Updated March 23, 2018
I have long been a fan of Fair Isle knitting (it must be the inner preppy coming out). So a couple of years ago when I saw a couturier sweater in Fair Isle patterns in the bright colors, I ripped it out of the magazine and vowed it would become a needlepoint someday. I finally did it, as a Twinchy (2″ square needlepoint).
Looking for Fair Isle Knitting Patterns on the Internet found me mostly ones which were not charted. You want to find ones which are charts. These charts, a sample is below, look like cross stitch charts with the symbols in the grid squares. Stitch them over the intersections and it’s a needlepoint pattern.
In this type of knitting the background is one color and the motifs another, although the color used for the motif can change row by row. Far less common is Fair Isle with more than two colors in a row, although my inspiration sweater did that.
One cool way to adapt Fair Isle to needlepoint is to use an overdyed thread for the background, especially one which has shades of the same color. This adds a nice layer of texture similar to knitting with hand-dyed yarns. The solid colored motifs stand out nicely against it. You can also use several different threads in close colors, done in random lengths for a similar look.
Here’s the chart for the Twinchy. To make it easier to see, I kept the background blank. The motifs are repeated on top and bottom with the blue motif as the center. Because these motifs are narrow, I made them all one color.
Fair Isle and related techniques are considered advanced knitting techniques because you are knitting with multiple colors in the same row. But for needlepoint, it is an easy technique.
There are lots of books of Fair Isle techniques out there. Some I like include this Dover book, Traditional Fair Isle Knitting and a classic book of sweaters from the early 80’s called Fair Isle Knitting.
Fair Isle is one of a number of knitting traditions which use graphic elements in horizontal stripes to make sweaters. Fair Isles come from Scotland, but there are similar traditions in Scandinavia (here’s a book of those patterns I just bought Traditional Scandinavian Knitting– it’s also a Dover book), Latvian (especially mittens, as in Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs & Techniques). The patterns I used were taken from Fabulous Fair Isle (now out of print, but available used).
There are many other books on this traditional style of knitting out there. Most books do have charts of motifs, so they are perfect to use for needlepoint inspiration.
This whole piece was so fun and so easy to do. If you like this style, you might want to stitch these motifs in white on red for a Nordic Sweater star (free instructions here).