When it comes to knitting techniques, fair isle is a particular favourite with the KnitPro team and we are always excited to learn more about it. So we jumped at the chance to look at a new book featuring the history of Shetland knitting, the home of the technique, and to attend an event where we could get up close with the garments featured.
The Vintage ShetlandProject by Susan Crawford is more than a pattern book, although there are some great patterns in there. Over the past few years Susan has spent time at the Shetland Museum’s textile archive researching the techniques and patterns of traditional Shetland knitting. The result is a stunning book containing a series of essays on a range of topics to do with the history of knitting in Shetland, the development and recording of patterns and how knitting styles changed over times.
These are followed by a collection modern patterns derived from some of the garments and accessories held in the museum.
For anyone with a love of colourwork there are some interesting and indeed challenging patterns, but that said they are not outside the reach of any knitter willing to take things one step at a time.
Each pattern comes with a lot of information about the sizing and how each garment in constructed and it is important to read through these before starting your garment, especially the sizing because these patterns have been developed from actual vintage pieces they do not necessarily come in standard sizes.
As is traditional in fair isle many of the patterns are worked in the round with steeks- sections of knitting designed to be cut to allow buttonbands and sleeves to be added. This has the advantage of allowing you to work the colour pattern in the round which for most people is easier and creates a more even tension.
Seeing the pieces close up, we were able to look at the wrongside of the garments as well and see how neat the “floats”, the strands of yarn not in use on the reverse of the pattern are. They form a design all their own as you can glimpse in some of the images here. One common mistake people new to stranded colourwork like fair isle make is to catch the yarn not in use every couple of stitches. In fact you can let it run behind the work for seven or even nine stitches, by which time in the majority of traditional patterns it is back in use.
This is a book that knitters can return to time after time for inspiration and to create classic garments with their own colour twist. A true investment for anyone who loves colourwork on their needles.
Our top tip for fair isle knitting:
Learn both English and continental knitting techniques so you can work with one colour in each hand. This evens out your tension and reduces the chance of yarns tangling.