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Fair-Isle Knitting

Fair-Isle knitting is notorious for being difficult on socks and motifs that leave long floats. It just doesn’t stretch enough. The Ladder-Back Jacquard technique is a way of knitting your floats into a loose material on the back of your work that lets it stretch.

Now you can knit large motifs and even stretchy things like Fair-Isle socks with ease. In-depth, 30-minute tutorial complete with tips and tricks.

Video: Ladder-Back Jacquard

Ladder-Back Jacquard Video

Ladder Back Jacquard swatch - front
Ladder Back Jacquard seen from the front
Ladder Back Jacquard swatch - back
Ladder-Back Jacquard seen from the back


To do the Ladder-Back Jacquard technique, you'll need a motif with long floats - more than 5 stitches across. You can download our sample Fair-Isle Heart chart here.

Round 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. In between these stitches, hold your current color to the front of the work. Using the color not currently in use, twist your yarn to create a Backwards-Loop Cast-On stitch and place it on the right-hand needle. Leaving the inactive yarn behind your work, bring your current color to the back of the work and resume Fair-Isle knitting.

Subsequent rounds: When you next come to the Backwards Loop Cast-On stitch, again hold your current color to the front of the work. Using the inactive color, knit the cast-on stitch, being sure not to pull the float too tight. 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.

If you come to a new area of your chart with a single color that is more than 5 stitches, break up the stitches by casting on more Backwards-Loop Cast-On stitches with the inactive color. Remember to bring the active color to the front of your work first. When you come back to these cast-on stitches, again bring the active color to the front and knit them with the inactive color. Do not pull your floats tight.

Note: 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 knitting with.

To reposition 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 over by slipping it and the stitch previous or after it off the needle and rearranging their order, keeping the Ladder-Back Jacquard stitch to the back of the work.

To remove 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. Simply work up to the Ladder-Back Jacquard stitch and knit two together with its neighbor on the left. The 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 as described above.

Remember: Check your floats as you work and make sure not to pull them tight. Good luck!

Learn Everything There is to Know about Fair-Isle Knitting!
Visit our Fair-Isle Knitting Page.

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