British Wool, casting on, Focus, KnitBritish, knitting, Knitting Pattern, techniques, WIPs, wool
comments 13

Fair Isle focus

If you listened to episode 19 of the KnitBritish podcast you would have heard me – yet again – talking about my wish to get to grips with Fair Isle knitting 1 and how I should be resolve to make 2015 the year that I do.

This morning, whilst taking the bus into work, I was listening to the sparkling wit of Jo Milmine on the Shiny Bees podcast. In episode 29 she was talking – like a lot of us have recently – about resolutions and Jo’s is focussing on knitting things that fit and flatter and trusting in patterns. At one point Jo mentions how we knitters can often be a bit hard on ourselves..

‘”I can’t do this, I can’t do that” and I think it is about time we all stopped criticizing ourselves so much and work with what we’ve got.”

While she is talking about fit in knitting and having the courage of knitting for our own body shapes, it made me think about my Fair Isle and how I ALWAYS say I have trouble with it and I can’t do it. This is actually crapola. I can physically knit with two different colours.

I managed to knit all of the things above. Using colours. From little details on a hat to a yoked sweaters. Therefore I am going to categorically state that in actual fact I can knit with more than one colour. This is not a thing that I cannot do. ….I mean, that IS a lion rampart flag in there …and while they are pulling it out, the tension was pretty dang good for what was my 2nd ever colour-worked thing! (ugh! and whole load of moss stitch in the border, too!)

In the spirit of focussing and using Jo’s wise words of working with what we can do then these are actually the things I find difficult:
a) Wrangling two different yarns, which leads to
b) tensioning problems

These two things can be worked at and practised, but I need to remind myself that while I find it a little bit of a challenge I can still do it. I can produce something that – though I know I struggled a bit with it – to all intents and purposes, is a colourwork item. I even modified the designs on some of the patterns, while others, like the Lion flag I just drew out and gave it a whirl.

Apart from the bag (which I gave a present away in, as a gift bag); the hat (which the lovely fella wears) and the flag (which I knit for a soldier chum, and which was later nicked!) I have ripped or altered everything else and I think it is because I am not sure I like how it looks on me.

The hem band of colour work in the Stasis sweater was not very flattering on me as it drew attention to my belly. So I ‘altered’ it.
The yoke on my Aftur was quite deep and was not very flattering on my chest and so that too was ripped and knit back plain.


So instead of this being an “I can’t do” thing,  I think it could possibly be more of case of “I am not sure what suits best”. Deep down I have often thought it is a lot of knitterly effort to put into a garment that I am not sure will suit me. I have decided, with that in mind, that I should change my 2015 knit goal from “learning Fair Isle” to focus on knitting something in colour that I am happy with and I feel is wearable. Not quite so snappy, but you get the picture!

As Karie Westermann and I discussed in episode 18, it is really easy to create colourwork designs of our own with the help of the hugely inspirational KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Source Book and you might remember from late last year I was creating a chart inspired by a Tunnocks Tea Cake wrapper, after taking Felix Ford’s class.

I haven’t really done any more on this and have decided to keep on working on these ideas and maybe make something wearable and totally me (and Tunnocks!) Hopefully by creating swatches and using the tools in Felix’s book I can create something from the charts.



If you hear me say “I cant do….” anything knitterly this year then please shake me and remind me that 2015 is the year that we say, “actually, I CAN”

  1. stranded colour-work by any other word…


  1. Mazzy says

    I think you’re right that it’s the tensioning which is really the issue with colourwork. I’m no expert, but it’s definitely got a lot easier for me the more practice I’ve had. I use two fingers on the right hand to hold the yarns and it’s taken ages for the ‘novice’ finger to learn to hold the same tension as the more experienced one. I’m sure the same physical learning curve would apply if I ever tried to master holding the second yarn in my left hand.

    I really like Mary Jane Mucklestone’s “200 Fair Isle Designs” as a resource for patterns. The subtitle is “Knitting charts, combination designs and colour variations”, which describes it nicely.

