Fair Isle is a colorwork technique in knitting, in which you work with multiple colors at once. This usually leaves “floats” or loose strands of yarn at the back of the work. In this tutorial, learn how to lock those floats down with every stitch to create a smoother finish at the back.
Fair Isle Locked Down – Photo Tutorial:
(Scroll down for video tutorial)
In typical fair isle knitting, as you switch from one color to another, the inactive color drops to the back of the work. This creates floats, where yarns pass across the back for several stitches. Most often, knitters will “lock” these floats if they become longer than 3 or 4 stitches.
This works perfectly well in cases where the back of the work will not be seen, for example in a sweater or hat. It’s not so great though, for something like a blanket. Even at no more than 3 stitches long, these floats can still snag on toes or fingers.
One solution would be to line the back of your work with fabric. Another is to lock those floats down with every stitch, so there is nothing to snag.
There are lots of different methods to lock a float, but they all basically do the same thing. They wrap the working yarn around the non-working yarn at the back, so that it is locked in place.
An easy way to do this in every stitch is to make sure that, no matter what stitch you are working, the working yarn is always coming from behind the non-working yarn. This works the same way for purl and knit stitches.
Twisting the yarns:
In this picture, I’m about to knit a yellow stitch, but the yellow yarn is in front of the green yarn. If I leave it like this, that green yarn will not be caught by anything but will instead hang free at the back.
To lock the green yarn in place, I simply pass it over the top of the yellow yarn. Now it is in front, and the yellow yarn is behind and coming up from underneath it. When I work my stitch, the green yarn will be wrapped up in it.
Here’s the same scenario in a purl stitch. Once again, I need to pass the green yarn over the yellow yarn so it will be caught up into my stitch.
When knitting or purling with the green yarn, follow the same rule: The green yarn would be the working yarn, so should always come from behind the yellow yarn.
When to do nothing:
Here I’ve been knitting in green, but am now going to do a knit stitch in yellow. The yellow (working) yarn is already behind the green (non-working) yarn. In this case I don’t have to do anything special.
Here’s the same situation in a purl stitch. Again, I don’t have to do anything special to lock the green yarn. The yellow yarn will twist over the green yarn as I make the stitch, and the green yarn will twist back over again in the next stitch.
Again, follow the same rule when working with the green yarn. If the working yarn is already behind the non-working yarn, you don’t need to do anything special.
Edges of rows:
In this blanket square example, I’m not working all the way to the end of the row in both colors. This means I can drop the yellow when I’m finished with it on each row. However, I do need to pay attention to where I will need to pick it up again for the next row.
If I need it to be a few stitches ahead of where I last used it, then I need to continue to wrap it until it gets to that spot. Here I have passed the yellow yarn 3 stitches forward on the previous row, so I can now pick it up where I need it.
As soon as I reach the dropped yarn going back the other way, I start to twist the yarns together for each stitch again. The yarns twist one way on the right side of the work, and the opposite way on the wrong side, so the skeins never get too twisted up.
This method is a little tedious, because I have to basically stop and maneuver the yarns with each stitch. However, for certain applications (like blanket squares), the results can be well worth it.
Fair Isle Locked Down – Video Tutorial:
Ready to try it out? I’m Still Stranding is a free blanket square pattern that uses this technique!