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Review: The Art of Fair Isle Knitting


First, the facts:

Title: The Art of Fair Isle Knitting: History, Technique, Color & Patterns

Author: Ann Feitelson

Published by: Interweave Press, 1996

Pages: 183

Type: History, Design, Patterns.


1. Introduction
2. History
3. Techniques
4. Color
5. Math
6. Original Patterns
7. Glossary of Shetland Terms / Sources / Bibliography / Index

Art of Fair Isle

The In-Depth Look:

This is yet another book in the “Tell the History, Explain the Design Elements, Share some Patterns” vein, and that alone makes it a winner … and what a winner. Because, really, it’s also so much more. It’s inspiration.

The history section is thorough and highlighted by lots of pictures–well worth reading. I, for one, never knew that there was a story that Fair Isle knitting stemmed from a Spanish Armada shipwrecked off the coast. It’s debatable whether it’s true, but I’d never even heard the rumor, so … interesting!

This is followed, though, by the Techniques section, with tips on handling two-color knitting, how to hold the yarn, how to cut the knitting, the best way to cast on, ribbing, picking up stitches … all that useful stuff. And it IS useful. There were definitely tips that were new to me, and it certainly never hurts to be told “For this specific kind of knitting, this is the best way to do such-and-such because ___.” I’ll try almost anything if you give me a good enough reason.

But then, oh then, the best part of the book. The chapter on Color. This alone is worth the price of the book.

Have you ever tried to put together your own colors for a fair isle design? Oohed and aahed over the color talent of some of the really good designers, who manage to hit it on the nail every time, but you can’t quite figure out why?

This chapter begins: “There’s something so richly luminous about Fair Isle knitting. Why does it glow the way it does? Aside from the choice of colors, its radiant effect comes from the qualities of its surface and from the way one color meets another.”

Luminous. Now there’s a word for you. And she goes on to explain exactly why some color combinations work better than others–with lots of photographic examples so you can see it for yourself. She discusses basic color principles, but also the matter of sequence–why some color combinations will be most effective with one in the foreground and one in the background.

Trust me. This is a chapter you’ll want to read and reread–especially if you like to play with colors the way I do. The chapter on Fair isle math is handy, too.

The second half of the book is all patterns. A couple gloves, a hat, but mostly all sweaters. The designs are mostly the classic, drop-shoulder gansey shape–which is just about the only real flaw. That’s not the most flattering shape for a sweater, and most sweaters these days are fitted a little more closely. BUT this is a classic shape and it’s been around for donkeys’ years, so no complaint. Besides, the best part about these patterns are the Fair Isle designs and the color combinations.

This book is available at Amazon.com.

Want to see bigger pictures? Click here.

My Gush: Thorough–history, design, and patterns. The perfect triumvirate. Fantastic book if you’re even remotely interested in Fair Isle Knitting.

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  • Christine in Knitvada June 29, 2009, 3:00 pm

    Love your blog! I really love that you review new and not-so-new books alternately. The First Reaction section is a helpful hint about the content, [if I’m browsing], and the In Depth really great when I’m about to order a copy. I found you on Ravelry in a group post I think. Any chance I can link you to Facebook?
    Thanks! ~C.

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