Saturday, June 07, 2008

Technically Not Fair Isle

By Leigh

When I first started working on my Shetland Sampler Cardigan, I referred to it as "Fair Isle." I did this mostly because the chart I'm using is for the "Dyepot Fairisle Sweater" from Anne Field's The Ashford Book of Spinning.

Since then, I've been reading about Fair Isle, and discovered that not all 2-color stranded knitting is actually Fair Isle. I'll tell you what I've learned so far.

Fair Isle Knitting

  • Knitted in the round (traditionally with long double pointed needles). This has a number of benefits:
    • No seams to sew later
    • No purling (except for the bands)
    • Pattern is always on the right side of the work (no having to read charts backwards!)
    • Tension is more consistent
  • The body of the sweater is knitted first and then underarm gussets added.
  • Shoulder seams are grafted and then
  • Sleeves are picked up around the shoulder opening and knitting down to the cuff.
  • Steeks - Extra stitches are added at the front, shoulder, and neck openings. These are later cut open to knit sleeves and border bands.
  • Only two colors are used per round: a pattern color and a background color.
  • The unused yarn is stranded across the back of the work.
  • Strands are usually no longer than three stitches
  • Traditionally, the contrast between pattern and background colors should be consistent throughout the piece. Actual color schemes vary.
  • Designs consist of horizontal bands of symmetrical patterning:
    • x's and o's.
    • Peeries patterns of one to seven rows often separate the larger bands of pattern
    • Border patterns have nine to fifteen rows. These are used at borders or combined with peeries.
    • Stars - These have the same number of stitches and rows, often 21, 25, or 31. They can be single motifs, but often are repeated in a knitted band.
    • All over patterns
    • Seeding patterns which are used to fill in spaces between large patterns
    • Peaks and waves patterns (shaded from light to dark.)
  • Pattern bands usually contain an odd number of rows in a band pattern so that there is a center row. This center row often carries an accent color.
  • Corrugated ribbing. This is a knit 2, purl 2 ribbing which uses different colors for the knit and purl stitches.
So technically, my Shetland Sampler Cardigan doesn't qualify as Fair Isle. Which doesn't mean I like it any less; I just feel more technically correct about it. :)

My progress?

I've knit a few more inches on the Siamese sleeves, but am now very much distracted by the adjacent black and brown rows near the top.

They are just too dark together and keep pulling at the eye.

DH says it looks okay to him and to just keep going. I tried that for another inch or so, but now I just can't stand it.

Frog city, here we come.

Fair Isle Bibliography:
  • Alice Starmore, "Fair Isle Knitting" from Knitting Around the World from Threads, Taunton Press, Newtown, CT, 1993
  • The Celtic Collection, Alice Starmore, Trafalgar Square, Publishing, North Pomfret, Vermont, 1992
  • The Harmony Guide to Aran and Fair Isle Knitting: Patterns, Techniques, and Stitches, Debra Mountford, Editor, Collins & Brown Limited, London, 2000
  • Traditional Fair Isle Knitting, Shelia McGregor, Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 1981
Posted 7 June 2008 at

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What I Learned From My Swatch - Calculating yardage for individual FI color patterns


bspinner said...

What the heck. Call it what you want it's still great.

Sheepish Annie said...

I hate to say it and, god knows I couldn't do it, but you are right about the dark bands. The eye really is drawn to it. And, on something so lovely, you really do deserve to have it be just what you want it to be.

But, I'm still wincing just a bit at the thought of the frogging.

cyndy said...

I always learn something when I read you! Thanks for that information about what qualifies Fair interesting!

And for what it's worth...I rather like the bold stripe at the top of the is a nice contrast and a place for my eyes to rest.

Dorothy said...

Yep, the dark bands look like dark stripes. One of those things you don't guess before you see it... the more I knit the more I understand that good knitting is about having the courage to un-do and try again.

Otherwise, the sleeves look great, are you getting near the top (give or take the dark bands)? Knit on, I'm enjoying watching ;)

Leigh said...

It's funny how subjective this is. In some ways, I can see the desirability of a focal point. However, this isn't what I've been picturing in my mind! Even though I'm knitting a specific pattern, my color use is pretty serendipitous. Dorothy, as you say, it's something that can't always be predicted!

Yes, I'm pretty close to the top, only a few more inches to go. After that, I'll go back to the body of the sweater and finish the last quarter of knitting. Beyond that, my brain doesn't function :)

Sharon said...

Yeah, my eye was pulled to the dark band at the top but just the same, the sleeves are spectacular. Leave the bands - then it will be clear that they weren't machine knitted. Your work is so perfect, that mistake could be made. I tend to knit in one piece, but by the end, it's an awfully big piece!

Julie said...

I think it looks great and you shouldn't worry about it. But this is coming from a person that has taken a whole sweater apart and started over because I didn't like the way it fit.

Anonymous said...

Love Alice Starmore - aren't her books great?

I agree with you on the dark rows -- they seem just a bit heavy when compared to the rest of the design. I think they' be great if they were down by the cuffs as an accent, though.

As always, your knitting is just superbly lovely. Wonderful!

Anonymous said...

PS -- Hey Leigh, I thought you might find interesting atutorial that I did about 9 or so years ago for my sock knitting list that shows my twist on corrugated ribbing.

I called them my catapillar cuffs.


Wool Enough said...

I am equally guilty of calling all sorts of knitting "Fair Isle" when it doesn't technically qualify. But I haven't been arrested yet.

The sleeves look gorgeous. Even if you have to frog a bit, it's worth the trouble for such a splendid sweater.

Anonymous said...

While I see what you mean about the dark stripe, if you hadn't of said anything, I wouldn't have picked up on it. I would have just thought that you wanted people's attention towards the top.

It looks great, whatever you want to call it.