Conquering my fear of Fair Isle

Hipster hat

Last year’s hat

Just when I thought I was all ready for Christmas, my niece has put in an order for a knitted hat. I made her one last year which she loves, but unfortunately, so does her boyfriend. He’s taken to wearing it, which has stretched it, so she’s thrown in the towel and given it to him.  (The flower is detachable, and I can only assume he has detached it.)  This creates a vacancy for a hat. I’m still waiting to hear what sort she wants – I’m guessing something different from the last one, or the pair of them will look like weird, matchy-matchy twins in their co-ordinated headgear.

Recorder mitts

As if that weren’t enough, my sister-in-law has dropped a large hint that she needs a pair of fingerless gloves, and she’d like them to be red. In a fit of post-retirement madness she has taken up playing the recorder and joined a local group of fellow enthusiasts. I thought recorders were only for the under 12s, but apparently I am wrong. The performances and practice sessions invariably take place in draughty village halls and my SiL has been eyeing the gloved hands of another musician with envy.

I have some DK yarn in my stash that fits the bill, fortunately. It’s so ancient that it’s not even in the Ravelry database, which meant I had to guess whether there’d be enough of it, but I started with one and a half balls and only used a little more than half of one on glove no.1, so all is well. The pattern is Hands of Blue by Lucy Hague.

IMGP6317The yarn I’m using is a luxurious-sounding blend of 80% lambswool, 20% cashmere. However, the brand name is Price Fighter, which suggests that quality corners may have been cut somewhere in the manufacturing process. It feels a little harsh and the fibre length doesn’t seem to be all that long. I have my suspicions that it may have a proportion of post-factory waste in it rather than being all new wool and cashmere. Having said that, I don’t remember any problems when I used this yarn to make an Argyll sweater in the early 1980s, either knitting it or wearing it. It is knitting up quite nicely this time around too, with good stitch definition. It smells slightly musty, which isn’t unexpected given that it has been in a cupboard for over 30 years. I’m sure a wash will solve that.

Hands of Blue glove

Hands of Blue glove

The first glove is done, bar the darning-in of ends. I love it. I think I may need to knit myself a pair of gloves in this pattern, possibly with full fingers. I doubt there’ll be enough of the red yarn left, but somewhere I have the same yarn in brown and camel.

Hands of Blue required a tubular cast-on. This was a first for me and took a few goes to get right, but I now see why everyone raves about it as a foundation for a 1×1 rib, especially where a reasonable amount of stretch is required. It really does merge seamlessly into the ribbing. Working it reminded me of the 2-colour Italian cast-on I have used a couple of times for brioche stitch projects, which isn’t surprising given that brioche produces a double-layered fabric much like a tube.

Io go-slow

My Io gloves have had to go on the back burner for now, while I try and get my SiL’s gloves finished. Before Io went into hibernation I tackled the short Fair Isle section and made a right mess of it. Fair Isle is not my strong point, I find it hard to get the tension right. Consequently, the aforementioned Argyll sweater is the only entire garment in stranded colourwork I’ve ever made. Normally I restrict myself to, at most, a few rows of patterning around the hem or neckline, and I’ve never been happy with the results. But this time, the 9 rows of two colour zig-zag pattern around the wrist looked so awful that I had to pull it out. I turned to YouTube then – as you do in the 21st Century – to find out where I’ve been going wrong all these years.

Io 4Io 5

I wish I’d taken a photo before I pulled out the initial attempt, because the difference is quite startling. My glove even looks neat on the inside now. And this dramatic improvement was after a mere 30 minutes or so of watching videos and reading advice from Fair Isle experts. The key points I learnt were:

  • There’s no need to twist the yarns around each other when swapping colours, like you do with intarsia. All you do is drop colour A and pick up colour B at each changeover.
  • However, you need to keep the two colours/balls in the same position – ball A can stay behind/beyond your knitting, to the left, and ball B nearer to you, to the right. This avoids any twisting/tangling and, more importantly …
  • … the colour A floats always take the lower path across the back of your work while the colour B ones lay over them and take the higher, more direct path.
  • As a result of the lower, longer path, there’s a little more yarn in each colour A stitch. This makes the colour A stitches slightly prouder on the right side of the work, meaning it’s better (in most cases) to work the motif yarn from the A position and have the background colour as B.
  • When stranding the yarn across the back, make sure that the stitches in the other colour that have just been knitted are well spaced out on the right hand needle, to prevent any tightness in the float. If in doubt, err on the side of too loose floats, not too tight ones.
  • If a float is to be carried across more than about 5-9 stitches, then it needs to be caught at the back half way along. Again, no twisting is needed, there are nifty ways (depending on whether it is colour A or B that is being stranded) of laying the non-working yarn over the needle so that it is caught when the the stitch is formed.

If only I’d known all of this years ago. Now I’ve conquered my fear of Fair Isle I’m beginning to see a highly patterned sleeveless jumper in my 2016 future.

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
This entry was posted in knitting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Conquering my fear of Fair Isle

  1. Laura says:

    I like your work. I tend to avoid Fair Isle. I love the recorder mitts!

  2. Pingback: The best laid plans | YorkshireCrafter

Please leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.