Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Adventures with Fair Isle

Although I have been knitting for 20 years and have a lot experience under my belt, one area in which I need more practice and have dreams of unmet accomplishments is Fair Isle knitting. As you probably know if you have read my introductory post on this blog, knitting Arans and other types of textured designs has been my primary focus for much of my knitting "career." If you check out my Ravelry profile (suzknittyspinner), you will see that I have knitted several cabled sweaters of varying difficulties (and even more than are pictured on Ravelry since I wasn't always great about taking photos) with Alice Starmore's Inishmore being my most prized achievement. My dream is to knit one of Alice Starmore's Fair Isle designs now that I have one of her Arans under my belt.

However, during all those years of dreaming about and knitting cables, I always had a desire to learn Fair Isle (stranded) knitting, too. Lack of time due to a busy work and family-life schedule kept me from pursuing this dream as intensely as I would have liked to have done. I did make some small steps towards my goal over the years, though. I began by knitting hats, starting with a very easy hat and slowly trying others:

I highly recommend this simple pattern from Homespun Handknit: Caps, Socks, Mittens & Gloves, the Mushroom Cap and Mittens by Jacqueline Fee, as a way to begin to practice your stranding technique. If you have done any reading about Fair Isle knitting, you probably know that there are several ways to hold the yarns when stranding. You can hold them both in one hand, or you can use two hands by knitting English-style in one hand and Continental-style in the other (as Elizabeth Zimmerman and Alice Starmore recommend). I choose to strand using both hands, but because I am an English-style knitter, I had to learn to knit Continental-style with my left hand. Before I even started the hat above, though, I practiced Continental-style knitting on a scarf. Once I felt fairly comfortable with it (after over five years of practicing it, I am still not nearly as comfortable with it as I am English-style -- can't teach an old dog new tricks!), I tried this hat. Since the pattern only requires you to strand the yarn for one stitch at a time, it was fairly easy to get the hang of stranding and to get into a flow with my knitting. The yarn used was also a sport weight yarn, so that made the stranding a bit easier to manage for a first project.

After this hat, I tried another Mushroom Cap in different colors for my niece as well as a stranded hat of my own design (using one of Barabara Walker's motifs from one of her Treasuries) for my other niece:

Making these simple hats and especially choosing the motif for the second hat was a lot of fun, and I began to feel like I might be getting the hang of stranded knitting (these hats weren't technically Fair Isle since they were only using two colors without changes in the colors in the background), so I decided to try something that looks a little more complicated but really isn't, The Fake Isle Hat by Amy King.

It was so much fun to knit that I made another:

After my success with all of these hats, I began to gain confidence and decided to try some mittens at a slightly smaller gauge, so I began Beth Brown-Reinsel's Nordic Mittens, and this is where things began to get a bit more tricky. Working on double-pointed needles is usually a breeze for me since I was fortunate to have a knitting teacher who got me going on socks as my second knitting project (long before socks on two circs or Magic Loop existed). However, dpns while stranding was not my strong suit (and still isn't, which is why I am now using Magic Loop for stranded mittens). Here is what I started and have to this day not finished:

Unfortunately, I put these mittens aside when I began feeling frustration from trying to strand across the gaps between dpns, and my enthusiasm for Fair Isle withered a bit for awhile. I then decided that maybe I needed a class, so for my 40th birthday, instead of having a party, I asked for a weekend-long knitting class on Fair Isle with Beth Brown-Reinsel. It was awesome, and I learned so much. That class renewed my interest in Fair Isle, so I began an Ivy League Vest by Eunny Jang. 

It was a bit slow going at first since the gauge of the Shetland wool is finer than anything I had used previously. However, I began to feel like I was getting a rhythm, and then I made a mistake in the pattern! I intended to find it and fix it, but life got in the way, and before I knew it, this project was put in hibernation along with the Nordic Mittens. They both sat in a closet for over five years. However, this is the year that I plan to finish both of them. For some reason, cable knitting came very easily to me, but I have had to work at Fair Isle. I am now at a point, though, where I really want to be able to say that I met the challenge and have become a proficient Fair Isle knitter. Hopefully, I will be able to do that by the end of this year.

I will be posting later this week with some tips about how I have jump-started both of these projects and the ways that they seem to be coming along more smoothly this time.

Please share your experiences with learning Fair Isle knititng or any questions you might have if you are just starting to learn this technique in the comments below. Click on "no comments" to get to the page where you can add your own comment. I would love to get a discussion going here about this subject. I have a lot of great ideas for further posts that can link you to many of the helpful resources and tips I have picked up along the way even though, as you can see, I have been very slow to put them into practice. I have studied this subject a lot more than I have practiced it over the years. :)

No comments:

Post a Comment