After finding my knitting mojo and recovering from Covid, I thought it should be a good time to be a little reckless and ‘knit’ outside of my comfort zone, so I’ve been looking at trying my hand with stranded colour work, or Fair Isle.
Today, perhaps more than ever before, people appreciate the value of traditional skills and the quality and luxury associated with hand-made items. During this unique year that we are all experiencing, I’ve got out my needles and knitted!
Fair Isle knits with their intricate patterns and artisanal credentials are both nostalgic and are a sure hit for the coming season.
While stranded colour work is traditional in other cultures—Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and Andean—the Scottish Fair Isle style is one of the best known.
If you've ever worn a wintry Fair Isle knit, it's easy to understand their appeal: The bold patterns, the rich colours, and it feels even cosier in a warm wool blend.
This style of knitting originated on Fair Isle, a small island halfway between Orkney and Shetland off the coast of northern Scotland. Although Fair Isle designs may look complicated because the colours shift within a stitch pattern, no more than two colours are worked in a single row. Sweaters are knit in the round and steeks (from the Scottish word meaning "stitch" or "to close shut") are used to open cardigan fronts, neck edges, and armholes.
Traditional Fair Isle patterns once used the natural browns and creams of the island's sheep, brightened with dyes made from madder, indigo, and lichen. Colours used in commercial dyes began being used in the 1850s. Fair Isle knitting was originally used for hats, stockings and scarves and it wasn't until the iconic sweater made its debut donned by British royalty. In 1922, the Prince of Wales (later to be known as King Edward VIII) sported a V-neck Fair Isle sweater on the greens at St. Andrews golf course, immediately making the pattern in vogue. Fair Isle knitwear has been a mainstay of fashion since that time, and modern designers are currently using interpretations of the classic design in 2020.
I also love this small family run Icelandic company The Icelandic Store, where you can buy patterns or kits and all things Icelandic.
I have to say my favourite Icelandic wool shop has to be Icelandic Knitter owned by Hélène Magnússon. She has a lovely and very tempting online shop filled with sweater, sock and mitten kits.