Knitting Fair Isle

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When you work color patterns using more than one color in a row, you can work with two strands of yarn, carrying them along the back of your work and picking up and dropping them as you need them. This is Fair Isle knitting, or stranding, and it's the technique you use for working small repeating color patterns. (For designs involving large areas of color or picture knitting with several colors, it's best to use a different strand of yarn for each color group — a technique called intarsia. You can find out more about intarsia knitting in the later section, "Getting into Intarsia.")

In traditional Fair Isle knitting (sometimes also referred to jacquard), you work with two colors of yarn per row, knitting or purling with one color for a few stitches and then working with the other color for the next few stitches, according to your pattern. The strand of yarn not in use crosses the stitches on the wrong side of the fabric until it's knitted in again.

Fair Isle patterns follow two fairly consistent rules:

I No more than two colors per row I No more than 5 to 7 stitches in any one stretch of color

Within these constraints, you can make what appear to be extraordinarily complex color designs.

The number and variety of traditional Fair Isle patterns provide a lifetime's worth of exploration. You can work them up in the traditional manner or play with color, arrangement, and scale to make them more contemporary or more your own. Or you can start from scratch, using graph paper and colored pencils or markers to design your own motifs.

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