Best yarns for Fair Isle knitting

Author: Deb McDonald  Date Posted:13 June 2024 

Fair Isle knitting is a traditional knitting technique used to create geometric patterns with many colours. It is named after Fair Isle, one of the Shetland Islands, which lies at the northernmost tip of the United Kingdom between Scotland and Norway.

The wool used in Shetland fair isle designs traditionally comes from sheep farmed in Shetland. It is non-superwash and comes in myriad colours. It can be different weights of yarn including laceweight, 4ply fingering weight, DK and thicker.


Mary Jane Mucklestone at Skein Sisters

We recently had the pleasure of hosting renowned fair isle expert Mary Jane Mucklestone at the store. She shared an amazing amount of knowledge and we all came away busting to try all the knitting techniques we learned.

MJ loves to swatch and play with colour, looking at the different effects the colours create when placed next to each other. Some of these swatches are over 20 years old and are, as she says, improving with age.

One fair isle knitting rule is that you can't truly see how a pattern or colour combination is going to work together until you block it and then you can see how the wool blooms.

We learned so much about fair isle knitting, combining colours (often the one you hate the most is the essential colour to make your favourites shine!), all based around MJ's Tamto Mitts pattern. 

I was fascinated to learn that so many of the fair isle knitting techniques were based around speed, and knitting as fast as they could. That the patterns are symmetrical both vertically and horizontally, that you only use two colours at a time and there's no catching in floats! The longest span between colours is generally 8 or 9 stitches and if it gets longer than that then you just put in a stitch of the other colour.

Best yarns for fair isle

We have a whole range of yarns that are ideal for fair isle and Shetland style knitting. Being non-superwash, they are perfect for colourwork along with felting and steeking.

Here are a few:

Organic BC Garn Bio Shetland comes in over 70 colours, allowing you to put together the loveliest combos. Plus this 4ply fingering weight organic wool yarn is just that little bit softer than true Shetland wool. BC Garn Bio Shetland is a pure non-superwash, rustic wool made in the 'Shetland style' for all those who love to knit with many colours in a nicely woolly yarn. Plus it's Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified, so you can rest assured that you're using the best organic wool. 

BC Garn Loch Lomond is an organic pure wool tweed yarn. It's listed as an 8ply / DK weight but it can work as a 5ply sportweight up to a 10ply worsted weight yarn too. Fall in love with the colours, the little tweedy pops and the soft handle. 

Darnie and Dooish by Spinning Yarns Weaving Tales are Donegal tweed yarns in fantastic colours. 
Darnie (above) is a tweedy fingering weight yarn with oodles of refinement! It's perfect for outer garments to keep the winter cold out. 
Dooish (below) is a 10ply / worsted weight with a rustic but soft handle.

Also by Spinning Yarns Weaving Tales is Donegal Chunky

Perfect for a quick, soft, chunky cowl or a cosy warm jumper for the coldest of days, Donegal Chunky Merino Tweed is an authentic Donegal tweed made from Australian merino wool and milled in Kilcar, Donegal, Ireland. 

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This glorious beret or tam is Mary Jane's Buness pattern. It's all about the colours, right?


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