Fair Isle Knitting Patterns

Beth Asaff
fair isle knitting

Traditional Fair Isle knitting patterns come from Fair Isle, a small island north of Scotland. Historically, these patterns are limited to five colors using only two per row, with the unused strand of yarn carried on the back of the garment. Patterns include everything from mittens to sweaters, and are suitable for any age or gender.

Sources for Patterns

There are many ways to get patterns for Fair Isle knitting. Your local library is an excellent resource for books on the Fair Isle technique as well as pattern books. Knitting clubs and fellow knitters are also good resources to learn this type of knitting and to acquire new patterns.

On the Internet there are numerous sources that offer Fair Isle garments and decor items at no charge, and most of them include a print-ready version that you can print out and keep. Some of these free patterns that you may like include:

  • Men's Fair Isle mittens - A fairly simple pattern for a pair of warm Fair Isle mittens in shades of gray, and in a large size.
  • Celtic Spirals - While not a traditional design, this pattern for a sweater takes a unique twist and combines Fair Isle styling with a Cali pattern.
  • Fair Isle duck pullover for babies - This is an adorable sweater featuring ducks, frogs and insects perfect for a baby or toddler.
  • Child's cardigan - This is a vintage pattern for a boy's cardigan sweater. The pattern is copied from an old magazine, so you may have to enlarge it to clearly read the instructions and see the pattern chart.
  • Fair Isle Christmas ornaments - Make two different Christmas tree ornaments in reindeer and snowflake patterns.
  • Christmas stocking - Download this pattern to make a bright and colorful Fair Isle stocking.
  • Woman's sweater with a Fair Isle inset - A very intricate pattern that makes a cardigan with a Fair Isle inset in the front and on the sleeves. If you're looking for something a little unusual, this is it.
  • Earflap hat - This winter hat is made with shades of blue, gray, and a hint of violet. The added earflaps provide both style and warmth.
  • Fair Isle Harry Potter Tote Bag - Harry Potter fans will love this small tote bag with the Gryffindor House badge. You'll have to register at Ravelry for the pattern, but it's free to download.

Tutorials on Fair Isle Technique

Steeking is carefully sewing and then cutting the armholes to create a Fair Isle garment. It can be daunting but these tutorials can help.

  • Knitty - This tutorial teaches you to knit in the round, which is the way a Fair Isle pattern is traditionally created.
  • Fair Isle or Not? - If you need help determining if something is done in a Fair Isle pattern, read this tutorial.

Once you've mastered the basics, you can even try designing your own Fair Isle pattern with this tutorial from PurlBee.

Traditional Fair Isle Knitting Patterns

The patterns used in Fair Isle knitting vary a great deal. Geometric shapes are common, while more experienced knitters may create animals, plants, or other motifs. Generally, heavily contrasting colors are used. While the pattern can look complex, it actually only requires a basic knowledge of knitting and uses only the knit stitch. The most complex patterns use a chart much like a cross stitch chart, that indicates where color changes should go. When done properly, the finished project will match the picture on the chart. If you enjoy knitting patterns that offer intricate designs and a beautiful finished item, Fair Isle knitting may be perfect for your next project.

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Fair Isle Knitting Patterns