The first design I released on Ravelry was the Aim True hat which was inspired by my son Silas's request for "a soft green hat with arrows on it". After several rounds of unsatisfactory experimenting with intarsia and embroidery I decided that this would be a great project for Fair Isle. I took a classic Norwegian star design as my starting point and reworked it to feature four arrows aiming toward the center of the design. I used the classic Fair Isle principles of small, mirrored repeats and only using 2 colors per row. These rules are the secret magic trick of Fair Isle, creating an intricate and beautiful design that is actually quite easy to knit up once you get into the rhythm of it. It looks much harder than it really is, promise!
I decided to keep this design to 2 colors total, so it is less intimidating to a Fair Isle beginner- it's much easier to pick 2 colors that work well together than 4 or 5 or more, and there are fewer ends to weave in!
My best advice to knitters who want to try Fair Isle and other color work is to learn to knit both English and Continental styles. There are lots of great tutorials out there, check out this video to learn Continental, and this one for English style.
When you do this you can carry one color in each hand and the work just flies by AND your yarn is much less likely to get tangled up. If you only knit one way and have never tried the other style I would recommend learning the other way and just knitting for a while in one color until you get the hang of it. It can feel very awkward at first, but just keep with it and you can most certainly do it!
I learned to knit English style and I used to get so frustrated trying to do color work because it was so slow and I always ended up with a snarly rat's nest of yarn in my project bag. Learning how to knit Continental style and then doing color two handed was like, "GLORY HALLELUJAH!!"
I also didn't know the rules of Fair Isle, so I made up my own designs that seemed to me like they'd be easier, but ended up ruining me on the technique for years! I had super long floats, terrible tension, holes between the color changes and knots all over the back of my work (because I TIED the ends together rather than weave them in HORROR!!). This was in the days before the internet and I knew no knitters in real life, so I was making it up as I went along. This is probably a big part of the reason I didn't knit much for a very long time.
I like to remind myself that in the past almost all women and children (and sometimes men) knit everything, it wasn't a specialized skill that only a few experts could do. As the great Elizabeth Zimmerman said,
“Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.” from Knitting Without Tears"
Do you have much experience knitting color work? What kinds of issues have you run into when doing it? I'd love to hear about your feelings on Fair Isle and color work!