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.
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:
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!
This post has been dusted off and run as an encore in conjunction with my current fascination with Fair Isle.