Friday, February 7, 2014

Adventures with Fair Isle, Part III

I haven't disappeared in case anyone was wondering! Sorry to keep anyone who might be interested in reading more waiting, but it has been a busy week with work and the kids' schedules. I knew when I began this blog over vacation that it might be tricky keeping it going once work got busy again, but I am determined to hang in there. I am really having fun with this, and I hope those of you who are checking in from time to time are too. Please leave a comment to say hello or to add your two cents if you would like to do so. Just click on the area that currently says "no comments" and help me change that to "1 comment" or more. :)

So here is what I have been working on in the few spare minutes I have each evening -- something mindless and soothing: Granny Stripes from the delightful Lucy of the Attic24 blog.

We have been living through a very challenging winter here in Ohio, so I find the colors in this blanket to be soothing yet lively in contrast to the greys of winter. Lucy talks about "soul colors" on her blog, and anyone who knows her blog knows that her soul colors are deliciously bright and cheerful. My tastes run a little more to autumn colors, though, so this blanket provides me just enough pep to lighten my spirits yet make me feel at home.

Onto Fair Isle! I haven't been doing much of it this week since my mind hasn't been in shape in the evenings for any more challenges, but I have been thinking a lot about how I learned the little I do know. I want to share with all of you some of the wonderful sources of information that helped me to get to the point where I feel confident to try to knit a Fair Isle vest. Here are some of the books that have been my guide over the years:

Like many, my first introduction to Fair Isle techniques was Alice Starmore. Many years ago when I wanted to read about Fair Isle, her original book on the topic, Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting, was out of print and cost around $200 to buy on ebay. I couldn't begin to think about forking over that kind of cash for it, so I checked it out of the library and read and reread it, hating to part with it when it was due. Foolishly, I let an opportunity to buy this book at the regular price of $40 when I saw it in a knitting shop along side Alice Starmore's original Aran Knitting. I wanted both books very badly, but since Aran knitting is my first love and my true love, I decided I could only afford one of the two books -- it had to be Aran Knitting. I regretted not buying both within a week, went back to the shop to buy Fair Isle Knitting, only to find it had been sold that very morning to someone else. I will regret that mistake for the rest of my knitting life. I have since been able to buy the reprint of Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting much to my delight and as much as I love it, I still wish I had the beautiful, hard-cover original with the picture of Mara being knitted on the cover. 

I encourage anyone who is interested in Fair Isle to buy the reprint of this book immediately for the following reasons:
  • It provides an excellent historical account of Fair Isle and the island from which it developed.
  • It discusses patterns in detail, including how to choose them to create your own designs. It also includes many pattern motifs.
  • It provides an in-depth discussion of Fair Isle techniques such as stranding using the two-handed method that A.S. recommends and steeking. The illustrations used are excellent and easy to follow.
  • It provides an in-depth illustration of Alice Starmore's inspirations for her designs. 
  • It provides many patterns for sweaters and hats.
My second "bible" of Fair Isle knitting is Ann Feitelson's The Art of Fair Isle Knitting. I adore this book. In many ways it has been even more helpful to me than A.S.'s book. Feitelson does an excellent job of providing history and techniques, but she even goes one step further by providing in-depth explanations of color dominance (yarn dominance) in stranding. Before reading her book, I hadn't heard about the importance of consistently holding the background color of the pattern in one hand (usually the right hand when stranding with two hands) and holding the pattern color in the other hand (usually the left hand when stranding with two hands). After reading her book, I have a great understanding of how important it is to keep the background color strand running over top of the pattern color strand and the pattern color strand coming up from underneath the background color strand if one wants the pattern colors to stand out and wants the motifs to appear consistent. This tip alone (which she learned from speaking with Shetland knitters) makes this book worth its price in gold! Of course, Feitelson explains many other aspects of this craft brilliantly in her book and provides some great patterns. Here are some of the highlights:
  • History - great detail gained from her experience interviewing Shetland Isle knitters
  • Techniques - steeking, stranding, choosing colors, choosing patterns, and doing the math
  • Illustrations - helfpul, clear, and beautiful
The other two books I show above have been helpful to me, too. Stranded Color Knitting by Nanette Blanchard, seems to be out of print now, but I found it to be incredibly helpful since Nanette provides simple, clear instructions and illustrations of many of the techniques I learned in the previous two books I mentioned. I had followed Nanette on her former blog years ago where she provided many tips for Fair Isle knitting. You can still find some of her advice on the group pages for Stranded in Ravelry, but it appears that Nanette is no longer blogging. Lastly, Sheila McGregor's Traditional Fair Isle Knitting was one of the first well-known books written about Fair Isle. The motifs included in this book are very helpful to anyone who wants to create his or her own patterns.

Lastly, I must give a lot of credit to Eunny Jang! Her inspiring work on her former blog, See Eunny Knit, really got me interested in trying Fair Isle way back when. Her amazing instructions and illustrations in her Steeking Chronicles are still available for free online for anyone who wants to view them. I highly recommend them as I do her dvd, Introduction to Fair Isle: The Ivy League Vest

I must thank one more designer for her help to me in this process of learning Fair Isle, Beth Brown-Reinsel. For my fortieth birthday a few years back, my husband treated me to a two-day workshop with Beth focused on Fair Isle. She had us all make a small, teddy-bear-sized Fair Isle sweater with steeks to learn the entire process in a hands-on manner. It was the most wonderful birthday gift I have ever received! Unfortunately, I nearly lost my job, because the school at which I was teaching was closing, right after that and had to plunge full force into job-search mode and then become familiar with learning the ropes of a new college. Fortunately, I am very happy where I am now and I am blessed to have landed safely after nearly losing my teaching career. The knitting did take a backseat during those years, though, as it should have, so my inspiration to really master Fair Isle waned for a bit. I am now back on track and hope that all of this book-learnin' pays off soon! It is time to dive in and really make a go of it. We scholarly types can sometimes lose ourselves in reading and studying instead of doing, so now it is time for me to do. I recommend that you try some studying, though, if you are new to all of this since it is a whole lot of fun and time well spent. 


  1. Delighted I found your blog. I've been a knitter for many years but am just now trying my hand at Fair Isle. I do hope you will continue to write about your Fair Isle adventures. I'll be back to see what you're up to.

    I think I'm only missing one of the books you suggest. I'm off to look for it.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Linda,

    Thanks so much for being the first to comment on my blog! I really enjoy hearing from other knitters and crocheters who share my passion for these crafts. It looks like you and I are in the same boat, trying to tackle Fair Isle now even though we have both been knitting for years. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences, too. What are you currently working on? I would love to hear any tips you have as you go forward!

    Happy knitting.