    • Agreeing with Mazzy. I use one colour per hand, but tension them differently in each hand. I’ve occasionally used both in one hand, but had to wrap the yarns differently around the different fingers to get decent results. I think finding what works better with how you knit is definitely better than trying to change how you knit (though Mazzy’s quite right to say that a novice finger also needs training up), and that it’s worth trying a few things to see what is the best balance between how it feels and how it comes out.

  2. Elaine says

    I, too, want Fair Isle to be the learning process of 2015. I did make Kate Davies lovely hat (Peerie Flooers) as my first attempt and it has spurred me on to do more.
    No radio or TV or distraction of any kind for me so I can concentrate on the pattern!! I hope to get better (and faster) with practice!!
    Knitting for our body shape can be really tricky because we have to figure out what looks good on our body shape. Choosing a color we really like adds to the enjoyment!!

  3. Katy says

    I’ve had the same, realisation very recently and came to very similar conclusions. Last Christmas I knitted a garment I’ve worn once because whilst I like the colour, the fit is awful. This Christmas I frogged it to knit a much better fitting sweater. This year I shall only knit garments that fit. And fit well.

    I also struggle with colour work but it’s a case of learning to be kinder to myself. The fabric may not be as perfect as my regular knitting but it’s not bad and will only get better with practice. My new copy of Felix’s book has inspired me greatly.

    Enjoy your Tunnock’s

  4. It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves and think we can’t do something when we can’t do a small part of the technique. Last year I went to an evening class called “So you think you can’t draw?” In reality all of us could draw, but none of us were confident enough to draw on our own, because we were not certain what we could draw. We need to learn to say “I can do this and this, but I struggle with this bit.”

  5. This is so true, and just look at all the lovely “fair isle” you have done already! It also helps to remember that there’s not a right way and a wrong way to do anything just whatever works for you. Practice is the best thing!

  6. So true! Sometimes we overestimate our limitations (the wretched things!) and it’s well worth taking a closer look at how we hold ourselves back. Enjoy your fair isle in 2015! (Now there’s a catchy slogan only a knitter could appreciate 😉

  7. Quiltercaroline says

    Here here. I totally agree, I often say I can’t when I really mean I can but it is challenging or I can but don’t enjoy! Thank you for the reminder. I look forward to hearing and seeing how your 2015 adventure develops. C

  8. Excellent post!

    I think there is an even more fundamental points that we as knitters often forget. Increasingly the default in our society is: “Oh, I can’t do or make x so I’ll just buy a solution instead”. We knitters actually bother to try to make things ourselves; we take on the challenge of figuring things out (a new stitch, reading a pattern, tweaking a pattern,…). We deal with learning, including learning from ‘failure’ – which knitter hasn’t frogged something -on a regular basis. We may not give this attitude a second thought but we should not forget that our ever-developing skill and inclination to make are exceptional in an increasingly commoditised society.

  9. Ellen Porcari says

    What you said! While I have done some colorwork, I’d hesitate to call it Fair Isle. Felix’s book is in my wish list (let’s see how the taxes go, shall we?) and I’ve found all kinds of patterns on Ravelry to practice on. Thinking of a KAL with my regular knitting group to see if we can help each other. Fit is another issue. I’ve never successfully made a sweater. All frogged or fulled to cat beds. Yet another goal.

  10. When I knit Fair Isle (there’s an example here:, with some pics of the inside too ) I’ve found that my tension/ gauge is very different between the pattern, and any plain bits. So for the neck-wrap, I cast on 120 stitches for the hem and the picot edge. Then when I started the Fair Isle bit I increased to 160 stitches (I think it’s knit 3, make one, repeat to the end, then knitted the fair isle pattern on 160 stitches. Any few rows of plain between patterns looks OK, the tighter rows above and below squash it in.

    I don’t know what they say in ‘proper patterns’, but I know that the Fair Isle yokes were often hand-knitted onto machine bodies, so maybethere would also be a difference in gauge?

  11. I enjoy your podcast!
    Could you please add the RSS feed to
    It’s a great aggregator and would be most helpful . Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.