Sunday, October 31, 2010

A better way to do Fair Isle/Stranding?

 A while back I did some testing to see what was the easiest and most consistent way to knit "Fair Isle" or "Stranded Knitting. I decided to come back to that idea after hearing some of my students in a knitting class talk about how they had never tried this type of knitting. And others said they tried it but did not have alot of success.

 So it got me to thinking again about Portuguese Knitting and what I thought was a superior way to knit Fair Isle/Stranded (FI/ST).

This lead me to do some testing. On the swatch above, the two rows of snowflakes was done using Continental and English. In other words holding one yarn in each hand. The first thing I really wanted to test was which color would sit above the other in the work. What I found was that the yarn held in my left hand is the one that sits a bit higher and that comes out the most. You can see how with the yellow strand in my left hand the bottom row shows a well defined snowflake. When I put the rust color yarn in my left, in the second row, you can see how the snowflakes disappear and are really not well defined.

The problem however that kept bothering me was that the stitches were not even. I did another gauge test and saw that my continental was much looser than my english stitches.. This bothered me as I felt I was not getting an even work.

The other problem here was that many people could not knit with both hands. And because of this they either slogged through doing FI/ST with one hand or just passed on it.

The next idea I had was to use a combination of Continental in my left hand with Portuguese knitting in my right. This worked great, however again the continental stitch was looser and again I had the same problem.

This left me trying portuguese style in both hands. Portuguese is a very interesting style of knitting. The yarn goes through a pin on ones shoulder and then sits on top of the needle. Knitting a stitch is as easy as moving the yarn over the needle with your thumb. If you want a demonstration go to Portuguese Knitting.

What I found and you can see it on the top two rows of the above swatch, is that my stitches were very even in tension with portuguese. Not only that but it was really easy to hold both yarns for getting tension. And finally choosing a color to knit was as simple as picking up the right color with your thumb. I hope that I can soon show some pictures of how I set it up.

In the mitt to the right the bottom row was done with continental and PK. You can see how the snowflakes again are not well defined. This is because the continental stitches are larger or looser. I was holding the black yarn in my right hand. Now if I switched the black yarn to my left then the white color would have had better definition but they would also dominate the mitten. Here I really wanted the black yarn in my left hand. So I switched to doing PK in both hands and voila! The stitches are even.

So, if you are like me and struggle to have even gauge between continental and english or you just have trouble with Fair Isle knitting. Then my suggestion is to learn Portuguese knitting and you'll be amazed how easy it will be to accomplish great results in this style of knitting.


  1. Dear Stuart,
    I am a passionate Portuguese knitter, that only recently discovered the joys and sorrows of standed knitting, my mother lived in Toronto for a couple of years when she was a young woman, I have family living in Canada and my boyfriend is a new and enthusiastic knitter :)
    I've been making some experiences myself about the most suitable method for stranded knitting and I really enjoy trying different techniques. Recently I made a beannie using the english method and I find it very pleasant and really usefull when you're using 'fury' yarns because it takes it away from your nose! I find it more difficult to hold the yarn on the left hand as in the continental method but I will keep on practising because I am astonished about the velocity we can achieve! Thanks so much for sharing and happy knitting :)
    Patrícia (lucialima on Raverly)

  2. Nice hearing from you and good luck looking for your best way to do stranded. So far I still love PK using two needles. I find that continental still is my quickest way to knit so for most of my lace or regular knitting that's my goto, but for stranded PK gives me such an even stitch that I love it.

  3. Hi Stuart
    Hope you had a nice start into the 2011
    Way to go… what a great post. I love how you take the time to figure this all out. One day when I am not so busy with all my knitting jobs I do have to see how this Portuguese knitting is done. It looks really very nice once you show us the difference...I am sure I will mastered this one day too and will run through my fingers too....Thanks again for sharing...

  4. Hey Jacqueline. Happy New Year and best to your family. I can't wait until you take my PK course. You will love it.

  5. Where can I see a video of portuguese two yarn knitting please?