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Ladder Back Jacquard wrong side view

Regular Fair-Isle knitting isn’t stretchy enough to work well on socks and motifs that leave long floats. The Ladder-Back Jacquard technique is a way to knit your floats into a loose material along the back of your work that lets it stretch.

Ladder Back Jacquard Right Side view
A wide motif is perfect for Ladder-Back Jacquard
Ladder Back Jacquard - Wrong Side view
The floats form a stretchy knit fabric behind the work

With Ladder-Back Jacquard, you can knit stretchy garments, like Fair-Isle socks, with great success, no matter the motif.

Video: Learn the Ladder-Back Jacquard Stitch

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Ladder-Back Jacquard: Step-by-Step Instructions

To do the Ladder-Back Jacquard technique, you’ll need a motif that contains spans of unbroken color more than 5 stitches across. The Fair-Isle Heart chart below is a good example.

Fair Isle Heart Chart - KnitFreedom

To use the above chart to practice Ladder-Back Jacquard, cast on 30 stitches and join for working in the round.

Work the first two rounds of the chart, then work up to and including stitch #8 on Round 3 (the first contrasting-color stitch). Then begin to create Ladder-Back Jacquard cast-on stitches using the contrasting color (float color) as follows:

First Contrasting-Color Round

Ladder Back Jacquard step 1
1. When you come to an area of your chart with a single color that is more than 5 stitches, you’ll want to break up those stitches into groups of 3 or 4.

Ladder Back Jacquard step 2
2. Knit those 3 or 4 stitches and then bring your current color to the front of the work.

Ladder Back Jacquard step 3
3. Using the color not currently in use, twist your yarn,

Ladder Back Jacquard step 4
4. Creating a Backwards-Loop Cast-On stitch.

Ladder Back Jacquard step 5
5. Place it on the right-hand needle.

Ladder Back Jacquard 6
6. Bring the inactive color to the back

Ladder Back Jacquard 7
7. Keep your float loose.

Ladder Back Jacquard 8
8. Bring the active color to the back and continue Fair-Isle knitting according to your chart.

Continue Inserting Cast-On Stitches

Each time you come to an area of more than 5 stitches in the same color on your chart, break up those stitches by inserting Ladder-Back Jacquard (backwards loop cast-on) stitches as shown above.

Ladder Back Jacquard 9
Shown: Several Ladder-Back Jacquard stitches cast on in yellow. They are not part of the live pattern stitches.

Ladder Back Jacquard 10
Shown: Ladder-Back Jacquard stitches cast on all around the first Fair-Isle round.

Work Your Fair-Isle Chart According to the Pattern

Ladder Back Jacquard 11
1. When you come to a contrast color stitch on your chart,

Ladder Back Jacquard 12
2. Leave the main color to the back and work the contrast stitch according to your Fair-Isle chart.

Knit the Cast-On Stitches With the Inactive Color

Continue working according to your chart until you come to one of your cast-on stitches.

Ladder Back Jacquard 13
1. When you come to a Backwards Loop Cast-On stitch,

Ladder Back Jacquard 14
2. Drop your current color to the front of the work.

Ladder Back Jacquard 15
3. Using the inactive color, knit the cast-on stitch.

Ladder Back Jacquard 16
4. Be sure not to pull the float too tight.

Ladder Back Jacquard 17
5. Drop the inactive color to the back of the work, return the current color to the back of the work, and resume Fair-Isle knitting according to your chart.

Use the Inactive Color to Knit Cast-On Stitches

Please note that you do not have to knit the cast-on stitches with the same color you used to make them. Knit them with whatever color you are not actively using.

Ladder Back Jacquard 22
1. In this example, the active color is yellow and so is the cast-on stitch.

Ladder Back Jacquard 23
2. Drop the active color to the front.

Ladder Back Jacquard 24
3. Knit the cast-on stitch with the inactive color (purple).

Ladder Back Jacquard 25
4. Don’t pull your float too tight.

Ladder Back Jacquard 26
5. The purple cast-on stitch is not part of the live pattern stitches.

Knit Out Unneeded Ladder-Back Jacquard Stitches

As your pattern changes, your active color may no longer have long stretches of more than 5 stitches. You can remove the inserted Ladder-Back Jacquard stitches when you don’t need them anymore as follows:

Ladder Back Jacquard 18
1. Work up to the Ladder-Back Jacquard stitch in question.

Ladder Back Jacquard 19
2. Knit two together.

Ladder Back Jacquard 21
3. The Ladder-Back Jacquard stitch will disappear behind your work.

If you need to create a new stitch again in subsequent rounds, just create another Backwards-Loop Cast-On stitch with the inactive color as described above.

Rearrange Ladder-Back Jacquard Stitches

As your pattern changes, your Ladder-Back Jacquard stitches may no longer be evenly splitting up your groups of live stitches. You can move a Ladder-Back Jacquard stitch to more evenly break up the active-color stitches as follows:

Ladder Back Jacquard 27
1. Work up to the cast-on stitch.

Ladder Back Jacquard 28
2. Slip the cast-on stitch and its neighbor off the needle.

Ladder Back Jacquard 29
3. Switch the order of the stitches, keeping the cast-on stitch to the back.

Ladder Back Jacquard 30
4. The repositioned cast-on (Ladder-Back Jacquard) stitch.

…and there you have it! Now you know everything you need to know to make your Fair-Isle floats stretchy enough to use on socks and wide motifs.

Remember: Check your floats as you work and don’t pull them too tight!

Leave a Comment

Did you enjoy this tutorial on the Ladder-Back Jacquard Technique? Are you going to try it? What are your biggest frustrations with Fair-Isle knitting? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Family Photos

Milo with papaya
Here in Mexico the stores will cut into their produce to sell you just a portion! A slice of watermelon, half a cabbage… Today Milo wanted papaya.


5 thoughts on “Ladder-Back Jacquard – Stretchy Solution for Fair-Isle Floats”

  1. Françoise Rey

    Hi !
    It seems great, but I was wondering, when you have motif like that why not knit intarsia ?
    Or if all the rest of the “sock” is stranded work with short floats, can you knit just a few rows using this method and then continue with stranded knitting ?
    What would you do if you only had one or two rows with long floats ? I usually knit my floats, which method would be best ?

    Thanks for your answer to my complicated questions…
    And thanks for being out there for us

  2. Hey Liat!
    I haven’t ever tried to knit c Fair Isle, even though I love the look of it. Your post says don’t knit your floats too tight. So, how does one know if the floats are too tight or r too loose?

    1. Hi Linda, great question! If the floats are correct and not too tight, you’ll be able to spread out the stitches on your needle just like regular knitting. If you try to spread out the last 4-5 stitches and the float doesn’t stretch to allow that, it’s too tight. You can see me do it several times in the video, the first one is at timestamp 5:55.
      Cheers! Liat
      Ps I’m still looking forward to you sending me a sample of the top-down sock patterns that you wanted to turn into toe-up! Thanks!

  3. Carol McKenzie

    Liat, your tutorials are the best, and I hope to try this one. Milo is simply adorable, and looks as though he’s loving his papaya slice!!

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