Fair Isle or Stranded - what's the difference?

While we are waiting for the Poll "How Do You Knit" to finish......see Vogue Early Fall 2011 post

The following is my opinion only - feel free to disagree!

A design based on the traditions of Fair Isle Knitting -
OXO and pirie motifs, knit in the round
 incorporating steeks in the construction,
using traditional Shetland yarns
What makes it a Fair Isle versus stranded....

well, Fair Isle is....

  • a specific style of knit garment (not a knitting technique)
  • knit in the round 
  • using the traditional Shetland jumper weight (fingering) wool yarns (from the Shetlands - Shetland sheep raised in the Shetland Islands)
  • uses only two shades per round
  • uses traditional OXO and pirie motifs
  • therefore does not have long carries of the yarn being carried (stranded) across the back
  • incorporates the steeking method (although many Shetlanders knit back and forth above the armholes)
Do I have proof of the above statements - No, I don't.
This is my definition of a Fair Isle knit. 

(I'm strongly influenced by Meg Swansen - I'm watching the "Fair Isle Vest" video right now - if you are interested......Meg comments on how the term "Fairisle" is becoming a generic colour pattern knitting technique.  If you don't have this video - well, to me it's a must have!

Remember this sweater? Anastasiya from Rowan 48
     Quoting from the design "using the fairisle technique"
The pattern for Anastasiya was written as flat pieces.
It also used 3 colours on some rounds.  At first I was phased
by this, but I eventually figured out what worked for me.
Check out my 3 colours per round videos (on the video page).
I also decided to knit it in the round (made sense to me!).
while stranded knitting is....

  • a technique of using more than one strand of yarn per row or round, stranding the shade(s) not in use on the wrong side of your knitting
  • knit in the round, or knit flat (think of all the great Rowan designs that are knit in pieces, then seamed together)
  • using just about any kind of yarn
  • use two or more shades stranded across the row
  • use any kind of motif that you can think of
  • which means you might have long carries of the yarn(s) being stranded across the back
  • so therefore you need to "catch" these long carries of yarn somehow
  • and because of the yarn and the construction - steeks might be used or might not be suitable....and if they are used you might have to do a "treatment" to the steek before cutting

Everything I detail in FI 101 will apply to "Fair Isle" knitting - most will apply to "Stranded" knitting, but it might not....


  1. I'm so glad you defined these 2 knitting techniques. They're exactly how I think of "fairisle" vs. "stranded". Nice to know I'm not alone. Love the sweaters, btw. Sally forth!!


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