Fair Isle Knitting and Design – a brief guide

Cover of Fair Isle Knitting and Design by Nicki Merrall

Fair Isle Knitting and Design

Fair Isle Knitting and Design is a comprehensive guide to stranded colourwork as practised by the knitters of Fair Isle and Shetland. It is for knitters who wish to learn or improve their stranded colourwork technique as well as those who would like to create their own patterns and colour combinations.

Chapter 1: Introduction

Detail of All the Fish Fair Isle sleeveless sweater

The book starts by looking at the history of Fair Isle knitting and its context in Shetland. People often describe Fair Isle knitting as a traditional knitting style. You may assume that its history began long ago. The techniques of stranded colourwork have been practised for several centuries. However, the particular combination of patterns and colour that began in Fair Isle and developed throughout Shetland has a relatively short history. What we know as Fair Isle knitting today is a testament to the creativity of Shetland knitters: both in their curiosity to create new patterns and try different colour combinations and in their response to technological advances and changes in fashion.

Chapter 2: Materials and equipment

Balls of Shetland Spindrift yarn in many colours

Shetland knitters made the most of what they had. Yarn spun from the fleece of Shetland sheep is particularly suitable for stranded colourwork. The knitters developed equipment that enabled them to knit whenever and wherever they could. You will also find out about the range of equipment available today which is suitable for Fair Isle knitting.

Chapter 3: Pattern

First two pages of Chapter 3 from Fair Isle Knitting and Design about patterns used in Fair Isle knitting

The pattern collection includes the different types of patterns used in Fair Isle knitting. Knitters borrowed some of these from other textile crafts, such as embroidery. The origins of others are unknown. You will see common themes and motifs in the different types of patterns.

Chapter 4: Colour

First two pages of Chapter 4 from Fair Isle Knitting and Design about colour

Creating new colour palettes may seem daunting; however, some knowledge of colour theory will help. It is possible to use knowledge of colour theory to develop your sense of colour using simple exercises. This will help you to understand how to use colour in Fair Isle knitting. Finally, you can learn how to use an inspirational image to help choose a yarn colour palette.

Chapter 5: Techniques

First two pages of Chapter 5 from Fair Isle Knitting and Design about techniques used in Fair Isle knitting

Traditional Fair Isle knitters used two colours per round; Shetland knitters use a variety of methods to hold the two yarns. They may hold both yarns in the left or right hand or one yarn in each. The book has photo tutorials, showing each method, for stranding and weaving in yarn, as well as working a corrugated rib.
Shetland knitters prefer to see the right side of the knitting and avoid purling, so they usually work in the round. Even flat items, such as cardigans, are knitted as tubes. A tube must be cut open to convert it into a flat item: this process is known as cutting a steek. The book has explanations for knitting, cutting and finishing steeks, as well as a photo tutorial showing how to reinforce a steek with crochet.

Chapter 6: A collection of Fair Isle designs

First two pages of Chapter 6 from Fair Isle Knitting and Design featuring new designs by Nicki Merrall

This is not a book of patterns; however, I have included a small collection of Fair Isle designs. I have organised them in order of difficulty. They start with a project suitable for knitters new to Fair Isle knitting and end with one for adventurous knitters who are confident enough to knit a garment with steeks. As you move from one project to the next, you will find they require more techniques and use more colours.

Chapter 7: Adapting and designing Fair Isle projects

First two pages of Chapter 7 from Fair Isle Knitting and Design about adapting and designing Fair Isle projects

My aim when writing this book was to encourage you, regardless of your experience of stranded colourwork, to be curious and to try modifying these designs. I advise you how to start by adapting Fair Isle patterns and trying your own colour combinations. You can then move on to design your own Fair Isle style accessories and garments.
You can now order a signed copy of Fair Isle Knitting and Design from the Being Knitterly webshop. To celebrate the launch, anyone who pre-orders will also receive a small woolly gift with their book.