Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life

A while in fair isle


I’ve been slightly obsessed.  I have taken it into my head that I need to knit my niece a cardigan.  A pretty, fair isle cardigan.  This one.

I carefully selected the colours.  And then I swatched it (bear in mind the following are  unblocked, raw colour samples):

Hmm.  It has the same level of colour contrast as in the pattern, but no.  It looks like Christmas wrapping paper.  And it wouldn’t look nice on a little girl.  I think I can use this for a future fair isle exercise though (in a slightly altered form).

I decided to let it rest and pondered the swatch overnight.  I still disliked it in the morning, so I decided to try an alternative:

Swatches 2 and 3.  Neither satisfactory.  The lower colour variation is a bit ‘old’ for a child, and the pink doesn’t show up.  The upper pink is too harsh.  Then I tried this:

Swatch no.4.  Better.  In fact, I quite like it.  It gives the pattern a different level of colour contrast, but I think it’s quite sweet.  There’s a feel of old rose about it somehow.  The only thing I wonder is whether it might be a bit ‘old’ for a little girl?

This one has actually given birth to a strong lust itch to knit an adult-sized fair isle garment in Jamieson & Smith’s beautiful yarn.  I’ve used J&S in the flower motifs in this swatch. It’s extremely satisfactory to knit with, and I love how all the colours are so complimentary.  The woollen spun texture of the yarn is perfect, as you can imagine, as it catches the yarn it lies against to create a lovely smooth knitted surface.  Not to mention the yarn colours blend beautifully.  As this is a cardigan, and won’t be worn against the skin, the yarn will be fine even for a baby.  After using the J&S though, no other yarn will do in the colourwork part! Everything else I have looks far too garish in comparison.

However, another thought occurred to me.  Although her parents aren’t into pink, I felt I had to investigate a pink swatch:

Swatch no.5.  Hmm.  I don’t think so.  The green and pink don’t really complement each other.

It’s definitely Swatch no.4 then!

Here’s a closer view:

I’m going to divert to another small track of thought here – you see how the green pattern in the pink swatch is more prominent than in the creamy yellow (look at swatches 4 and 5).

I’ve been playing with colour dominance to see how I should carry the yarn when knitting the cardigan.  The creamy yellow swatch is knitted with the yellow and white yarn always carried under the pattern colour.  The pink swatch is knitted with the pink and white carried over the other colours.  You can see the dominance of the white yarn quite clearly in the closeup.

This was useful to find out.  I’ll be carrying the pattern colour under the softer colours when I knit this garment – I like seeing the pattern better.

Back to the swatches, here they all are together:

It’s quite an interesting exercise to swatch.  What looks good when the colours are all laid out next to each other doesn’t necessarily equal pretty once knitted!  And what looks somewhat ‘maybe’ can actually turn out to be the best combination.  I obviously have a lot to learn about colour combinations in colourwork!  It’s quite different to knitting stripes.

I could carry on swatching forever.  However, I’ve now knitted the equivalent to one cardigan back, so I think I’ll stop here.  I did look at doing a pink pattern on yellow but got to half-way up and said “yuck!”.  It looked hideous!  And I can’t show you a photo because I threw the offending article straight in the bin. ;p

If I had a raft of soft J&S colours, I might have been able to manage something else, but I’ve only got what you see here.  Pure wool machine-wash baby yarns are my alternative, but they really don’t look right now that I’ve been spoilt by J&S!

I hope the cardigan turns out ok!


Author: kiwiyarns

Welcome to my blog where I talk about knitting in New Zealand and the beautiful yarns you can find here.

27 thoughts on “A while in fair isle

  1. am I a complete novice knitting Fair Isle
    However, did read re: dominating colors

    now you’ve given us good examples

    From what Mary Jane Mucklestone writes
    J&S is the yarn of choice for ‘authentic’ Fair Isle

    I have a wish list on their site
    maybe, just perhaps I should make a small order??????

    Does this mean you are a complete ENABLER????

    hugs ♥ ♥ ♥

    • Tee hee. 🙂 J&S is like nothing else. You really should get some! It’s also quite reasonably priced. I ban myself from going on to their site – I want ALL the colours!!!

  2. I rather like the pink version.
    I know what you mean about combining the colours – it is a lot more difficult than you initially think.
    I learnt something from a cousin last year – sometimes you need an ‘ugly’ colour – something that seems wrong or dull often works well with the other chosen colours- have a closer look at some colour combinations of fair isle that you like. Hope this makes sense – Julia

  3. Wish you were my Aunty!! I like them all. You must knit SO fast. One swatch would take me ages!! Xx

  4. I think they’re all lovely. I’m with Colette – Will you be my Aunty?

  5. I love Jamieson and Smith too, I have a few in my stash which I haven’t yet used; but they do get patted from time to time. I’ve got 2 colours set aside for youngest’s mittens; he wants squirrels and his favourite colour is green so he’s got pumpkin orange and green.

    • It has taken me a while to even want to knit with my pretty J&S… but this project is definitely right for it. Good thing I have one lot left that will be just for me! I’m sure the squirrel mittens will be very cute!

