My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


Archives for June 2006

Just Do It!

This comment to yesterday’s blog post from Marina really struck a chord with me:
As someone new to Fair Isle, I had numerous concerns … circular needles, finer yarn, using 2 hands, remembering to change yarns, etc. I started with a Philosopher’s and then Jade Starmore’s Medieval Tapestry where I added more colors. But you know, I wish I hadn’t read some blogs/forums where folks were making it out to be “difficult” and had someone who said “just do it” because really, Fair Isle is not difficult at all.

Amen, sistah! I could not agree with you more.

Back in the dim, dark days before the Internet, I bought Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair lsle Knitting. “Ooh, look at all the pretty sweaters!” I thought as I paged through it. I picked out my favorite one, the Wave Cardigan, and ordered Harrisville shetland to knit it. I knit. I cut steeks. I picked up stitches.

It never occurred to me that cutting steeks was scary, because I had never read anyone’s opinion of the process, outside of Alice Starmore’s description in her book. So I just did it.

All those colors might look a bit daunting at first, but in traditional fair isle knitting, you are only ever knitting with two colors at a time. Those two colors keep changing, but that’s the fun of it — fair isle keeps me entertained because it is always changing.

Granted, it can take a while to complete a garment because you are typically knitting at a gauge of 8 stitches and 8 rows to an inch. And if you have never knitted with two colors in one row, you might want to practice that a bit before embarking on a large garment.

But fair isle is totally not difficult. Honest.

Holly asked:
What is your opinion of knitting a fair isle with plain ol’ wool yarn rather than Shetland wool? I know the yarn wouldn’t grab as well which would influence the steeks. There’s a pretty big difference between the price of J&S and Knitpick’s Palette. But, I might feel like I cheated by not using the real deal…and always look askance at the FO…

Okay, at $1.79 for 231 yards (50 grams), the Knitpicks Palette is definitely cheap!

By the way, if you buy shetland wool directly from Jamieson and Smith in Scotland, you will pay $2.20 per 25 gram skein at the current exchange rate. Which, in my opinion, is still pretty darn cheap for this yarn.

I should point out that Knitpicks Palette is available in 30 colors. J&S shetland is available in 141 colors, I think. So your color range in Knitpicks is quite limited, comparatively.

I have no personal experience with the Knitpicks Palette, but if I’m gonna knit a fair isle, I want to knit it in a wool that has the same properites as shetland wool, mainly, the sticky, hairy quality that makes the steeks knitted from shetland so obedient. You could certainly alter your steeking technique to accomodate the qualities of the yarn you are using. Heck, you could knit a fair isle in cotton and use Norwegian machine-stitched steeks and knit the sleeves separately. Me? I prefer knitting fair isles in shetland wool.

Finally, here is a report on my progress on Mara.

Here she is from the back.


You can see that the armhole shaping is coming along nicely.

From the front, it doesn’t look quite as neat, because the shaping for the v-neck is pulling it in. It’ll be much prettier once the front steek is cut.


And just for grins, a close-up:


My goal is to get the knitting of the body completed over the weekend. After that, I’ll cut the front steek and knit the neckband/front bands. I always like to get that out of the way before making the sleeves.

Lucy is all excited just thinking about it.


Still Knitting Fair Isle

Just in case you wondered.

Stephanie asked in the comments:
Do you ever feel that AS’s designs are just too big and boxy? I love her patterns and colors, but just can’t get motivated to make something so wide and rectangular. Would I be nuts to try to remove a couple of pattern repeats?

There’s no reason why you couldn’t alter a pattern to suit you.

Some of the AS designs are large and boxy, even for me, who likes ’em large and boxy. 😉 Happily, though, Mara is not one of those. The pattern has directions for three sizes and I’m making the middle one, which is about 42″ around.

And Mara has shaped armholes as well, so it’s not as boxy as some fair isles. Witness:


This is the start of the armhole shaping and steeks. You decrease on each side of the steeks for a number of rows, then every other row for a few more. I’m into the “every other row” part now.

And at the same time, I am decreasing every third row for the v-neck.


