Skip to content

This post began as “3 Tips for Better Fair Isle.” Of the zillion tips I could give, none are any good unless you are already a Fair Isle knitter. So, before getting into the details of better Fair Isle, I’m here to encourage any Fair Isle. Here’s my one megatip, the mother of all hints.

Knit something Fair Isle.

As in: try it out. If you’re resistant to Fair Isle—and lord knows I understand that feeling—I’d like to make my pitch.

A lot of knitters avoid knitting with two colors of yarn in the same row because it looks hard. Fiddly. Tangly. I know this because that’s what I believed for a long time. I thought, Fair Isle does not look like fun. That activity looks like a stack of bills, a traffic jam, a clogged gutter. I’m not doing that. If God had intended us to knit with two hands, he’d have given us two—oh wait.

Knowing how to knit Fair Isle opens up a new continent of knitting.

Look at it this way: you’re already halfway to being a Fair Isle knitter, because whatever hand you knit with, it’s going to work the same way it always does when you knit Fair Isle. It’s no big deal. The newness comes with working a stitch using your second hand.

Yes, it feels like you are knitting with your feet when you make those first stitches using your unfamiliar hand. For me, I stared at my left hand and wondered how it would ever get the yarn over that needle. But I’d had the same feeling back when I first learned to knit, and my fever for it got me through those first lumpy rows.

It can be done with any weight of yarn. There are many traditions of knitting with two colors of yarn in one row—it doesn’t have to be tiny needles and eight stitches to the inch. Icelandic sweaters are knit on size 10 needles with chunky yarn. It can be hats or mittens or scarves or cowls. And every bit of stranded knitting of boils down to a simple rhythm—one color in your right hand, the second color in the other.


The way to nudge yourself to try stranded knitting is to look at beautiful Fair Isle things. For me, the insane colorplay in Alice Starmore’s Fair Isle haunted me for months. Sit down with a cup of whatever warm beverage you’re addicted to, and look around at the magnificent world of colorwork going on these days. I think you’ll soon hit on the same impulse that hit me: I really want that thing.

There is a colorwork revolution right now. Designers are thinking about color in new ways that I admire, envy, and covet.


Mary Jane Mucklestone, for one. Her playful color sense shines in her book Fair Isle Style. She writes about her Weston beanie here, a perfect pattern for practicing your first Fair Isle.

In the MDK Shop
Rowan Felted Tweed is PERFECT for your first or your 101st stranded knitting adventure. Thanks for your purchases. They support everything we do here at MDK.
By Rowan

Ann Weaver’s Station North mitts are cool, just like Ann. These would be a great second project—and you’d finish with the triumphant thought, I just used six colors of yarn.


These birds would have seemed far out of reach for me, back in the day. But I know now that an intermediate knitter with a fever on could make this sweet hat, Passerine, from Erica Heusser.

It’s a grand total of 25 rounds of stranded knitting. We can do anything for 25 rounds, right? It’s just not that much knitting to get such a glorious result.

(Being a bird freak, I had to find out what Passerine means. Here you go. And Erica’s bird paintings are so lovely.)

Here endeth the sermonette for the day. I hope you’ll try Fair Isle, and I hope you’ll let me know how it goes.


  • Fall is here and I’m going to give it a try. Really. Thanks for the push and the inspiration!

    • So glad to hear it, Laura! I do think that the first bit of fiddling is pretty fiddly. But so was riding a bike, right? Have a great time with this.

  • I do fair isle holding both colours in my right hand. You are making me rethink this. Hmmm.

    • I do fair isle holding both colors in my left hand, one over my middle finger and one over my fourth finger.

    • I hold the strands in my left hand and had 2 rows with 4 colors at one time yesterday. There is no one way to knit anything!

    • LOL–now I think you are making ME rethink this. Hmmm.

  • A shameless plug here for Mary Jane Mucklestone’s Craftsy class “Modern Stranded Knitting.” It is beyond excellent. She shows multiple ways of holding yarns, discusses fixing mistakes (duplicate stitch, anyone?) and even covers how to purl in stranded knitting. I worked through the class project, a cowl done in worsted weight yarn, and now I can’t get enough of stranded knitting.

    After the class project cowl and a mouse in a fair isle sweater, I am now planning a large blanket…I mention this only because to other knitters, this will seem perfectly reasonable.

  • I do fair isle knitting but in a completely inefficient way. I have never learned how to properly hold and throw the yarns to minimize tangles, so I then spend a fair amount of time unwinding the two yarns. I really should look into Mary Jane’s Craftsy class and discover how to eliminate or minimize that problem.

  • If you are going to knit a Fair Isle piece, especially in the round, I highly recommend this video from Philosopher’s Wool, Using the four easily learned stitches they teach, you do not have to worry about floats since they are all woven in as you go. You never make more than two stitches of each color and after a very short while you develop the rhythm of the stitches and you can just let your fingers do all the work. Oh, and big bonus, your yarns never get twisted up!!

  • I knit fair isle/stranded but I do not use two hands. I’m a thrower and I work merrily across the row with one colour at a time, dropping & picking up the yarn as the colours change. The colour not in use is left hanging until I need it again. The best trick I learned is that the background colour comes from the top and the main colour comes from the bottom. I never get tangles any more. (If I need to catch one colour because of long floats, I physically move then entire ball instead of just twisting the yarn.) And my speed is not so bad when I get going.

    • Me too! I thought I was only one!

  • My first fair isle piece I knitted was actually the Passerine hat 🙂

  • I’m actually signed up for a class this Saturday and next, because I am determined to “get” two-handed knitting! My problem is, I’m a continental knitter and cannot make my right hand work. It just won’t! Which is weird, since I’m right-handed. Anyway! Here’s to learning something new and keeping my brain fresh!

  • Great words of encouragement. I gave the yarn and the patterns. I just need to sit down and do it. (Why is is so scarey?)

  • I really want to try the Lost Diamond hat out of the Making Merry field guide. While I feel like I could crochet these up in a jiffy I’m such a noob knitter I don’t even know where to begin. I would love some suggested tutorials.

  • Just finished stranded mittens…from a year of techniques..learned a few new tricks….fun…deb

  • I had the fever for that Passerine hat – and I knit it! It is a wee bit too tight, but that’s ok – I have enough yarn to make a bigger one! 😉

  • Learning stranded knitting was quarantine goal. I am now nearly done with my Persian Dreams blanket, and I am so happy to have learned.

    I am a slow knitter, and I knit with only my right hand. I drop the yarn and pick it up each time. And though I am slow, it still works and I am happy!

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping