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Pick a Palette: The North Road Hat and Tam O’Shanter

Boost your colorwork confidence with 4 tips for knitting Shetland-inspired hats.

Debbie Blair , Kate Larson Jan 31, 2024 - 5 min read

Pick a Palette: The North Road Hat and Tam O’Shanter Primary Image

The North Road Hat (left) and the Tam O’Shanter (right) are stunning examples of colorwork using Shetland wool. Photo at left by George Boe; at right by Gale Zucker

Shetland’s distinctive color patterns—sometimes using bold contrast, sometimes subtle shading—continue to catch our knitters’ attention. Not only is Shetland-style knitwear beautiful, but the color-stranding technique used creates an exceptionally warm and hardwearing fabric.

Choosing colors for the stranded motifs we often refer to as Fair Isle can be the most intimidating aspect of trying one of these patterns yourself. Here are a few tips:

Simple Palettes

Just because a pattern calls for five or seven colors doesn’t mean you have to use that exact number. Often, you can easily reduce the number of colors needed by grouping pattern colors together or grouping background colors together. For example, check out this chart section for the Tam O’Shanter design by Eileen Lee:

The background is shown with cream blocks, and the pattern is purple, turquoise, and orange. All of the pattern blocks could be converted to purple. This reduces the complexity of the pattern, which might make it feel more manageable to knit—or to find enough yarn colors you like.

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