Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"Fearless Fair Isle Knitting"

Fearless Fair Isle Knitting: 30 Gorgeous Original Sweaters, Socks, Mittens, and More
Image Credit: Barnes and Noble
I've been knitting since I was a teenager in the late 1960's. As you might expect, I've made sweaters, hats, gloves, and baby clothes. The problem is that I only knew how to use one color per row so multi color meant stripes. I've always wanted to do Fair Isle knitting. I was watching "Knitting Daily" on PBS and saw that Fair Isle used only two different colors in each row. I had "Fearless Fair Isle Knitting" on my book buying wish list. Then I found it on sale of one third of the list price at a local yarn store and bought it immediately.
The photographs are just beautiful! My opinion is that if the photos are not great, how can the finished piece be great? There are many patterns for men, women, and children, which can be knitted in just one color or Fair Isle. Hats, gloves, mittens, sweaters, socks and several more projects are included. My personal favorite is the fingerless gloves. I've knitted two pairs for myself already. Mittens are my next project. My favorite charts (color patterns) are the classic Nordic snowflake, reindeer and flower garden. All the patterns use five to six colors and the palettes are just gorgeous. The author shows how to choose shades for the best effect.
This is not the book for the knitter that has not done Fair Isle knitting before. There is a chapter titled Basics. However, there are no diagrams or photos showing the actual process of knitting Fair Isle. I would have liked a series of photos showing how to hold and float the different colors of yarn. There is a technique called steeking which creates a finished edge on a completed section such as a neckline or sleeve. There are some photos of machine sewn steeks but there are no photos of how to create a crocheted steek. Thank heavens for YouTube videos or I would never have known how to do either technique. As a newbie to Fair Isle knitting, wrangling five to six colors is a bit more than I can handle. I did find a two color hat that I've made successfully. Finally, most the of patterns use size 2 or 3 needles, even for adult garments. It would take a long time to knit an adult sweater with such itty bitty needles.
If you want lots of diagrams and explanations, this isn't the right book. On the whole, I'm glad that I bought "Fearless Fair Isle Knitting." I knit hats for a local homeless organization and will be adding mittens to my donations. I love the finger-less gloves because I keep my thermostat fairly low and they keep my hands warm. I like the pattern charts and will use them or parts of them in the hats that I make.
Where is Fair Isle?
Fair Isle is a tiny Scottish island in the North Sea. It is north of Scotland and between the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Fair Isle is only three miles long and one and a half miles wide. It looks to be as close to Scandinavia as London. Local Fair Isle knitters originated the double stranded knitting technique for added warmth in the hostile winters. Fair Isle has become a generally descriptive term for multicolored patterns but is technically different from Scandinavian multicolored knitting. 
Making your own patterns
It's easy to make hats for all ages with just a Fair Isle chart, as shown in the pictures to the left. I just found patterns that I liked and adapted them to a basic stockinette hat pattern on double pointed needles.
Google Images has a lot of Fair Isle patterns. I searched and printed out a classic Fair Isle snowflake pattern and reindeer pattern. I also look at cross stitch patterns. I have a book of patterns from 1947 and took part of a chart for the bottom hat.
Here’s how I made these hats. I had a lot of red fingering (baby) yarn from an unfinished sweater and then purchased white fingering yarn. From experience, I know that a baby hat is about 100 stitches of fingering yarn on size 5 (US) double pointed needles. I just multiplied the size of the repeat on the chart to reach about 100 stitches. The snowflake had a repeat of 36 stitches so I cast on 108 stitches. The reindeer repeat was 24 stitches and 96 stitches cast on. The flower repeat was 23 stitches with 92 stitches cast on. 
I tried to center the pattern vertically by estimating the ribbing and the decreases at the top of the hat. The ribbing can be done either as K1, P1 or K2, P2. Also, ribbing looks best if it's done with a size or two smaller needle than the hat. I didn't have small needles so the ribbing was done on size 5 double points.
After completing the ribbing, I did a few rows of K1 to help define the pattern vertically and then followed the chart for the pattern. At the top I also did a few rows before starting the decreases. For the top of the hat I did one row of K8, K2 together for the first decrease row and then a row of  K1. The second decrease row was K7, K2 together and then another row of K1. This continued until there were between 10-13 stitches left. I cut the yarn, pulled it through the remaining stitches with a crochet hook and started weaving in all the strands. The last set of decreases may not have been exactly the same put the hats still turned out well.
The floats for the top and bottom hats were between five and seven stitches, so i did not have to do any twists.  I prefer patterns that don't require twists in the floats. The reindeer pattern was mostly floats with twists every five stitches.
I hope you find this information useful. Have fun with Fair Isle knitting!
Videos
Here are a few videos that helped me tremendously. 

Very useful ideas for yarn wrangling 

The first part shows how to use circular needles

If you want to watch just one video this is the one! Shows how to read charts, manage yarn and floats.

 Part 3 shows how to complete the hat and use double point needles.

Terrific introduction to steeks!

Image Credit: Allposters.com