Fair Isle knitting is a traditional knitting technique used to create patterns with multiple colours. Traditional Fair Isle patterns generally use a limited number of colors (five or less) ans use only two colors in each row.
As the second or unused color is left at the back of the work (stranded) most traditional fair isle patterns rarely have blocks of color larger than three stitches across the row.
© Katherine | Flickr - Knitting a Fair Isle Pattern
Some people use the term "Fair Isle" to refer to any knitting where two or more colors are used, whereas others use the term "stranded colourwork" for the generic technique, and reserve the term "Fair Isle" for the characteristic patterns of the Shetland Islands.
However, there are a few tricks to knitting fair isle successfully!
First of all, knitting fair isles involves working with several balls of wool simultaneously and if you are not careful you may end up with an awful tangle on your hands. One way around this problem is to use a small amount of yarn in your contrast colors, wound onto a shuttle rather than using a full ball of wool.
If you are doing a traditional fair isle stitch pattern, you will only be trying to manage two colors at a time, but if you are ambitious you will be able to find patterns that use anything up to five colors in a single row!
If you are using the stranded method of knitting fair isle, you will just be leaving your unused yarn at the back of the work and switching color as necessary. It is rather easy to leave too much or not enough yarn resting at the back and as a result, your knitted fabric can be tight in patches and loose in others.
Worst case, you could have holes or gaps in your knitted fabric where you have been too generous with the yarn being carried at the back. It is important that you keep your tension even, both for the knitted stitches and the carried yarn.
If you are keen to try some Fair Isle, unless you are prepared to create your own Fair Isle pattern, you are probably going to need to get your hands on a pattern book or two.
Check out these books from Amazon.com, if none of them look quite right for your needs, click on any of the images to go to the main Amazon site and search on 'Fair Isle Knitting' to find the right book for you.