Friday, August 10, 2012

Fair Isle Knitting: A Historic and Beautiful Technique

Fair Isle Knitting Pattern
Fair Isle knitting originated in the Shetland Islands of the United Kingdom and is a special knitting technique that uses up to 5 colors of yarn, 2 per row. The unused colors are stranded behind the worked piece. Fair Isle knitting patterns are worked in the round using either double pointed or circular needles. Fair Isle sweater patterns became popular in the 1920s in England when the Prince of Wales was seen sporting a sweater vest in this style. Fair Isle patterns can generally refer to any kind of stranded knitting these days but the traditional knitting patterns of the Shetland Islands are exemplary of the style.

The traditional Fair Isle pattern utilizes horizontal strips of repeating patterns and motifs that were originally worked in the black, grey and brown colors of the native sheep breeds. Knitting patterns utilized designs from nature like rams horns or ferns, or simple shapes like crosses and diamonds. Colors are spaced evenly to avoid large loops of fabric that could catch on other clothing or fingers on the inside of the piece. Fair Isle garments are often quite warm because of the dense layering of yarn. Besides the stranded nature of the work, these patterns use only plain stitches and are straightforward to begin with once you understand the process. Fair Isle sweater patterns can be joined together in the traditional manner where the body of the sweater is constructed in the round and sleeves are sewn in place. Holes are then cut for the arm openings in the tube of the sweater body.

Fair Isle patterns typically use a stockinet stitch, where the knit side is on the right side. If you wish to continue for a lengthy stretch in a particular color, catching floats of the yarn is necessary every 5 or 6 stitches to prevent long, loose loops inside. Twisting the color you are not using around the color you are currently using periodically helps prevent these loops from becoming problematic. Take care when twisting highly contrasted colors together, this can cause pieces of the wrong color to show through the front and muddy the appearance of the garment.

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