So, you have to keep track of where you are in the chart in several different places, as there are “holes” in the knitting for all this shaping. But it’s not really difficult. The chart pattern is pretty easy to follow, so you can see clearly where you are from what you did on the previous row.

As for recommendations for first fair isles, does anyone have any suggestions? I say to pick one you like and go for it. My first “real” fair isle was Alice Starmore’s Wave Cardigan, which, by the way, I substituted yarn for. Going by the picture in the book, I subbed Harrisville shetland for the Jamieson & Smith called for. I think it turned out pretty good.


That’s a photo of my Wave Cardigan from a blog entry from December 2002 — you can tell it’s an old photo because Izzy is in the picture. Awwwwwwww!

This segues nicely into a question from Priscilla:
I know from reading your blog entries that you often buy yarn online. Do you ever feel that the color of the yarn you bought is different than how it is presented on the site? Just curious because I have been avoiding buying yarn online because I never know if I am getting the exact color I want.

Short answer? Yes.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a surprise when yarn I ordered online arrives, as the color is different in real life from its photo online. Yeah, it’s a gamble.

I do, however, have color cards for a number of different yarns, and use them when ordering online.

The Other Knitting

Yep, still working on my sock in the oh-so alluring Falcon’s Eye colorway. I finished turning the heel on the train this morning, and decided to do something lacy on the leg.


This is “Fern Lace.” For those of you with the 365 Knitting Stitches a Year perpetual calendar, the pattern is “July 28.”


I think I like it, but I need a bit more progress to be sure.

There was a question in the recent past about what toe construction I use — I use a crochet chain and do a provisional cast-on, and execute a short-row toe. Always. I’ve tried the other methods, but what I really like about the method I use is that you are using two needles until you have the entire toe completed. I find it much easier to work on the fiddly little bits with two needles, rather than four.

Lucy sez:


Would you just put the freaking camera away and feed me? Sheesh!

The Fair Isle Channel

Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a television channel that showed video 24 hours a day of fair isle being knitted? Perhaps several different knitters knitting several different fair isles?

Hey, if they can have a channel that’s devoted to an aquarium 24/7, why not one devoted to fair isle?

Clearly, I have missed my calling. I ought to be in network programming.

Well, on this fair isle channel, I am at the point where I will put the underarm stitches on holders and cast on for the armhole steeks.


There was an interesting comment to yesterday’s entry from Cath:

One thing that drives me *nuts* with Rowan is that they don’t provide any info on discontinued yarns. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except there are all these gorgeous design books out there, using Rowan yarn. There are about 5 Kaffe Fassett designs I’m panting to knit, but I cannot for the life of me figure out the colors of the 30+ different yarns he uses. Arrgghhh!!! How do you cope with this?

How do I cope with this? I don’t knit them.

If you’ve visited my knitting gallery, you’ll see that I’m not a huge fan of Rowan. I have seven Rowan designs listed. (I’ve actually knitted one or two other Rowan designs as well — pre-internet.)

I buy Rowan magazines from time to time. Sometimes I “ooh” and “aah” over some of the designs I see, but they are just not “me.”

I got a copy of Kaffe Fassett’s “Glorious Knitting” when it first came out, and was blown away by the beauty of the knits in it. I actually did knit two Kaffe Fassett designs — the Tumbling Blocks sweater and one of the coats with many, many colors. My Tumbling Blocks wasn’t nearly as glorious as his — I think I used three colors — but I liked the finished sweater and wore it quite a bit. For the coat, I ordered pretty much every shade of worsted weight wool from Martha Hall. (Hey! Whatever happened to Martha Hall? I loved that catalog.) The resulting coat was extremely cool and I wore it til I wore it out.

But apart from those early forays, I don’t knit Kaffe Fassett designs. They, too, are not “me” — I like my colorwork along more traditional lines. But they are serious eye-candy.

Jayme commented:
Mara look wonderful but I think Deirdre may feel a little forgotten. Do we ever get to see a finished shot of her?

Yeah, you do. When I finish her. At the moment she is in pieces, waiting to be seamed. That will occur when the spirit moves me to do so. And not before.

Lucy sez:


I’m glad the spirit moves her to feed me every day. Just sayin’.

