Monthly Archives: November 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.


Filed under book review

Small victories

Hey, did you know that when you cast on for small knitting projects, you can finish them a lot faster than when you cast on for big projects? Apparently I’d forgotten about that.


I finished the Endpaper Mitts last week and they have since taken up residence in my coat pockets. Then I promptly cast on for the Little Gems Mitts from the Holiday Interweave Knits over the weekend (with Knit Picks Gloss fingering weight and some leftover Cherry Tree Hill sock yarn in ‘Foxy Lady’). I’m a few woven-in ends away from being able wear these, too, although our stupid weather this season seems to be skipping right past the moderate fall in-between-ness and I might need to make a direct route for the mittens, gloves and hats. If I can find them. Maybe I’ll need to knit some more of those, too.


Sock knitting notwithstanding, I tend to forget about the extremities. I get caught up with the sweater knitting or with other big projects (aka the garter stitch blanket which although beautiful continues to eat my soul) and then forget that it is in fact possible to start a project and finish it in a matter of days and not weeks or months. And that this is not only possible but very, very desirable.

Come to think of it, I’ve even started to neglect the sock knitting lately. The madness has got to stop. Hats shall be mine. Socks too, once again. Maybe even some leg warmers if I get crazy. Just as long as I get in the writing first, the bait will be there.

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Miss Beatrice the cat has been most helpful. She patiently sniffs each new book or stack of paper that materializes around my desk in these final stages of writing and desperately trying to cobble together my chapters and then looks around as if to say, “nice to sniff at, but not so much what I’m looking for in a nap time location,” then proceeds to fall into a deep 3-hour nap a few feet away from where I am typing. Not that I’m jealous, uh, or anything like that. ::cough::

Small victories, small victories…

P.S. I am so pleased and a little bit dizzy over the response to Basic Black. Thank you all so much. I hope you like it. The comments have given me a much needed boost and I hope not to neglect my design notebook for too much longer.


Filed under finished object: accessories, real life miscellaney

Well would ya lookie there

So, last night I had some friends over for dinner (and learned that if you are going to have appetizer, soup, pasta, salad, and dessert – which is cheesecake – it really is quite all right to spread dinner out into a 5-hour experience), and then checked my internets before tumbling into bed (thank you daylight savings for the extra hour OMG), and I had a few comments in my inbox letting me know that, hey! November Magknits had arrived! And well would ya lookie there, I’m in it! I knew it was going to happen, but I’d somehow managed to misfile that information in my brain and so now it is sort of a pleasant surprise. Thanks, Magknits!

Basic Black

You may have noticed that Basic Black does not come with a whole lot of pizazz or bells and whistles or anything overly complex or groundbreaking. And that is exactly the way I wanted it to be. I wanted a sweater that wouldn’t scare anybody away. I wanted a basic, light layer, with maybe a bit of a wider v-neck and a bit of shaping and cropped sleeves to take it into the modern era in classic sort of way, and that was that. I like it, and so does my mom, so it has managed to please at least 2 generations in my family so far if that counts for anything ;)

I used Plymouth Wildflower DK because it was accessible to me at the time and it came in a wide range of colours, but really, just about any DK yarn that maintains its integrity pretty well (i.e. that will not droop too horribly) would work just fine. A note on yarn selection: if you intend this sweater to be machine-washable-dryable, make sure you wash and dry your swatch beforehand so that you get an idea of how the finished fabric will behave afterwards. Some machine-washable-dryable yarns do actually shrink up slightly post-drying, which makes it desirable to knit a few extra rows in key places so that the shaping still sits where you want it to sit. I suspect that knitters will also want to make adjustments depending on their height; for example if you are quite petite, even a 12-inch sleeve might not be quite cropped enough, or if you are particularly on the tall side you may want some extra length pre- and post-waist-shaping, so get out the measuring tape and see what works best for you.

I hope you enjoy! I’m already planning on queuing up a ‘Basic Pink’ for myself the spring. For now, though, I have some seasonal patterns that are distracting and enticing me. Little Gems Mitts, anyone? December Lights Tam? Maybe I can just sneak in one of those this week, surely my other WIPs won’t notice…And maybe another slice of cheesecake too… ;)


Filed under design, finished object: sweater, free pattern