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There are numerous ways to work with more than one color in knitting, ranging from simple methods like striping, to techniques like intarsia and duplicate stitch — which is a kind of embroidery. Today, we're going to explore the differences between mosaic knitting and stranded knitting and understand why stranded knitting and Fair Isle are distinct.

Mosaic Knitting

The term "mosaic knitting" was named by Barbara G. Walker back in the late 1960s. She took the idea of slipped stitches and made it into something amazing. This kind of color knitting is very beginner-friendly since you work with just one thread of yarn in each row while the other rests peacefully.

To get started with mosaic knitting, you'll need two or more contrasting yarns, like a dark one and a light one — you can also achieve amazing results with faded yarns using this easy technique. The way it works is you slip stitches from the row below without actually knitting them. It creates some awesome geometric patterns, and it's not too hard to pick up if you've done two-color stripes before.

mosaic knitting swatches

Another advantage of mosaic knitting is that since you have fewer floats to carry compared to stranded knitting, the fabric ends up being more flexible. If you're looking for cool patterns to explore this technique, here are some suggestions:

on the left, feet wearing knitted socks, on the right, woman wearing knitted shawl
© Winwick Mum | © Hanna Maciejewska

It’s surprisingly easy, and this free pattern with a photo tutorial will help you get the hang of it in no time!

“Rockshawl” is a classic triangle-shaped shawl knitted in a combination of tuck stitch and mosaic patterns.

Fair Isle Is Stranded, But Not All Stranded Knitting Is Fair Isle

Stranded knitting, unlike mosaic knitting, is a technique where you use multiple color threads in the same row or round to create stunning designs. The possibilities in stranded knitting are endless, and nowadays, we've got a ton of awesome pop culture and pixel art-inspired designs. You can basically let your creativity run wild and develop any design you want using pixels, just like a cross-stitch chart.

What about Fair Isle? This is a specific type of stranded knitting that originated from a small island with the same name, located in the north of Scotland as part of the Shetland Islands.

In this kind of knitting, you work with just two colors per round, and you carry the yarn across the back for only a limited number of stitches. Even with these restrictions, you can create some fantastic motifs, shapes, and simple geometric designs inspired by nature, known as "peeries." Even though using two colors together in each round, some highly intricate Fair Isle patterns incorporate more colors, sometimes as many as 10 or more.

Check out some patterns you can challenge yourself with modern stranded designs and traditional Fair Isle.

on the left, colorwork cowl with sea motifs, on the right woman wearing colorwork vest
© Jamie Lomax | © Ella Gordon

This pattern includes micro charts intended to be used as mix-and-match colorwork motifs throughout the project. This “ocean doodle” is inspired by the beaches in the PNW, with hearty sea creatures, corals, and seaweed.

Pattern designer for the Shetland Wool Week Annual 2021.

Socks are perfect for stranded knitting. Click here to read an article where we suggest three fun colorwork designs.


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