Stash Enhancement

Lookie what came in the mail today:


Left to right, that’s sock yarn, sock yarn, silk/merino sportweight, and a big-ass skein of merino sportweight. All beautifully handpainted by Dave Daniels and purchased from Cabin Cove Mercantile. And all far lovelier in person.

Speaking of stash enhancement, one of my favorite online sources for yarn, Carodan Farm, launched a new store website today. Check it out — it’s fabulous! Besides, they stock great reading material.

Life During Fair Isle

This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
this ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey
I ain’t got time for that now

Well, heck no! No time for anything but fair isle! All fair isle, all the time! Woo!

Why all the excitement? Because, dear readers, I have reached the point where I can start the v-neck shaping on Mara. Again, woo!


You do the decreases on either side of the front steek. I have placed a pin at the first decrease so I can more easily see where the v-neck shaping starts. This becomes important after I cut the front steek and pick up stitches for the neckband. The pattern directs you to pick up “x” number of stitches from the bottom to the beginning of the shaping, et cetera.

Ten rounds after the start of the v-neck shaping — the armhole shaping! So from this point forward, all sorts of exciting things will be happening in the knitting.

Mara is currently on an 80cm (approx. 32″) needle. I find that most comfortable for fair isle work. The 60cm (approx. 24″) needle is a tad too short and my stitches are smooshed up too much for my comfort. However, there will probably be a point when I will need to move this to a 60cm needle. When starting the armholes, you put some stitches at each side on a holder and cast on for a steek. Then when you get to the back neck shaping, you put all the back neck stitches on a holder and cast on for another steek. All the while you are decreasing for the v-neck as well. At some point, this baby will not fit on my 80cm needle.

Thank you for all your nice comments on this design. I’ve had the yarn for Mara in stash for a couple of years, and I’m not sure why I’ve not knitted it up before. I really do like it quite a lot, and the designer’s use of color is amazing, I think.

By popular request, a photo of the inside:


I’ve got yarn for another Starmore fair isle in stash as well. so there’s at least one more that will make an appearance at some point in the future. (Can you guess which fair isle it is?)

Lately I’ve hauled out my old Starmore books for a look-see — to see if there are any more of her fair isle designs I have a burning desire to knit. Apart from one or two, I think I’ve knitted all the ones that I like. This makes me sad. But I may at some point get the Virtual Yarns kit to make the Oregon cardigan in the Autumn colorway — it’s different enough from the original colorway (which I’ve made) and I love it.

Several of you have remarked on how fast I am knitting Mara. I find that I always knit fair isles faster than other stuff because I enjoy seeing the colorwork develop so much. It entertains me!

But speaking of knitting other stuff . . .

My new sock-in-progress. Made from Socks That Rock in the “Falcon’s Eye” colorway.


Lucy seems impressed, doesn’t she?


Life With Shetland

My Mara sweater is knitted from Jamieson & Smith shetland wool, which I purchased a couple of years ago from Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers Ltd, which is located in Lerwick, in the Shetland Isles in Scotland.

Jamieson & Smith does not have an online store, but you can phone, mail, or email them to order yarn. Check out their How to Order page for details.

This is the yarn the original design was knitted with. In the pattern, the colors are listed by name, but with the book came a conversion key to tell you how the color names correspond to the J&S color numbers.

Amelia commented:
I am curious as to why you don’t carry colours up the side – I’ve been told off in the past for not doing so. I love the colours you’ve chosen, the overall effect is gorgeous.

First of all, I can take no credit for the colors — those are courtesy of the designer, Alice Starmore who, in my opinion, does fair isle better than anyone.

As for carrying the colors up the side — it’s simply not practical. This design has fourteen different colors and the colors change every one or two rounds. It could be forty rounds before a color appears again.

And in the case of Mara, the color changes happen in the middle of the front steek, which will be cut open to make a cardigan. There’s no need to carry the colors because, ultimately, they are going to be cut.

Speaking of Mara, here’s my progress:


And I finished my Black Violet socks on Friday:


After taking this photo, I took em off and washed them in water with synthrapol. They are now drying.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I must return to Mara. Lucy is closely monitoring my progress.