Picking colors for Fair Isle

Have you ever seen a Fair Isle pattern that you just love…but don’t care for the colors it is photographed in? Do you feel paralyzed when trying to pick your own color combo? Here are a few tips to help you select colors.

·         The first thing you will want to think about is the feeling that you want from your sweater. Do you want something bright and bold? Or do you want something soft and pretty? Looking for a traditional feel? Or something more contemporary?

We knit the Faith sweater from Cathedral in Wynter and Blackthorn for different looks.

·         Consider picking your main or predominant color first. Especially if you are knitting something like the Faith sweater above. That, along with the choice(s) you made above, will determine the rest of the colors in your knitting.

·         Refer back to your basic color wheel and the lessons you learned as a child about complementary and harmonious colors. Complementary colors are across the color wheel from one another. Whereas, harmonious colors are next to each other.


Complementary colors will make each other pop more (perfect for a contemporary feeling), whereas harmonious colors are more likely to flow into one another (for a softer look).


·         Look at the value of the color. One of my favorite color combos is blue and green. Since they are right next to each other on the color wheel, sometimes they bleed together too much in Fair Isle. But if you choose colors that are of different values, they can still work beautifully together in Fair Isle.

Inca Alpaca - True Blue (11157) & Fern (1141)

One good way to tell value is by taking a photo of the yarns you want to use together and use a filter in Photoshop or Instagram to make the photo black and white. If you can see a difference in the greys after the color is removed, there is a good chance that these colors will work well together in your knitting.

Same picture as above, but without color

·         If the yarns you want to use are in hanks, untwist them and re-twist together (you may want to ask the LYS owner/employee if this is ok first). This will give you an idea of how the colors will work up together in smaller bits. You can do something similar with yarns that are in premade balls by twisting a few strands together.



·         Don’t be afraid of putting a color in your knitting that you would normally never wear/pick. Sometimes it makes your main color pop even more.

·         Do a sample swatch! I know it’s a dirty word and no one wants to swatch. But this is a great chance to experiment with your colors. And if there is something you want to change, you haven’t invested too much time.

Different color variations of the Apostle bag from Cathedral
Pro tip – if your FO is part Fair Isle and part stockinette, make sure do a swatch in both techniques. You may have to change your needle size to keep your gauge constant throughout the FO.

·         Ask others for their opinions.  The person working at your LYS probably has helped lots of other customers with their color sections – take advantage of that experience. Also ask the other knitters in the store. Most people aren’t shy about giving their opinion, and someone may suggest something that you would have NEVER thought of, but end up loving. Sometimes it is good to step outside our own color boxes!

Are you still feeling overwhelmed? I understand.

Kristin Nicholas has a great class on Creative Bug about choosing colors for your color knitting. It’s worth checking out if you are starting to hyperventilate feel daunted.

But here is the most important tip I am going to give you today – have fun! This is a great way to flex your creative muscle, but if you aren’t enjoying it…change it! Make it something you will love knitting AND using or giving.


Knit on!

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