Fabulous Fair Isle

#01 Nordic Gloves  by Fru Soleng. Knit by my daughter (her 1st Fair Isle project!).

#01 Nordic Gloves by Fru Soleng. Knit by my daughter (her 1st Fair Isle project!).

Fair Isle Knitting really is fabulous. Daunting at first, knitting stranded Fair Isle quickly became something I enjoyed doing, for several reasons:

  • the charts are easy to follow,

  • following the chart made it knit up (relatively) quickly,

  • the results are amazing,

  • it takes just enough extra concentration to do to make it fun

There are rules that define what is a traditional bit of Fair Isle knitting, and there are some knitters that will argue those rules with you. Actually, I might be one of those people.  If you are calling something Fair Isle, but are NOT stranding the colors across the back, but instead are twisting them when changing from one color to the next, then you are knitting Intarsia. The other criteria for something being "Fair Isle" include: using only two colors per row, using only 5 colors or less in the project, and working in the round.

#08 Fair Isle Hat  by Mary Ann Stephens, published in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2011. Knit by me.

#08 Fair Isle Hat by Mary Ann Stephens, published in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2011. Knit by me.

Stranded Fair Isle knitting is commonly thought to have originated on a cold island in the north of Scotland. The double thickness of fabric created by the strands running along the back of the knitting gives an extra warmth needed for the harsh climate there. The bright colors of Fair Isle knitting also included indigo, which would have been, historically, natural indigo. (See? It's everywhere, once you start looking for it!) The actual origin of stranded knitting seems to be possibly Estonia or even Ancient Egypt, but the popularity of the design can definitely be traced to the tiny Fair Isle.

There are two specific spikes in the trend toward Fair Isle knitting: When the future King of England wore a Fair Isle sweater:

and when designers leaned heavily on Fair Isle in the 1960's:

Does this matter now? Well of COURSE it does. Ralph Lauren famously designed a hat like this one for the 2010 US Olympic team:

Team USA Reindeer Hat  by Helena Bristow. Knit by me for my daughter.

Team USA Reindeer Hat by Helena Bristow. Knit by me for my daughter.

And Brooks Brothers is awash with Fair Isle this season, even featuring this on a page of the Christmas 2014 catalog:

It's back and it's better than ever, especially since we can now knit it ourselves, thanks to wonderful yarn choices and patterns galore. Don't like wool (the traditional yarn for traditional Fair Isle)? That's OK, you can use other yarns as well. What? You say you don't really know the first thing about how to knit Fair Isle? No problem. I've been known to teach a class at the drop of a hat!

Mr. Deeds hat.  A pattern I designed to teach fabulous Fair Isle. Great beginner project!

Mr. Deeds hat. A pattern I designed to teach fabulous Fair Isle. Great beginner project!

This post has been dusted off and run as an encore in conjunction with my current fascination with Fair Isle.

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Red Scarves (finally) on their way!


I did it! I finally mailed off the scarves that had been waiting to go to the Red Scarf Project for the last 3 years. With all that has happened here at KnitOasis HQ the last few Autumns, I’m cutting myself the slack I think I need to be able to just BE HAPPY ABOUT IT and not beat myself up over how LONG it took me to box them up.

I admit one of my motivators was an awesome knitting group that contacted me with the fruits of their own knitting for the Red Scarf Project. Here is the email I received:

Hi Tamara! My name is Mary Ellen Graham and I live in Upstate NY. I saw on the internet about the Red Scarf Project for Foster kids. Love it! My daughter and her husband have fostered children for many years. They were even fortunate to be able to adopt one that they had received at 8 days old. This project caught my interest. 
Last year ( Oct. 2017) I joined a group of women who wanted to learn to knit. We have a great person who was willing to share with us her talent and love of knitting. 
When I saw your project, I decided to do it and I shared the info with the women in my group. Everyone jumped on the band wagon! We have knitted and I have collected about 12 scarves. Some followed your pattern. Others wanted to do their own thing. I hope they will be acceptable. They are all redscarves. 
Our group has all levels of knitters. We all just love the cause and wanted to help out.

