Book Review: The Art of Fair Isle Knitting

The Art of Fair Isle Knitting

by Ann Feitelson

I have always been intrigued by Fair Isle knitting.  The intricate designs and awe inspiring colors seem rather intimidating.  This book helped me better understand all that goes into a fair isle project, as well as a lot of the history behind this style.  About one third of this book is dedicated to the history of fair isle knitting. While this was interesting, it felt like overkill to me as I was approaching the book to learn the techniques.  The next third of the book is dedicated to techniques, while the last third includes her original patterns which illustrate the techniques she taught.

Ann Feitelson frequently visited the Shetland islands to dive into the history of this knitting style.  She spoke with knitters who remember their mothers and aunts knitting commercially when they were children or being required to knit themselves as young children to contribute to the family income.  She goes through changes in styles over time and how that came across in the knitting of the Shetland islands. The history section of this book goes very deep but isn’t very helpful if you are looking to jump right into knitting your own Fair Isle garment.  

The middle section of this book discuss techniques.  The illustrations in the technique are very easy to understand.  They clearly show where the yarn should be for whatever technique is being shown.  She spends a lot of time showing different ways of holding two yarns at the same time.  The only technique that I felt like she could have spend more time on is the floats. When I first learned Fair Isle knitting, I found picking up floats to be the most confusing item, but this topic is really just glossed over in this book.  She just states that it’s important to get them just “loose enough.”

The technique that I found the most instructive was the color section.  While this section isn’t technical in the sense that it isn’t showing how to create stitches, I think that choosing the right colors to create the Fair Isle “look” is the most important.  She discusses how different color sequences are overlaid on top of one another. For example, the background and the foreground designs are different sequences of colors happening at the same time.  She includes several full-color swatches that beautifully illustrate what she is discussing and really helped me understand the ideas.

The last technique section is about the math for designing Fair Isle garments.  It doesn’t include enough information to be your only source for designing a sweater, but it does add the extra information that you will need to know to make that sweater a Fair Isle sweater.  For example, the size of the sweater needs to be coordinated not only with gauge and the desired width, but also the number of stitches in the repeat of the pattern. She also explains how to make sure the repeat is properly centered on the garment.

Finally the last section of this book has 23 original designs!  This is a good number of designs for a regular pattern book, but they are included in this book that is rich with history and technique as well.  Within the patterns, the author describes how she applied the color theory techniques to her designs to help reinforce her teachings. Some of the patterns have only one size and include a statement that to get to another size you could either knit at a different gauge or stretch it out in blocking.  This seems like a shortcoming of the book, but only if I’m looking at the book as a pattern book rather than a holistic technique book.

This book also includes a glossary of shetland knitting terms.  It isn’t what you would probably expect in a glossary included with a knitting book.  It includes Shetland dialect and a translation to what Americans might say. This one was my favorite:

Makkin’: What you are making; your knitting.  Takkin’ your makkin’ means bringing your work with you, implying that you should take it wherever you go, and be industrious.

This book is currently out of print, but you should be able to get a copy from your library or used book store.  If you are able to find a used copy, I would recommend purchasing it to add to your personal collection if you are planning to do any Fair Isle knitting or designing in your future.

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3 Responses to Book Review: The Art of Fair Isle Knitting

  1. Jane Weinstein says:

    I found your link to Amazon books useful. The high cost of the book tells me the date of publication
    must be in the past or maybe it is out of publication. As someone who enjoys Shetland knitting I haven’t yet mastered knowing how to center a design. The book may indeed be something to find at my library.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Josie Flores says:

    Thanks for this book review. I’ve caught the colorwork bug and think I’d appreciate the historical info. Will look for this title at the library!

    Liked by 1 person

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