Fair Isle at Your Fingertips
I love knitting motif dictionaries in much the same way that I love my big fat Webster’s Third International. It’s as if all the riches in the world—be it knitting motifs or words—are right
there at your fingertips. You never look up all the words in the dictionary, and you probably never even begin to use all the motifs, but what a feeling of potential they give you!
For years I depended on an old copy of Sheila McGregor’s Traditional Fair Isle Knitting when I wanted to add a patterned border to a sock or cap or Alice Starmore’s splendid Charts For Colour Knitting (which, for better or worse, is all black and white). These are both great resources to skim through, looking for motifs that will fit your stitch count, your yarn-carrying limit, and your attention span for tracking rows. As you might expect, once you filter out all the patterns that simply won’t work, there might not be that many left to choose from.
That’s why I was especially excited to see Mary Jane Mucklestone’s new book, 200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter’s Directory. There’s some excellent general information on sweater design and execution, including a well-illustrated and encouraging section on The Dread Steek. But then the fun begins. The directory of 200 patterns starts with a clever Motif Selector, which presents the simplest single-row possibilities through much more elaborate multi-row charts. From these, you’re referred to pages in the next section that show these motifs in different colorways and different pattern combinations. You can actually choose small motifs and combine them to build your own original large motifs, or repeat a motif in an all-over scheme, and see examples of how these might look.
Much of the magic of true Fair Isle design is the color sequencing. How you choose to arrange your darks and lights can make a simple chart almost unrecognizable. You’ll see that illustrated in this book, and it will just make you want to knit a hundred samples to see that magic happen. And speaking of samples—the author advocates a couple of simple ways of knitting flat samples that are worked only on the front side. That might not satisfy the stickler for ultra-precise gauge, but it sure does make it easy to test color combinations in a hurry.
Then there’s the question of the title. Just what IS Fair Isle knitting? How is it different from Scandinavian color-pattern knitting, or for that matter, any kind of color stranding? Whatever you call it, this book is a nifty resource.