Published: 26 April 2019

Choosing colours

Fair Isle yoke Fair Isle yoke “How do you put colours together for Fair Isle knitting?” is one of the most common questions I get asked. Sometimes I go to either Jamiesons of Shetland or to Jamieson & Smith’s shop and choose several colours from their shelves, or I delve into my stash of Shetland wool without much of a plan other than finding colours I think will work well together. I buy no more than 8 colours and a mix of light and dark, and shades which will blend. Once I start knitting I may not use all the colours. I firmly believe that the pattern shape is what should be noticed first, and the pattern should not be broken (impossible to see) because of colour changes. The colour changes should be subtle rather than jarring.

trouser material trouser material Colour selection for my newest cardigan was done a little differently. A day of very heavy rain while on holiday found me in a huge shopping centre. Shopping isn’t my favourite way to spend time - my companions were happy – but I did find a pair of brightly coloured trousers which I love. It’s the third pair of trousers I’ve had from this maker, Robell. They are comfortable, easy to care for and last a long time. I have a few tops which look good with the trousers but decided a yoked cardigan was needed.

I happened to have enough of Jamieson’s double knitting yarn, colour Cosmos, so could get started on the body and sleeves without going shopping. I always knit yoked garments from the bottom up as I like to get the boring part out of the way first and also I think that decreasing to shape a yoke is less visible than shaping by increasing.

Colours Colours To choose the colours for the yoke I matched colours from the trousers as closely as I could to colours in Jamieson’s shade card, then bought a ball of Cosmos and 7 other colours in jumperweight. Using thicker yarn for the body and sleeves makes knitting quicker, and once the yoke is reached thinner needles and more stitches are required for the jumperweight yarn. I knitted the body in the round with an 8 stitch steek.

I set myself a deadline for finishing the cardigan so didn’t want to spend time thinking too much about the yoke pattern. I followed the main chart of Sandison jumper from “Fair Isle Designs from Shetland Knitters, Volume 1”.

When deciding how to use the colours I split them into 2 groups, and ranged them from darkest at the left to lightest at the right side. If I was going to use all 8 in the big pattern this is the order I’d use them – the darkest dark would be knitted with the darkest light. Poppy and Amber were brighter than I wanted for the big pattern, and could have been used only with Cosmos, so confined each to a single row in top and bottom borders, where I also put Splash and Aqua. I used Apricot, Surf, Ivory and White for the pattern colours, from darkest to lightest in the middle. Cosmos, Royal, Splash and Aqua were background colours for the big pattern.

Once I had finished knitting the yoke I used thicker yarn to knit the neck, then cut the front opening before working the button and buttonhole bands - scroll down to see a video of this being done. Next step was temporarily join the front opening before washing and dressing it. The weather was fine so it spent an afternoon outside on a jumperboard.

cardigan front cardigan front In spite of having a large collection of buttons I couldn’t find any which were suitable, and no chance to go shopping before I wanted to wear the cardigan so I spent the journey on the Northlink ferry between Lerwick and Aberdeen crocheting buttons. This is working ok but they don’t lie flat and have to be curled to push them through the buttonholes.

Yokes are a great way of using up small amounts of yarn – I used a less than 3 metres each of Poppy and Amber, but the yoke would have been a lot duller without them. As I’ve been studying this yoke I think that Amber could have replaced Aqua across the middle – maybe I’ll have to knit something else to find out.

Subscribe for Updates

Enter your email address to receive updates from in your inbox...

About Shetland


Shetland is the most northerly group of Scottish islands. Apart from mainland Scotland, the other near neighbours are Norway to the east and the Faroe Islands to the north west.