Sunday, 19 January 2014

A Feast of Fair Isle

Last Thursday, we had the monthly meeting of the Huddersfield branch of the Knitting & Crochet Guild.  Topic: Fair Isle.  We brought in some of the Fair Isle knitting from the Guild's collection, which looked wonderfully opulent laid out on the table.

The three children's items (two pullovers with collars and a cardigan)  are, I think, the nicest examples of Fair Isle in the collection.  Perhaps the oldest piece is a short sleeved sweater that looks as though it dates from the late 1940s.  The slightly puffed sleeves are very characteristic of the 1940s, and Fair Isle knitting was very popular at the end of the war and for the next few years.  (If anyone recognises the pattern, please let me know.)

Several people brought along their own Fair Isle knitting - I took John's pullover, as I said I was planning to. Ann Kingstone, author of Stranded Knits, brought a couple of knits from the book, including Hedgerow, one of my favourites. She also had a really nice knitted and felted bag - she says that she made it four or five years ago, but it still looks pristine.  (That's Hedgerow, peeking out of the top.)

Elizabeth Smith makes cushion covers from stranded and felted knitting - she brought in two lovely Christmas pieces.  The designs are based on typical Colne Valley scenes - cottages with weavers' windows on the sides of the valley, mills in the valley bottom, sheep and cows in the fields.  (The angels and sleigh in the sky aren't so typical.)

I did a short slide-show of Fair Isle patterns, from the 1920s on, starting from the Fair Isle sweater that the Prince of Wales wore for golf in 1922.  Most were fairly traditional Fair Isle designs, but  in the late 1940s and early 1950s, more pictorial designs were also popular.  One of my favourites, because it is so quirky, is Copley's "Fish and Coral" jumper.

Copley's 1681
It would be quite tricky to knit, because there are often three colours in a row- the small geometric pattern is in green, blue and "Sunglo", while the Fish and Coral bands are in Sunglo for the coral and white for the fish on a background of blue.  The pattern suggests that a small ball  of white yarn could be used for each of the fish to avoid long strands across the back, but I think that would also be difficult.  And there is no chart - the pattern is all written out stitch by stitch, over 8 pages.   I don't know why - other spinners were giving charts for Fair Isle patterns in the 1920s, so it must have been a deliberate decision not to use them.   But apart from the practical difficulties, I think it looks fun.


  1. I've really gotten into knitting Fair Isle recently and from vintage patterns too, I'm starting to find it quite addictive. What a lovely collection of knits you had on show; I luckily brought a 1940s Fair Isle woman's sweater recently and found that I have a copy of the original pattern it was knitted from in my collection. I thought I recognized the pattern it when I saw the sweater!

    1. How lucky to be able to match your sweater with its original pattern - we sometimes manage to do that with things in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection and it feels very satisfying. Enjoy wearing your Fair Isle.


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