Daily Archives: November 9, 2007

Book Review: Inspired Fair Isle Knits

Since Fridays always seem to be a little bit humdrum, and since I do enjoy opportunities to remind myself that writing is not always agonizing, I thought I’d get to another book review today.

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Inspired Fair Isle Knits by Fiona Ellis uses traditional fair isle techniques in non-traditional ways. This is a collection of 20 patterns of all sorts, each of which uses stranded colourwork. You won’t find all-over pattern fine gauge vests or steeked cardigans on every page – although I would totally buy that book, too. These fair isle patterns use color work largely as accent or in smaller portions such as sleeves or hems, even buttonbands. Most of the projects use wool or similar fibres, but several do use cotton, and the yarns range from sport weight to worsted.

I have the feeling that for most of us, ‘fair isle’ conjures up images of norwegian ski sweaters or projects with umpteen different colours of fingering-weight yarn, and snowflake motifs that go on for days. You won’t find any of these things in this book. Fiona Ellis makes it clear that her inspiration came from all over the world, using the four elements as guideposts. As a result, the colour combinations are bright and rich, and the placement of colourwork is varied.

As far as the patterns themselves, I think whether or not these are patterns that are knittable for you will be a matter of taste. For myself, there are some things in here that I don’t even want to give a second glance to, and there are others that I would knit right now today if I had the right yarn and didn’t already have soul-eating WIPs on the go. (Oh garter stitch blanket, some day soon I will finish you). It’s these last patterns that I like that I would like to mention in this review.

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But first, a word on organization. Whoever organized this book, I think I might want to make out with them a little bit. And I don’t just mean the theme – which is based on the 4 elements of air, water, earth, and fire, and is absolutely lovely – I mean the small details that make this a knitting book and not just a collection of patterns.

Some books just tell you what yarn to use and leave it at that. This book does not do that. There is a 2-page key at the back which gives you all the pattern yarn requirements at a glance (see picture above), along with a little thumbnail picture to remind you what the pattern is. This is a small thing, but imagine how much easier your life would be if you had a 2-page over-the-fold chart like this in every book. Substitutions would be a breeze, you could stand with those 2 pages as you rifle through your stash (and I guarantee you that some of these yarns are in your stash right now this very moment) and figure out what you need, with a nice cute reminder of the intended colour scheme.

The first few pages are devoted to technique, and this includes a brief pictorial explanation of how stranded colourwork is done. There are also explanations for buttonbands, weaving in ends, cables, and crochet. A glossary is used similarly, and each pattern makes note of which of these individual techniques you will need to use. Just one more reason why I love the way this book is organized.

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This pattern here called ‘drifting’ is a child’s sweater that is quite possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen, and there is yarn in my stash and yours right this very moment that you could make it with. The fair isle component is comprised of exactly 15 rows of stranded colourwork – this is not fair isle that you need to be intimidated by. This is fair isle that cosies up to you and bats its eyelashes until you wonder why you haven’t cast on for this sweater yet. If my mother is reading this, I guarantee you she is right now mentally cataloguing what wee children she knows to give this to, what yarn she’s going to make it with, and when she can borrow this book from me.

There are other equally bright children’s patterns in here – a zippered hoodie cardigan, for example, but let’s have a look at what’s here for the grownups. I find that the more I look through this, the more two patterns catch my eye, both quite different:

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On the left is ‘crystal’, an alpaca turtleneck which uses a snowflake pattern throughout the body. There is something sporty about this that I really like, and the idea of cozying up in a turtleneck like this in the winter makes me wish it was already January. On the right is ‘glowing’, a women’s hooded raglan sweater. This uses 6 colours of Mission Falls 1824, and keeps most of the colourwork to the body with a few inches of accent at the cuffs. I’d really like to try this one.

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Above left is the men’s sweater ‘hearth’, which I quite like, and on the right is the women’s ‘sway’ jacket. This jacket does use fair isle on the collar and front bands, of all places, but also uses pleating to achieve a flirty look at the cuffs. I like this one for the way the fair isle accents sort of sneak in almost unnoticed.

The cover pattern (above) is possibly my favourite and the one that I want to cast on for right now. It is possibly the only pattern which is 100% fair isle – no stockinette sections for pause – and changes the look of the traditional fair isle bands by setting them all on the diagonal. It uses 3 colours of sport-weight and is accented with i-cord fringe. I think what I like about this is that even if your gauge is off and it turns out an inch too wide or too small – which would be a problem if you were making an all-over-fair-isle sweater – it’ll still fit! It’s a scarf! And a darned gorgeous one at that.

I look forward to seeing the projects that result from this book, and look forward to casting on for some myself. Hopefully it won’t be before too long, since winter is just around the corner.

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