Free Pattern: Fair Isle Tam

Hi, Knitting Daily readers! I’m Lisa Myers from Fairmount Fibers. When I was invited to be a guest on Knitting Daily, I chose to demonstrate a traditional Fair Isle tam, which is one of my favorite knits for playing with color.

Here's why:

—  Tams aren't very large.  If you want to experiment with a color combination, you want to see the pattern develop quickly.  And you don't want to be committed to a whole sweater.

—  Tams are easy to fit.  You may not wear them yourself, but you can knit one and have it on hand to give as a gift.

—  The inside of a tam is really inside.  Yes, a scarf might seem like a simpler canvas, but the "wrong" side is bound to show sometimes.

—  In fact, the part of a tam that may seem like a drawback—the decreases that shape the top—is the source of some of the most beautiful color effects: the geometry of those decreases produces kaleidoscopic angles and symmetries.

You can download the free Fair Isle Tam pattern here, and watch a video clip of my guest appearance:

In the segment, most of my discussion was about "contrast" as the governing principle of color choice.  Because our eyes see color mostly in relationship, a medium blue will look lighter when it's next to navy, and darker when it's next to powder blue.  When you're selecting a group of colors for a Fair Isle pattern, you need to consider not just whether the group "looks good" together but whether the pattern will show clearly.  That's usually a matter of making sure that the background colors are all closer to one another than any of them are to the accent color.

But there's also the matter of light.  Here are the same tams from the video clip above, taken out of the studio into an overcast afternoon and photographed against a concrete sidewalk:

The light in the studio wasn't just very bright, it was very warm—you can see how the gold tones really "pop" there compared to the cooler tone of the natural light.  Out on the street, that gold turns almost orange, and the bright acid green fades almost to yellow.  When you're choosing colors for a project, try to get out into some natural light.  Many of us do most of our knitting indoors, in the evening, which is not, of course, how most hats get worn. 

In this sense, we're fortunate to be knitters: our work will move from a bright snowy morning to a slushy dusk, and in between it may be in the fluorescent light of a subway platform or the hipster cool of a dim coffeehouse.  By comparison, a Cezanne painting on a museum wall is trapped in one perpetual mood. 

Both Alice Starmore and Ann Feitelson, in their excellent books on Fair Isle knitting, have written about the way traditional Shetland yarns foster this play of light.  The key is in the blended, heathered colors:  look closely at most Shetland jumper wools, and you'll see that the "red" yarn has some blue fibers, some gold, even some green.  From a distance, they all blend together to look "red", but the presence of the other colors helps connect the red to whatever color is nearby (for instance, a dark blue that turns out to contain red, purple, and gold).

These tams make use of the same heathering principle, but by a different process.  Rather than being spun of wool dyed different colors, the Manos Silk Blend yarn in the tams is a blend of two fibers—70 percent merino wool and 30 percent silk.  The yarn is dyed after it's spun, but the dye takes slightly differently to the different fibers, so that even the "solid" colors have a kind of shimmer of lighter and darker shades. 

While I really want you to finish reading this and run for your stash to try out a tam, I can't resist giving full citations for those who want to read more about color and fiber:

   *  Alice Starmore, “Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting,” recently reissued by Dover
   *  Ann Feitelson, “The Art of Fair Isle Knitting,”  Interweave Press
   *  Deb Menz, “Color in Spinning,”  Interweave Press.

Yours in knitting,

Lisa Myers
Fairmount Fibers, distributor of Manos del Uruguay yarns

P.S. We have other good news to share: Manos del Uruguay has been admitted as a full member of WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization), the global representative body of over 350 organizations committed to 100% Fair Trade. This recognizes Manos’s mission to eradicate poverty through sustainable economic development, pioneering social and environmental policy and practice, and continual reinvestment in marginalized artisans, farmers and producer communities. Click here to learn more about the co-op.

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