Mary Ellen Graham knitting group red scarves.JPG

Aren’t you inspired? Want to join in as well? My most recent design for the project is the Sandy Scarf, available through Ravelry. And to celebrate my getting my box mailed (!), from now till Dec. 15 (the deadline for sending in more scarves this year) you can get the pattern for half price!

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The Danish Tie Shawl: by Guest Blogger Wendy Avery

I first met Wendy when she came to one of my Indigo Dye workshops several years ago. We connected on social media like the good Knit Bloggers we are and even met up at SAFF once or twice. Her adventures with knitting and dyeing and more take her all over the world.

Her “recipe” for the Danish Tie Shawl here will be familiar to my students who have taken my Vintage Winter Shawl class, which uses a pattern first published in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1864. How fun that it is a globally appealing design! And how fun that she agreed to share her about it here! Thank you, Wendy!

Why do knitters like creating shawls so much? Speaking for myself, knitting a flat shawl provides opportunity…I can explore color, drape, pattern, gauge and different fiber types without fear of creating a garment that won’t fit!  If it is too small to fully cover my shoulders and torso, I can use it as a beautiful scarf. If I am less than fond of the end product, I can “gift” it so someone who will appreciate its handmade goodness, and perhaps the color would look better on someone other than myself!

I am also intrigued by the history of the shawl, particularly those worn by working women, and the basic wooly warmth that they provided.  Shawls and wraps come in various shapes, however the one that I keep returning to is the triangular shawl. This shawl is wrapped around the body and the ends tied in back, leaving the arms free for work and no loose fabric in the front to get in one’s way.

For some reason, these have become known in the knitting world as “Danish Tie Shawls” although from my reading and explorations, these shawls appear in many different cultures in Northern Europe and elsewhere.

In Copenhagen, there is a famous statue (in addition to the Little Mermaid!), that is of the Fishwife from Skovshoved, a fishing village north of Copenhagen. The fish market used to be located on a windy cold harbor and sellers would really bundle up.  The Fishwife would be outside all day selling, after walking or taking a cart to the market, and then get home, all out of doors. You can see her tie shawl keeping her warm in this photo. I do wonder whether the origin of the shawl’s name comes from this statue!


A basic triangular shawl is very easy to create, and great for beginner knitters.  It should be noted that it is not a triangle per se, due to the increases the hypotenuse of the triangle curves up. Here is one that I knit for a doll.

These shawls can be knit small or large. You may wish to knit a small one to use as a scarf or neck warmer, or a full sized one to wear in the traditional way. You may use any yarn in any fiber and gauge that gives you the drape that you want.  Stripes are easily incorporated into the pattern. Yardage depends on the size and your gauge.

If you are doing a full sized Tie Shawl in a dk weight you will probably need 700 yards at 5 stitches per inch.   You will want to have a generous amount of yarn on hand. OR be spontaneous….if you wish, you can just start knitting with the yarn that you like and see how far you get!

The pattern is easy; this is a “top down” shawl, traditionally done in garter stitch.  You may wish to knit a small one to use as a scarf or neck warmer, or a full sized one to wear in the traditional way.   The only special technique that you need is to “increase one” which I do with a yarn over, although if you are a beginning knitter the tab cast on is a bit fussy.   

I usually start a shawl with a tab although you don’t need to:

Cast on 3 stitches,  Knit 8 rows. Keeping work on your needle, turn it and pickup 4 stitches between the ridges. Turn the work again, and pick up 3 stitches from the beginning of the tab. You have 10 stitches on your needle.

Here is an excellent video from youtube showing how


Alternatively, you can cast on 9 stitches, although it makes the top back of the shawl a bit tight.

Now, knit one row. Turn the work and you are on the right side. You may want to mark the right side with a marker. So, for the first pattern row:

Row 1:  Knit 3, yarn over (yo), *k2, yo*  three times, k 3.

