene issue devoted to cardigans and essential accessories. Two of my favorite cardigans are shown above – simple stitches and shaping. This issue is sure to please both beginners and experienced knitters.

Weekly Fave!

Liesl Project – Designer Julie Weisenberger

This beautiful, drapey, asymmetric tunic by Julie Weisenberger of Cocoknits is made from Louet’s Euroflax, one of the finest quality 100% linen yarns in the market. Leisl Project is available at Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, and could be knit up quickly to wear this summer. Linen is one of my favorite fibers; check out the post “The Ultimate Summer Yarn”.

Polyester Rant

“A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85% by weight of an ester of a substituted aromatic carboxylic acid, including but not restricted to substituted terephthalate units, and para substituted hydroxy-benzoate units.”

Wow, a lot of chemical jargon in defining polyester; to summarize, polyester is a common plastic with wide application beyond just the fabrics we’re familiar with. In part, polyester is derived from the petroleum and oil manufacturing industry – not exactly environmentally friendly. In addition, during manufacturing, special disperse dyes are required to impart color to polyester. These dyes do not easily decompose, and enter our environment via the waste water from textile plants.

Why begin a post on the pitfalls of polyester on a knitting blog? Well, I haven’t done much shopping for clothing in the past few years, but lately I decided to venture out and look for some new wardrobe pieces. Because of my textile background, I always check the fiber content of clothing purchases, as well as yarn purchases. Up front, I prefer natural fibers like wool suits, silk blouses, skirts or dresses, cotton blouses, and my favorite hand knitting yarn is merino wool. I have never seen so much polyester for sale. Rack after rack of polyester is disconcerting to me. Even high end collections use polyester. I get the cost factor; it is much less to produce clothing made from polyester. It has “desirable” qualities: quick drying, strong, wrinkle resistant, and resistant to stretching and shrinking. But I refuse to pay a high price for a fabric, that if it had been made in a natural fiber would be comparable in cost, but have more desirable properties. Thankfully polyester is not seen much in hand knitting yarns, and if so, it’s usually found in combination with other fibers, providing strength and stability to the yarn.

The drawbacks of polyester are many. Wearing polyester in the winter months in Canada is a static nightmare, not to mention the difficulty removing stains, and its propensity to pill. The most serious drawback is that polyester is a petro-chemical synthetic – harmful to the environment.

“Fast fashion”, a contemporary term used by retailers to describe cheaply made current fashion trends, and their quick movement (in a few weeks) from the runway to the stores. The fast fashion movement is due in part to the excessive use of synthetics such as polyester – inexpensive fabrics. There is a backlash to fast fashion – with “Slow fashion”, meaning all things “ethical” and “eco-friendly”. This means attention is paid to quality production, value is given to products, and consideration is given to the connection between production and the environment. But most important is the slowing down of consumption, so the earth can regenerate.

I certainly can’t wait for the day when people will appreciate the beauty of timeless pieces in high quality fabric, over a cheap synthetic purchase. I should have lived in a different time when classic design was encouraged, ensuring the longevity of garments. There is a terrible price to pay in the quest for cheap, and over consumption. Something worth thinking about, and I say “hurrah to all the designers involved in the Slow Fashion Movement”.

Weekly Fave!

Capri Pullover – Designer Erika Knight

Striped Ts and pullovers are a fashion trend this summer. This design by Erika Knight is on trend and knit in one of her yarns, Studio Linen. Churchmouse Yarns and Teas is offering the pattern for sale. Erika Knight, a UK designer was part of a group of English designers who revolutionized knitting in the early 1980s, along with the infamous Kaffe Fassett. I am a fan of Erika Knight’s designs, and this linen pullover is a classic to keep for years to come.