Fabulous Fair Isle

  #01 Nordic Gloves  by Fru Soleng. Knit by my daughter (her 1st Fair Isle project!).

#01 Nordic Gloves by Fru Soleng. Knit by my daughter (her 1st Fair Isle project!).

Fair Isle Knitting really is fabulous. Daunting at first, knitting stranded Fair Isle quickly became something I enjoyed doing, for several reasons:

  • the charts are easy to follow,
  • following the chart made it knit up (relatively) quickly,
  • the results are amazing,
  • it takes just enough extra concentration to do to make it fun

There are rules that define what is a traditional bit of Fair Isle knitting, and there are some knitters that will argue those rules with you. Actually, I might be one of those people.  If you are calling something Fair Isle, but are NOT stranding the colors across the back, but instead are twisting them when changing from one color to the next, then you are knitting Intarsia. The other criteria for something being "Fair Isle" include: using only two colors per row, using only 5 colors or less in the project, and working in the round.

  #08 Fair Isle Hat  by Mary Ann Stephens, published in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2011. Knit by me.

#08 Fair Isle Hat by Mary Ann Stephens, published in Vogue Knitting, Fall 2011. Knit by me.

Stranded Fair Isle knitting is commonly thought to have originated on a cold island in the north of Scotland. The double thickness of fabric created by the strands running along the back of the knitting gives an extra warmth needed for the harsh climate there. The bright colors of Fair Isle knitting also included indigo, which would have been, historically, natural indigo. (See? It's everywhere, once you start looking for it!) The actual origin of stranded knitting seems to be possibly Estonia or even Ancient Egypt, but the popularity of the design can definitely be traced to the tiny Fair Isle.

There are two specific spikes in the trend toward Fair Isle knitting: When the future King of England wore a Fair Isle sweater:

and when designers leaned heavily on Fair Isle in the 1960's:

Does this matter now? Well of COURSE it does. Ralph Lauren famously designed a hat like this one for the 2010 US Olympic team:

  Team USA Reindeer Hat  by Helena Bristow. Knit by me for my daughter.

Team USA Reindeer Hat by Helena Bristow. Knit by me for my daughter.

And Brooks Brothers is awash with Fair Isle this season, even featuring this on a page of the Christmas 2014 catalog:

It's back and it's better than ever, especially since we can now knit it ourselves, thanks to wonderful yarn choices and patterns galore. Don't like wool (the traditional yarn for traditional Fair Isle)? That's OK, you can use other yarns as well. What? You say you don't really know the first thing about how to knit Fair Isle? No problem. I've been known to teach a class at the drop of a hat!

  Mr. Deeds hat.  A pattern I designed to teach fabulous Fair Isle. Great beginner project!

Mr. Deeds hat. A pattern I designed to teach fabulous Fair Isle. Great beginner project!