Row 2: Knit.

Row 3: K3, yo, K3, yo, k2 (these 2 are  the “spine” stitches, the center of the shawl back)

Row 4: Knit.

Repeat rows 3 and 4. This “recipe” gives you three stitches on the edge for a border and 2 for the spine, although you can alter that. Keep going until the shawl is as small or large as you wish.  If you wish to, a good “rule of thumb” from a Danish shawl knitter is to make one of the “arms” (the equal sides opposite the hypotenuse) of the triangle almost as long as your “wingspan” from fingertip to fingertip, including any border. (I.e., stretch your arms out and measure tip to tip). Yes, it’s a big project!

Once you have knit as long as you wish, you will bind off. Here is one option for a sort of picot lace treatment that is done with the bind off.  It makes a loose picot edge that won’t be tight as you wrap it around yourself.

Binding off:  starting on the right side, *knit two stitches. Slip the 1st stitch over the 2nd.  Place the stitch on the right hand needle back onto the left. Repeat from * until you come to the last stitch, cut the yarn, pull the end through and weave the end in.

For shawl finishing, I usually soak it for an hour in wool wash, rinse and  lay it out flat. To get it perfectly even you can use blocking wires but this is optional.    

Here is a shawl that I completed using naturally dyed yarns purchased in Denmark; the gauge is 4 stitches per inch


If you would like to read more about this shawl, check out my blog post on it!  http://spinsjal.blogspot.com/2016/10/danish-tie-shawl-number-one-and-return.html

I was lucky to travel to Denmark several years ago; if you would like some inspiration for Danish Tie Shawls derived from Danish artists, check out this post. http://spinsjal.blogspot.com/2014/10/skagen-part-one-art-and-knitting-in-art.html

Enjoy your shawl!


Wendy Avery is a knitter, spinner, triloom weaver, dyer, and fiber traveller. She lives in Bluffton SC and is a devoted member of the Fiber Guild of the Savannahs. She blogs at spinsjal.blogspot.com.


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Knit That Sweater: Finishing Techniques 3 with Sandy Huff


Knit That Sweater, Part 3

A guest blog series on Finishing Techniques

Part 3 of the series featuring the lovely and gracious designer Sandy Huff, someone I am proud to call my friend (and not just because she might block something for me if I'm nice to her...)

If you missed her other posts, click here for Part 1 or Part 2.

Knit That Sweater--Finishing Techniques, Part 3: Blocking and Buttons and more!

Blocking serves several purposes.  Blocking is used to “set” the stitches so that they relax into each other for a more uniform look.  Blocking is also used to open up a lace pattern. Small alterations in size can also be facilitated through blocking.


There are many ways to block your pieces but generally, you should consult your ball band laundering instructions to determine which blocking method is best for your yarn fiber(s).  ALWAYS test your preferred blocking method on your swatch. The wrong blocking method could ruin all of your hard work. You can consult Deborah Newton’s book “Finishing School” for a comprehensive understanding of blocking methods.

After blocking your buttons and any special details can be added.

When sewing on buttons, use the yarn that was used for the body of the garment.  If the yarn is too thick for sewing buttons then separate the plies. If the plied yarn is not strong enough then twist it together with a matching thread.  Create a little space between the button and knitted fabric by wrapping the yarn around several times. To prevent droopy buttons follow this handy tip:  sandwich your knitted fabric between two buttons.  You’ll have the visible button on top of the fabric and another button hidden underneath making the button more stable.

Finally, finish your piece with special finishings like embroidery, duplicate stitch, cross-stitch, crochet chain, pom-poms, tassels, fringe, braids, or i-cord.  Be creative and make your garment a one-of-a-kind.

Now you are on your way to finishing your garments with a professional and polished look.


Sandy Huff is a knit and crochet designer from the Atlanta, GA area. Her designs have been featured in Creative Knitting, Interweave Crochet and more.

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