Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Hooked on fair isle knitting

When I was little, part of the daily "uniform" usually consisted of some sort of woolly jumper, often fair isle and usually hand knitted by a relative.  Here is myself and my cousin Ingrid sporting fair isle jumpers a few years ago.....

As I was growing up, my Mum and both Grannys spent a lot of time knitting Fair isle. Knitwear, and in turn knitting, became unfashionable, so I never wanted to be taught Fair isle garment construction, which is something I regret. I have knitted many garments from patterns but never knew how to create my own designs. Traditionally garment construction wasn't written down but was something that was "just done" and skills were passed on from one person to the next.  Women used to spend their evenings together knitting and passing on these skills. 

Last winter I attended a night class in the local primary school. Each Tuesday night for ten weeks, I went with 8 other women to learn to knit a traditional fair isle jumper. Knitting a Fair isle jumper is basically about scaling up proportionately and having a pattern repeat to fit the number of stitches (or sometimes the other way around).

In order to learn the basic construction we knitted a mini jumper.

I haven't finished it as you can see, mainly due to the fact that the nightclass mainly took place during November and December last year which is my busiest time of year and also leaving it like this shows the construction details better.  Jumpers can be made any size you like, its all about proportions and fitting in patterns.  Nevertheless, I thought I should start small and I have been working on a little jumper for Joseph.

I cut the steeks in the armholes last night, I have never done this before so my heart was in my mouth - I reinforced the cut edge first by a couple of rows of machine stitching, my Mum and Granny did this and it means you can have a neat hem that doesn't need stitching down.

My least favourite bit of any knitting project is the finishing, look at all these ends waiting to be woven in......*sigh* 

But the most exciting thing about finishing is the prospect of starting a new project - just look at all this yarn I have inherited just waiting to be knitted up.



  1. A great blog, Donna.
    Usually I just tighten all the knots then cut the ends to about 1cm. Very rarely do I weave in the ends.

    1. I am SO relieved to hear this Hazel!

  2. So glad you got to learn eventually. It looks great!

  3. I like the colours in the jumpers you have knitted. I used to work with older people in the isles and I always remember the discussions about what was done with the ends. The general opinion was that they should be sewn in rather than knotted and I can recall a very generous donation of knitwear coming in for a fundraising event which had not been sewn in and the quite controversial comments. The colours they'd used in these gloves, hats and other small items were fantastic, as well as the knitting but this was overshadowed by the comments on the finishing. So I always sew them in!

    1. Interesting!
      Last year I told my younger sister that I'd learned (at Shetland Wool Week) that knots in Fair Isle knitting are frowned upon and ends should be woven in. She says that's how she was taught. The only difference in our knitting education is that she continued to get knitting instruction at school in Secondary and I didn't. By then I was knitting Fair Isle jumpers and doing what I usually do now for jumpers - tie knots and cut the ends short - ie my method for close on 50 years. I usually weave in ends in hats.

    2. This is all very interesting!
      I have looked at jumpers my Granny made (on my Dad's side) and she knotted the ends. As they are all trimmed to a short length they make a nice little fringe on the inside! Then of course, because these jumpers are almost 30 years old, they have been washed and worn many times so the ends have almost felted into little tufts. I suppose I have always been a bit worried about knotting and trimming that it comes apart, but one of the good things about Shetland wool is that it almost sticks together.
      I find the different techiques used by different people fascinating (i.e.there doesn't seem to be a right way or a wrong way although it does seem to create controversy!).

  4. Hi, I'm a feltmaker & knitter living in London. Am bringing 3 of my knitting group to Shetland - June14th to 21st. Look forward to meeting some of you Shetland knitters on the Arts & crafts trail, but do let me know of any suggestions for things to do/knitting places & events to visit. Love the jumper you are knitting Donna. Yarn looks beautiful.
    Carol Grantham

    1. Hi Carol, thanks for your comment and sorry for the delay in replying. You will love Shetland yarn, there are lots of wool related things to see in Shetland, e.g. the Shetland Textile Museum, The Shetland Museum, Jamieson and Smith (wool shop selleing Shetland yarn and wool tops for felting), Jamieson's spinning mill in Sandness, Shetland Designer's workshop in Cunningsburgh, etc. Sorry I haven't added links but you will find info on all these places by googling them. There are several woolly places on the craft trail and probably more I haven't mentioned! I hope you have a great time and gets lots of inspiration.

  5. Just found you via Pinterest! So glad I did! Love your blog, & am a Fair Isle knitter in Australia, with Shetland on my list of places to visit eventually. Lovely blog - thank you very much.

  6. I like the white - grey - blue sweater! It looks as if there were many more blue hues. Yours, Marita

  7. WHen beginning a new color, begin weaving it in on the previous row, about last 10 stitches. When Starting with the new color, weave in the old color and clip OR just let it stay if it will be used again in one or two rows.

    I got this idea from this video:

    I found that weaving in 2 yarns made the spot too thick, so I start the new color on the last row, and weave the old color on the new row.

    HOpe it helps. I am working on a sweater and it is so nice to know I don't have to weave in ANY ends when I am done.

    Hope you see this message. you could call me if you need more info. my phone number is at www.DigitalArtsCT.com