Tutorial – Fair Isle Locked Down

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.

Normal floats - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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.

Locking floats:

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.

Knitting with yellow, lock green - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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.

Knitting with yellow, lock green - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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.

Purl with yellow, lock green - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com
Purl with yellow, lock green - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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.

Knitting with yellow - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com


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.

Purl with yellow - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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.

Moving the yarn - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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.

Back of square - Fair Isle locked down - free tutorial on Stitches n Scraps.com

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!


  • Sheila Fletcher

    This is the way I have always knitted Fair Isle but when I visited Shetland a couple of years ago I was told that catching the threads was not traditional Fair Isle knitting. I have carried on with the method I have always used and the one you use as I don’t like loops at the back of the work.

    On another related subject, I was told that the strands of wool should be held in the same hand. I generally have one strand in the left and one in the right as I knit. Since being told this I have noticed that there is a difference in the shape of the finished stitch if you use both hands.

    Would love to hear from others about this.

    • Pia Thadani

      It all comes down to what’s comfortable and what works for the individual knitter. I’ve tried holding both yarns in one hand, with and without a stranding ring, and I’m pretty much useless at it. For me, that affects my tension more than doing it 2 handed. For others, their tension will be more uneven the other way. The best tension for me comes with dropping the yarn every time I change colors, but that takes much longer. I’ve found that blocking takes care of the small tension difference I get by holding it in 2 hands, but your mileage may vary.

      That’s part of what I love about knitting – everyone does these things differently and the only right way is what works for you! 🙂

  • Brenda

    If you use Shetland yarn, you do not need to worry about longer floats. They will catch onto the back of the knitting and stay put anyway.

    • Pia Thadani

      I didn’t have that experience – mine came out the same as it always does. I think it has to do with being careful to maintain even tension when you’re catching your floats, and not pulling on them tightly. It’s slow going but I didn’t have any unevenness from it.

  • Ingrid

    What about yarn dominance? Depending on whether you’re knitting with the yarn above or below some of the stitches will recede. You want the pattern stitches to be a little proud of the background colour.

    • Pia Thadani

      A little bit of both lol – I twisted the same way every time, so they did get super twisted, but then more or less untangled themselves on the next row. I think I stopped after every 3 or 4 rows to straighten it all out again before continuing.

  • Jazz

    Hi, thank you for the wonderful explanation and video examples! Have you ever knit Fairisle backward versus the purling and if so, did you treat the ends of the rows any differently? I knit fairisle as Philospher’s Wool teaches but when it comes to flatwork, it would be nice to knit backwards occasionally depending on the project. Many thanks and thank you for sharing.

  • Laura

    Wait a minute! You’re knitting faire isle flat! I only know how to do it in the round. I didn’t think you could even do fair isle flat.

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.