About That Stripe: Knitting A Fairer Fair Isle

Tomato by Wendy Bernard

Maybe some of you are Fair Isle Wizards, but I am not. In fact, I'm kind of a Fair Isle Chicken. Give me lace knitting, and I purr and behave myself in public (well, mostly…). But Fair Isle—Fair Isle and I have a History. Fair Isle and I have had Words, unseemly and unknitterly words. Hence, I usually avoid Fair Isle with mumbled excuses and protestations of having too much lace to knit.

I bring this up, because in knitting the Tomato, I realize that I am facing twelve entire rounds of Fair Isle knitting, in look-at-me-I’m-a-STRIPE bright teal and orange, right up front where everyone can see it. (We'll talk about that "right-up-front" issue at the end of the post.) I could knit the Tomato without That Stripe, in a solid color, but given that I'm so far out of my comfort zone with the whole orange thing anyway, why
The Intricate Stag Bag by Norah Gaughan
not just have a total attitude party and face my Fair Isle fears? Why not, indeed. It's only yarn, and I am, after all, a knitter. I can do this. Right? Right.

But no way am I doing this alone. I need help. Time to call on some knitting superheroes. Time to call on the Knitscene Team.

The Knitscene Team is Lisa Shroyer, Katie Himmelberg, and Laura Rintala—the editorial staff of Knitscene magazine. Lisa grew up in a Fair Isle knitting family, and from watching her knit, I think stranded colorwork might be her idea of “mindless knitting.” Katie can pretty much do anything with color, yarn, and a couple of pointy things (and I do mean anything!). As for Laura, she loves to knit gorgeous Fair Isle gloves on teeny tiny needles. So when I went upstairs to the Knitscene office to ask for help with my measly twelve rounds of
A peek inside the Intricate Stag Bag
two-color Fair Isle, I figured I was in very good hands.

The first thing Katie did was show me a finished Fair Isle project: Norah Gaughan’s Intricate Stag Bag. For those of you who are already pretty confident with Fair Isle, this bag is a Fair Isle fiesta, and so I have included it as this week’s featured free pattern in case you are feeling like having a little fun. It’s only two colors throughout, but the way Norah uses those two colors to form a lovely forest scene is pure magic. After petting the bag for a few minutes (it’s alpaca yarn, and therefore it must be petted), I did what any knitter would do: I turned it inside out so I could see the stranded floats on the back of the colorwork.

Masterful. Look at that—the back of Norah’s work is as pretty as the front. You can
The outside of my swatch for Tomato
clearly see the proud silhouette of Mr. Stag himself, even on the back. I was in awe. But how did she get all those floats so lovely and even? Determined to tackle this, I started swatching. Yes, again; this time, to practice my floats. After several rounds in the colorwork pattern used in the Tomato, I sat back to examine the outside and the inside of my swatch.

Not bad. But definitely could be better. My floats are kind of all over the place—some of them are too tight, some of them are too loose, and some of them are just right. I remembered that back in the Fall 2005 issue of Knitscene, there was a nice tutorial on Fair Isle, so I pulled out my copy and read it over. More swatching ensued, with the copy of Knitscene open next to me on the table. On the inside,
Inside the same swatch
my floats were still uneven, and on the outside, some of my stitches were puffed out, whilst some of them looked like they were hiding.

Whatever I was doing, it wasn't quite working. So I decided to go back to the beginning, pretend I was in knitting school, and get serious about my technique—with some help from the aforementioned Knitting Superheroes. On Wednesday, after I've had some more time to practice and do my Fair Isle homework, I'll share what I learned from Katie, Lisa, and Laura.

P.S. You'll notice I have been avoiding (for now) the fact that That Stripe is not necessarily going to be very flattering on everyone. I've got an idea about this, so let me have a few more days to do a bit more knitting, and on Friday I'll tell you what I've got in mind and we'll see what you think of my idea.

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