Last weekend I went to Abergavenny to teach some workshops at The Wool Croft. The Fantastic Fair Isle workshop took place on Saturday and Sunday. On the Saturday we worked in the exhibition space above The Art Shop; a beautiful 16th century building with original wood and limestone floors, and Victorian shop fittings. Our intrepid knitters ventured up the wonky stairs to find colourful mini-balls of lovely Shetland yarn from Jamieson’s of Shetland.
Their first task was to learn to pick and throw (commonly known as the ‘English’ and ‘Continental’ methods respectively). The terms ‘pick’ and ‘throw’ are more useful because they describe what the knitter does with their working hand. Right-handed knitters hold the yarn in the right hand for throwing and the left hand for picking. Those who knit left-handed do the opposite. I knit left-handed, but demonstrate Fair Isle right-handed, and because I’m not a natural right-handed knitter my demonstrations are very slow, consequently easy to follow! Whether picking or throwing, both hands hold the yarn, but only one hand makes the stitches. So, there are two new things to learn – holding the yarn in both hands and how to pick or throw (depending which the knitter does already). In Britain most of us are taught to throw our yarn, so we had a few reluctant left hands, which really did not want to join in by holding yarn. We had eureka moments, when knitters realised how easy it is to pick.
The advantage of using both hands is that the two colours do not become tangled, and stranding the yarns on the wrong side of the knitted fabric happens automatically. The knitters then learnt to weave yarns, so that there were no long strands of yarn to catch when putting garments on. Then they used all these techniques, plus knitting in the round, to make a pincushion, choosing colours themselves.
All our knitters returned for a second day, in The Wool Croft this time, surrounded by yarn and other crafty goodies
They started with a small sample, learning to knit a two-colour rib (known as corrugated rib), in the round, along with a steek. They cut and finished their steeks – this does mean that they actually cut their knitting! Now our knitters were all somewhat nervous about this technique, but they all survived the experience. You may wonder why anyone would want to spend all that time knitting only to cut up their work, but traditional Fair Isle knitting is done in the round (as tubes), so if they wanted to make a cardigan, they knitted a tube and cut it open.
Once they had recovered they started a larger project, using all the techniques learnt and seven colours!
Those who chose the flowery purse, soon finished its flap and, without blinking, cut another steek
Far too soon, it was time to say goodbye and leave.
Originally we had planned just the two-day workshop, but because the local knitters are so keen, we added in a one-day workshop on the Monday. This we called, Fair Isle – First Steps and it also took place in The Wool Croft. A second group of knitters arrived and learnt the techniques that I covered on Saturday. Again, we had reluctant left hands and eureka moments. One knitter discovered that she could already pick and throw and one very new knitter decided that since picking is so much easier than throwing, she would pick all her knitting from now on! Far too soon, it was time to say goodbye and leave.
On the Sunday we were promised sunshine, but this did not materialise in Abergavenny, with the result that some of us ended up wearing sample knits from The Wool Croft. Mine was knitted in Rowan Lima, and was so lovely and warm that I plan to knit something using this yarn ready for next winter!
I really enjoyed teaching these workshops and getting to know the local knitters; they are enthusiastic and friendly and made me feel very welcome. I’d also thank Ginevra for arranging the workshops and Giles for cooking more types of vegetables than I’ve ever seen on one plate!