Learn a Stitch, Make a Fair Isle Knit Cowl

Welcome to the eleventh entry in our ongoing series Learn a Stitch, Make a Cowl! Each month in 2015 we have been teaching you a new crochet or knit stitch. You can then use the stitch when you make the featured cowl. This month our stitch is Fair Isle knitting, and the cowl is the Fair Isle Knit Cowl in Soft. Keep reading to learn the stitch and enter to win! Use the hashtag #learnstitches to talk about the series.

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Download the Fair Isle Knit Cowl!

LW4808 Fair Isle Knit Cowl


The cowl is worked in rounds, but for the tutorial we worked in rows. The swatch in the tutorial has more ends than the actual cowl will, so you can disregard them. Each repeat of the stitch pattern is 12 stitches. The swatch has 26 stitches: 2 repeats of the stitch pattern, plus a selvedge stitch on each end that you can disregard.

General Notes

  • This picture tutorial is meant to be done along with the pattern. It is not a substitute for the pattern.
  • The cowl has five colors, but each round has only one or two colors. You can ignore the colors you’re not using.
  • It is normal for the yarn between the project and the balls to twist around the other colors when you’re working this cowl. You can simply pause in your knitting and untwist them.


To start, cast on 120 or 156 stitches, depending on the size you are making, using the smaller needle. Place a marker to show the start of the rounds, and join the round, being careful not to twist the stitches.

To work Garter stitch in the round, knit one row and then purl the next row. Work the Garter st until the piece is about 1.75″ from the beginning.

As we start the chart, we’ll work onto the larger needle. If you look at the pictures of the swatch below, you can see that the Garter stitch section fans out some. This fanning is because the same size needle was used for the looser Garter stitch section and the tighter Fair Isle section on the swatch. Following the pattern, you will use a smaller needle on the Garter stitch section than the Fair Isle section in order to prevent this fanning out.

TOTM-November-1Hints on using a chart

  • On the chart, each square is one knit stitch.
  • Since we’re working in the round, always read the chart from right to left, just like you knit. You may find it helpful to write in the numbers for the additional rows, as shown in the picture.
  • The color of the square is the color of the yarn you’ll use. If you decide to change colors — which is completely fine — you may find it helpful to cross out the color names in the key and substitute your own. You can see an example of this in the picture to the right. The original pattern colors are crossed out, and the colors for the tutorial are written in.
  • You may find it helpful to use a sticky note to cover up the rows you’ve already worked.
  • The chart has a 12-stitch repeat. Once you reach the end of the charted row you’re on, go back to the start and repeat that row 9 more times if you’re making the smaller cowl and 12 more times if you’re making the larger cowl.

To begin Round 1, you’ll read the chart right to left. The twelve-stitch repeat has two stitches in color B, three in color C, one in B, one in C, one in B, three in C, and one in B. Then you’ll start over from the right-hand side and repeat that color sequence around.

Round 2 starts with 4 stitches in B, two in C, one in B, two in C, then 3 in B, before you repeat this sequence around. You’ll work the rest of the cowl in the same manner, following the chart.

Work Rounds 1 through 32 once, then go back and work Rounds 1-12 again. Working this sequence of  rounds will give you the same pattern on the top and the bottom of the cowl, with a different pattern in the middle (see the flat shot on the second page of the pattern PDF to see the patterns clearly). After you work Rounds 1-12 again, you’ll change back to the smaller needles and work another 1.75″ inches in Garter stitch in the round.

This swatch has Rounds 1-12 worked for two stitch repeats.











TOTM-November-4Changing colors all of the time may seem intimidating, but you’re only working with one or two colors per row. To add a new color, just start it as you normally would. To change colors in the middle of a row, drop the color you are using, and pick up the new color. Always pick up the new color underneath the old color. By always picking up the new color from underneath, you will twist the colors on the back and prevent long floats (floats are the unworked yarn along the back of your project).

In this picture, Charcoal was the most recently used color, and Deep Sea will be the next color. The Deep Sea will be picked up and used from underneath the Charcoal, in order to twist them.

Long floats get caught on things, and can disrupt the fabric of your finished project. When the colors change frequently, the floats will naturally be short.

In some rounds, however, the floats are longer and you will have to take steps to make them shorter. In rounds such as Round 2, you have seven stitches in a row of color B (four on the right-hand side of the chart and 3 on the left-hand side of the chart). In the middle of a longer float, drop the color you are using, then pick up the floating color from underneath. Drop the floating color, and pick up the color you are using again. You have now twisted the yarns around each other, so the float has been shortened.

Depending on the length of the float, you may twist the yarns more than once. You can see this in the middle of this photo, in the row directly against the needle. The Charcoal has been twisted so it doesn’t have a long float while you are working the section of seven Off White stitches that are currently on the needle.

The rule of thumb is to twist the yarn whenever you have a float of greater than three stitches. Similarly, as you go through the rounds, you can cut the yarn if that color is not used for more than three rounds. For example, you can keep color D (Wheat in the pattern, Seafoam in the tutorial) attached as you work the middle section of Rounds 5-7. You will want to cut it after Round 9, however, since it is not used again until Round 19.

To see the other stitches and cowls in this series, visit the Learn a Stitch, Make a Cowl page.


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