Monday 5 May 2014

How to Cheat in Knitting Fair Isle

A recent post on Ysolda Teague's blog pointed to several British Pathe archive clips on YouTube.  One of the clips, from 1931, says on the title slide that it  "presents winning specimens from the 20,000 competing articles in the recent 'Daily Sketch' Needlework Competition."   (You can view the clip here - there is no soundtrack.)  

There are close-ups of three pieces of traditional Fair Isle, and then six or seven jumpers.  One of them looks at first glance like another example of Fair Isle knitting, but the close-up shows that the pattern is actually embroidered afterwards, not knitted in.   

And I recognised the design!  (Yes, I should get out more.)  It's from a Paton's & Baldwin's 'Helps to Knitters' leaflet from the 1920s. 

Patons & Baldwins Helps to Knitters 147
 There is a very battered copy of the leaflet in the Knitting & Crochet Guild collection.  When I first saw it, I assumed that it was done using stranded knitting, in the traditional Fair Isle way - Fair Isles were very popular in the 1920s.  But in fact you knit a plain sweater and then follow the colour chart in the leaflet to add the patterned bands in cross stitch afterwards.   The leaflet specifies embroidery wool for the cross stitch, but from the film, it looks as though the knitter has used something with a sheen to it.   

Evidently the 'Daily Sketch' competition was looking for excellence in execution, not necessarily original designs.  And so it might be possible to identify some of the other winning designs too - there's a particularly elegant jumper below that looks very striking even in low-resolution black-and-white.  


  1. Personally I would 1000 times rather do stranded knitting! An interesting piece of history showing part of the process of Fair Isle as it went mainstream. I must watch those films.

  2. I agree with TFK - there is nothing worse (harder) than trying to embroider a design onto plain knitting. Could you inkaging the time and effort that went into that pullover lol Give me stranded (fair isle) work any day !!
    It's raining here again today so I'll take time today to watch your clip
    'Love' your really interesting blog.
    Take care

  3. And that strange word should be - imagine!

  4. I agree with both of you that stranded knitting is easier than embroidering the design afterwards - but the pattern on the jumper must be intended to look like a traditional Fair Isle. The designer must have thought that some knitters would rather do embroidery.


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