Knitting Life Tips & Tricks

A Weekend on Fair Isle

Last Saturday I woke up with a strong urge to do some colour-work. Now, for me it’s perfectly normal to wake up and have an inspiration or an idea clear in my head. But since I’m really not a big fan of colour-work in general, I was somewhat surprised over what my brain had thrown at me. But hey, you have to listen to your gut feelings – so off to my yarn stash I went.

Luckily I had some years ago received bagfuls of leftover yarns from my step-mother, including some beautiful, tweed yarns (I’m not sure which brand it is, but I suspect it might be Rowan Felted Tweed) in several colours. So I figured that they would be perfect for a small fair isle project, and decided on making a beanie. And since I’ve been lacking a proper beanie (that I would actually like), this sudden struck of inspiration would beat two flies with one blow.

Inspiration from the Queen of Fair Isle

To find inspiration and potential patterns, I turned to my Fair Isle bible, Fair Isle Weekend by Mary Jane Mucklestone (Laine Publishing 2020). I bought the book as a Christmas present for myself last year, and boy have I enjoyed it! Not only does the book include some gorgeous Fair Isle patterns, but also information about the tradition of Fair Isle knitting, as well as on the most remote inhabited island in Britain. The beautiful pictures immediately take me to the rugged, windy sceneries, and make me want to wrap myself in layers of thick wool.

I selected the Kuvvel cowl pattern as a basis for my beanie. But since I had more colours in my hands, and I couldn’t decide on which ones to use, I made some alterations to it. Or rather, I added few colours so I could use all of them! Also, I wasn’t sure how far I would get with each colour, so I wanted to reduce the risk of running out of yarn, by making the stripes thinner.

I know that sounds like a horrible plan, and kind of backward way of designing a project, but I knew all the yarns would match beautifully. And when I do colourwork, I want to REALLY make the most of it. And I think that in Fair Isle knitting, the more colours you have, the more interesting the result will be.

Colour-work for those who dislike colour-work

Fair Isle knitting is by far my favourite type of colour-work (or, the only type I actually like), for several reasons.

First, you only work with two yarns in one row, which makes it simple and straightforward. Like Christel Seyfarth said on her Knit Stars Masterclass, having to work with more than two yarns in one row takes all the fun out of knitting.

Second, the patterns are designed so, that there won’t be long threadings to tie. Having to think about tying the threadings neatly and always in different places adds too much and potential messes to the project, at least for me.

And third, and most important, I simply love how Fair Isle knits look like! They are fascinating yet harmonious, with lots of details – but they are still simple and traditional. So even if they require a bit of work, they are definitely worth the effort!

Knitting and daydreaming

Once I cast on the work, I knitted like in a fever or as if I was possessed. The rhythm of the pattern and the rustic yarn just swoop me away: I was enjoying the salty air on Fair Isle, or wandering around somewhere in the misty Highlands of Scotland (or anywhere that’s NOT in steaming hot Belgrade, where just the thought of a woollen beanie makes me melt into a puddle…). I could almost feel the nippy air of an autumn morning pinching my nose and ears.

And when I wasn’t knitting, I was thinking about knitting and yearning to get back to that wonderful sensation of flow. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I even knitted a bit while playing with my daughter – something that I never do, because it would be rude and almost the same as if I’d browse Facebook while playing. (To my defence, I did ask her first, and she said it was ok!)

By the end of Saturday, I was halfway done, and just loving how the beanie was turning out. By the end of Sunday, the beanie was ready, except for the reductions (and the tassel that I would make later on). In finished the project on Monday morning, after taking my daughter to daycare. And I love it, it will be perfect with my all-weather winter jacket (although it would look even better paired with a Barbour waxed jacket, that I’ve been drooling over for years…)

So there! A perfect weekend-trip to Fair Isle, and a fun little beanie as a souvenir.

Me wearing my fair isle beanie

My tips and tricks to Fair Isle knitting:

  • Keep the main colour (of the row) always on your left hand and on the left side of your work. Knit “normally”, or as in continental or German knitting.
  • Keep the contrast colour (of the row) always in your right hand and on the right side of your work. Throw the yarn to the needle to knit, like in English or Right-hand knitting.
  • When you’re done with the colour, cut the yarn. Even if you would use it again in few rows. That way it won’t disturb you and get tangled. If you want, you can re-attach the yarn by kind of felting or rubbing it back together between your hands – or just finish the tails when the work is ready
  • Don’t feel discouraged about the pattern and all the colours – just follow the pattern row by row, stitch by stitch. There’s only two colours per row, and all the stitches are normal knit stitches. You will learn to see the “big” pattern as you proceed!

Happy Knitting!


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