Stranded colourwork is complex. There are many things to consider, and a wealth of experimentation and practice to gain some knowledge. But don’t allow the complexity to put you off getting started! Every stitch can be pleasure, and you really don’t need to know much beyond the knit stitch to get started playing with colour. We’ve got a ‘how to knit fair isle’ post with a free hat pattern here, if you want to cast on right away.
Having knit your first colourwork project, you find yourself on the slippery slope to addiction! Each round reveals a little bit more of the pattern, and it’s hard to put your needles down! As you plan the next (and the next) project, make sure to review our Week Of Colour for many helpful strategies for choosing a palette for your next project.
To deepen your knowledge, there’s nothing like a good book! Alexa and I stick to the design side of things more than the research side, but there are many excellent resources on colourwork knitting, and we’d like to recommend a few of our favourites. If you’re at all like us, these books will bring you pleasure, knowledge and inspiration that you can apply to your colourwork knitting.
200 Fair Isle Designs – Mary Jane Mucklestone
This book is a treasure trove of immediate practical relevance if you’d like to knit and design your own stranded projects. Mucklestone’s explanation of how to choose a palette is concise, practical and forms the basis for the method of fair-isle blending explained in our Fair Isle Friday post.
200 motifs are illustrated, knit up in colour combinations that inspire you to cast on immediately!
We place it first on the list, because I find it the most accessible and practical for getting started with stranded colourwork.
The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting – Shiela McGregor
This book tells the history of the development of stranded colourwork patterns and style in Fair Isle, and more broadly in Shetland. It tells the story of knitting as a cottage industry in Shetland up to the 1980’s, when the book was published. What most fascinated me about the story was the way Shetland is placed, historically, as a crossroads within a maritime trading network. This allowed influences from the Baltic and Nordic neighbours to be the seeds for the Fair Isle tradition. The history highlights how Fair Isle knitting is (then as now) an organic, living tradition which involves a dynamic flow of ideas, motifs, and techniques.
I consider this book a treasure especially as it includes a very extensive stitch pattern library, and instructions for garment design and project planning alongside its historical contextualization.
Fair Isle Knitting – Alice Starmore
Starmore’s book is the most complete reference book for Fair Isle that I have found. It covers the history of the style and includes an extensive compilation of stitch patterns. The book explores methods for applying colour to the patterns and suggests drawing inspiration from the world around you to develop palettes, something I do in my own work!
Starmore includes an in-depth explanation of the techniques involved, includes several patterns, and a section on designing your own colourwork garments and accessories.
Published in 1988, you may find the style of some of the designs dated, but there is a wealth of practical knowledge and beautiful ideas to inspire you!
KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook – Felicity Ford
For a designer, this book is a delight! I was completely engaged by Ford’s method for designing your own fair isle patterns, starting with everyday inspirations. It is a long and exciting jaunt into a creative space that blends pattern and colour.
Ford says: “The highlight of the KNITSONIK System is the knitting. It enables patterns and shading schemes to be developed and advanced through trial and error. Once an initial pattern and shading scheme have been trialed, they can be revised and modified. This approach means that instead of trying to work out everything before you begin, it is possible to gather answers along the way and to form creative responses to problems.”
This mirrors my own experience of colourwork knitting. After defining an initial concept, you get started knitting, and discover on the needles what will (and won’t) work. Your questions are answered by the knitting itself. I believe this is a critical attitude to take when knitting colourwork; accepting and taking pleasure in the the trial-and-error nature of the beast will bring you joy throughout the process. If you’re interested in developing your own motifs from scratch and developing your artist’s skills of perception, this book is a beautiful, playful and inspiring one to study.
Alterknits Stitch Dictionary – Andrea Rangel
When I saw that Andrea Rangel was publishing a book on stranded knitting and motifs I knew I had to get it. She is a designer whose style I admire and her thinking about knitting (much like my own) is always a mix of a nostalgic love of the traditional blended with a modern touch. It may seem like too much of a juxtaposition to enjoy both the classic and the modern (sometimes in the same garment!), but it is her reverence for the past that keeps her modern designs both fresh and timeless.
The Alterknits Stitch Dictionary was created by Rangel and her husband, a great duo when it comes to motif design! There are fabulous geometric shapes along with some tongue-in-cheek motifs (I’m loving the racoons and garbage cans!). This book is a great resource for original motifs to add to your Strange Brew hats, cowls, or sweaters. Alterknits also includes techniques and a number of pretty and adaptable designs.
Are you ready to tackle colour? We’re currently running a Strange Brew Knitalong – join us and design your own colourwork yoke sweater! All the details are here!
Do you have a favourite book on colour?
Colour is one of those things that many knitters find very difficult. Practice makes perfect, and we find knitting colourwork patterns HIGHLY addictive! You can’t help but knit just one more round to see how it will look. It’s a delicious adventure. Click the links below to share this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, or by email. And invite your friends to join in our Strange Brew KAL too!
Fair Isle from TCK:
October 28, 2017 @ 5:44 am
Thank you for these recommended books! Look forward to purchasing at least one of them! I am interested in knowing about how you developed the cable design on the cardigan sweater, which is a favorite of mine. Sorry I can’t remember the name of it right now. Thank you for your inspiration
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October 27, 2017 @ 3:06 am
Your timing couldn’t be better! I’ve recently decided to act on my love of Fair Isle, so a book was my first investment into Fair Isle. The very first one you mentioned, actually. I waffled between it and the Starmore one. Thank you for your insight, wisdom, and all you’ve done for knitters everywhere.