  6. They are beautiful! I quite like the pink too. Those colours are lovely. I have so much to learn about how colours work together, it certainly doesn’t always turn out as expected.

  7. I loved the fact that you took us through all the thought processes on your colour swatch journey, I agree with your swatch choice, the colours sit very nicely with each other. I did alot of fair isle knitting for my children when they were young, your swatches bring back fond memories. x

  8. I think any little girl would look beautiful in any of them…..but, I too like the pink! 🙂 Whatever way you do it, it will be charming. K

  9. Hello from cold!!!!! (minus 13°C) Germany!
    I showed my daughter, 10 years old the pic with the four swatches and told her which one she would like for a cardi and she said straight away the right one! Then I showed her the close ups and she saidthe first one!! And the pink one is ugly the green and the pink together, awful…
    I personally like the second one most.
    So…. I’m more into the soft coulors, my daughter not. She looks better in stronger coulors though and she seems to “know” it… She has dark hair and pale skin, red lips like Snow White….

    • Yikes! Minus 13C is cooooold!!! Aren’t you glad you’re a knitter!? 🙂 With your daughter’s pretty colouring, it’s not surprising she likes the stronger colours. If I was knitting for a girl with her colours, I’d go for a strong colour combination too. But my little niece is very fair and blond, so I can’t put anything too strong on her I think… Love your feedback! Thanks!

  10. With all those swatches, you practically have a swatch blanket. I love seeing all your color combinations.

    On a separate note, I believe that NZ could be filmed very similarly to the Yosemite film. Much of that openness in the film is achieved through a wide angle lens. I’ll bet that with the right equipment, even Wellington could be made to feel wide and open.

  11. I think they’ll all nice – just depends on whether the colour suits the skin colour really.

  12. I’ve been lusting after J&S yarns for a while, they look lovely and I keep hearing such wonderful things.

    I looove swatch 2, but I can see what you mean about it not looking quite right for a young girl. Swatch 3 looks a tad softer and “prettier”. Looks like the makings of a fantastic cardigan, I can’t wait to see more!

  13. I’ve a pattern for a lovely fair isle cardigan which calls for Jamieson & Smith yarn. They have an amazing range of colours but I’ve had a feel of a finished garment made from that and it’s a little scratch – so would have to be worn with long sleeves etc. Plus, the only fair isle project I ever did (a skirt) made me tear my hair out with all the puckering I kept getting!

    • J&S is a little scratchy, but I have a feeling it’s the kind of yarn that just gets softer as you wear it (I know you’re ultra-sensitive though). My niece will be fine – she’ll be wearing it over something anyway. I have a suggestion re the puckering – spread your stitches out on the right needle before you bring your next colour forward, and don’t pull the yarn tight. this will help ensure you get a generous length of yarn that does not draw your knitting in and create the puckering effect you mention.

  14. I thought all of the swatches were beauiful and you have a great eye for color! My last attempt at color combinations became a blanket for the dog.

  15. With my success in “replying” last time, I will try again. This is a fantastic tuition on colour selection for fair isle thank you very much. it has been so interesting learning your approach to the choices you made for each swatch and the “why” you rejected or accepted each one. I looked at the J & S site and I see the beutiful “mellow” colours there and I am mentally drooling over them. Does their 2ply = NZ 4ply??? Years ago I followed Kafe Fassett’s instructions on multi colour knitting but i have never tried a “proper” fair isle yet but I am very tempted now, very tempted indeed thank you very much. there is an Interweave Vest pattern for teaching you how to knit fair isle that attracts me 🙂 by the bye, I used the word “mellow” instead of soft because they are mellow to my eye, as in a little aged instead of brand new would be another. Is it our light downunder here that attracts the composition of the “strong” colours available to use so often here. Warmest Regards Margot Oxford Nth Cant

    • Thank you so much. 🙂 The 2 ply jumper weight in J&S is indeed equivalent to 4 ply in NZ. I think your term ‘mellow’ is a good one. The colours are just delicious! I do not know why there are so many ‘strong’ colours downunder – perhaps as you say, it has something to do with our harsh light. I for one, prefer those beautiful muted colours. I’ve been drooling over the J&S site as well… Have fun in fair isle!

  16. Thank you so much for all that wonderful instruction on choosing colour. You must have an incredible stash of wool to be able to knit all those swatches with colour so similar to each other. I am always bamboozled when I go into a wool shop and am confronted by the wool. I think I need a colour consultant to help me when I buy a pattern.
    I am loving your blog. I wish I had found it sooner.

    • I just love yarn. 🙂 The good thing about baby/toddler cardigans is that you don’t need a lot of yarn to knit them – so it’s quite easy to get quite a few colour variations with bits and bobs left over from other projects. I know what you mean about being bamboozled with colour though. I always come out of yarn stores on a complete high, and wondering if I managed to buy what I actually went in there for in the first place!

      The reason I swatched so many variations on the cardi is that I am not really confident about colour either – the swatching helped. You should have seen my floor when I was sorting out what worked! There was yarn everywhere.