A Study in Fair Isle CrochetBy Corinne Munger – 21 Comments
|Fair Isle knitting became popular in 1921 when the Prince of Wales wore Fair Isle tank tops in public (Fair Isle is a tiny island in the north of Scotland). The Fair Isle technique refers to color work where stitches are knit alternately in various colors. We’ve all seen Fair Isle style on ski sweaters, scarves, mittens, etc. with their intricate patterns and vibrant colors. There are an infinite number of patterns that can be incorporated into a handmade piece, and with today’s selection of colors in yarn, making a striking, unique piece is likely, but not simple.|
Many years ago, I attempted this fascinating look in crochet. It was all in my head how I would accomplish this awesome looking arrangement of color. Though my sample came out fairly well, it was too difficult and took too much time (I think I made an entire three rows – phew!). I now knew that I could do it, and that was good enough for the time being. I had no intentions of making a functional item with this technique – way too much work for me! Until today…..
I don’t even know what possessed me to give this another try. I did a little research first to see what I could learn. As far as the internet goes, there’s little information on Fair Isle CROCHET. If you knit, there are plenty of patterns and lessons available. Not so much for crochet though. I thought if I could figure it out on my own, I could pass down my new found information as a tutorial. Well, let me tell you what I’ve learned so far.
First I want to present my sample “Fair Isle Drawstring Booty Bag” (it’s empty because I have no, um, booty). Kind of funky looking patterns, I know, but it is, after all, a sample. This is what came out of about 6 hours of crocheting (keep in mind, I am an advanced crocheter, and normally something this size wouldn’t take but MAYBE a couple of hours).
Now, on to what I have learned:
1) This technique is not for beginners. There’s counting involved, and working with multiple strands of yarn makes counting to 2 (1…2) difficult! Switching colors back and forth and remembering a key rule, while remembering to join with a slip stitch, then single crocheting in the same stitch, blah, blah, blah makes one want to hurt someone. So, sorry. No beginners.
2) I began with two contrasting colors for the sake of good pictures (and working with more than 2 colors for this technique seems insane to me – you’ll see what I mean). Do not use more than 2 colors when you begin learning this technique.
3) I knew from the start that the simplest way to get the Fair Isle effect was to crochet in the round. You cannot turn your work, ever. Done properly, one side looks all pretty and patterned, and the other side looks like a 3 year old child’s attempt at weaving an Indian blanket. So the back side doesn’t get exposed, is what I’m trying to say.
4) If you want to make a flat 2 dimensional item (like a blanket), you have to crochet to the end of the row, end off, then go back to the beginning of the row and join your yarn – FOR EVERY ROW – which is fine and looks great if you want a blanket with LOTS of fringe. I’m trying to learn Fair Isle because I want to change colors without all the tying and weaving in loose ends – that’s the beauty of the whole thing. So the blanket thing won’t work for me. Unfortunately, the only books I can find on Fair Isle Crochet only contain afghan patterns! Ugh!
5) Switching colors back and forth during Fair Isle Crochet creates a spiral entanglement of yarn behind your work that forces you to stop every 10 stitches or so, where you must let your work hang in mid air, while pulling and separating your 2 yarn colors before you go on to your next set of 10 stitches. You spend a lot of time with your work hanging in the air. You see, your fingers act as a weaving loom. One finger goes up, you count and use that color of yarn, that color goes down and behind the second color so the second finger comes up so you can finish your stitch. Finger up, crochet, finger down, yarn back, finger up, crochet, finger down, yarn back. It’s absolutely crazy! Can you even imagine this with 3 or more colors?
6) This technique, when using medium worsted weight yarn, makes an incredibly THICK fabric! Think about it. It’s like crocheting with a double strand of yarn (there’s the stitch in the front, and then the “carry” yarn is in the back). The insulating properties of an item made like this are incredible! But it’s also really stiff. The bag in the example is standing on its own without being propped up. I would highly suggest using a sport weight, or sock yarn, if you were making a wearable item. Otherwise you’ll feel like you did when you were 4 – when your mom dressed you to go out in the snow with 3 sweaters and a large insulated jacket and you couldn’t move!
7) I used only single crochet in my sample project. I’m sure you can use whatever stitch you like, but I’ve only tested in single crochet because I like the smaller, more detailed look.
So let’s recap:
1) Don’t try this technique until you’re a more advanced crocheter – at least an intermediate level
2) Only use 2 colors when learning
3) Crochet “in the round” when beginning
4) You can make a flat item when learning, but design your item to have lots of fringe on the ends
5) Be prepared to do lots of untwisting of your yarn
6) Use a light weight yarn if making something wearable. This technique makes a very heavy fabric.
7) This can probably be done in any crochet stitch, but when just learning, single crochet is probably easiest.
That being said, this is actually fun once you get the hang of it. It was fun trying different patterns (1 sc for each color – 2 sc of each color – crocheting on top of the opposite color, etc.). I never knew what the pattern was going to look like until I crocheted a few rows. This technique is the only way to achieve this whole look and it’s exciting!
There are patterns out there – they’re just not specified as Fair Isle Crochet patterns. Look for cross stitch needlework patterns or even Fair Isle knitting patterns. Even bead loom patterns will work. They’ll look slightly different in crochet because there’s a slight “tilt” to the left or right when crocheted.
I’m sure I’ll be attempting this again. I can picture some really awesome hats in this style. But for now, I need to go figure out how to get some booty in my bag!
I’d love to hear your comments and feedback on this project! Have you ever or do you now create Fair Isle Crochet?