Becoming a Feral Knitter

Peggy and I had the great joy not to mention the hard work of attending the Little Rock Shetland Weekend March 21st-24th.  No surprise based on the name, we were in Little Rock, Arkansas.  And we were learning all about Fair Isle knitting from one of the preeminent authorities, Janine Bajus aka the feral knitter.  Fair Isle is the southernmost of the 100 or so islands in the Shetlands which sit about 100 miles northeast of the Scottish mainland.  This is along the dividing line between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea.  And these people know all about wool and all about sweaters!

Fair Isle has given its name to the wonderful colorful sweaters produced there.  They are designed with color changes in both the background and motif so they look like they would be horribly complicated to create.  Now that I have spent 18 hours studying how the motifs and colors are chosen, how the garments are designed and the actual techniques involved, I can tell you that they ARE horribly complicated.  But complicated doesn't mean hard so much as it means there are lots of steps in the process and there are decisions to be made at every stage.


Here is my inspiration for this project along with my notebook to record all my thought processes, my choices of color and motif, my ideas of what to make and how.  The Color Tool was invaluable in deciding which color families we had chosen.  Fortunately, no need for previous color theory.

We accomplished a surprisingly small amount of knitting in our four days of study.  It looks small but it includes so much information!  It's my trial and error for color gradation changes.  Do these colors look right together?  Will the changes in motif color keep the motif clear and visible?  Do they get muddy and fade away when you look at the finished sample?  What do I want to change to make it all work better? 

This is my motif swatch.  Also small but crammed with information.  Do I like the pattern?  How do the colors move in the background and foreground?  Would this make sense as an overall pattern or better as a border row?

I have always hated to "waste" my time swatching but with this style of knitting you have to swatch.  Swatching doesn't just tell you what your knitting gauge is.  It is the only way to decide if your colors will work in the final product.  Figuring out how many stitches to an inch you knit is just a little extra bonus.

We practiced steeking - that's cutting knitting with scissors.  Yikes!  It's terrifying even when you start with a small knitted piece that took me just a few minutes to knit.  Imagine cutting all the way up the front of your knitting in the round to make a cardigan.  That would be hours and hours of knitting in a beautiful pattern.  Cutting it would be traumatic unless you knew the secret.  Of course, it's not really a secret but trying it out first on a small swatch and being completely successful is a good thing.

I arrived for the class with only Janine's book - The Joy of Color.  It's a great book with lots and lots of information about the process.  But what about the motifs?  Yes, I needed some books of motifs.  They provided us with a stack of them to look through during the class but I need some of those.  Peggy warned me that buying every single pattern book out there would be overkill.  I ordered these on Monday when I was just beginning to feel sick.  That's my excuse for the size of my order.  They are all wonderful and all were included on Janine's list of important resources.

I came home from the class with all the colors I used in my final motif.  Not enough of those colors to knit an entire sweater but plenty for a hat and mittens or fingerless gloves.  Any of those would be a great start on Fair Isle knitting.  The new free hat pattern for the 2019 Shetland Wool Week has just come out so I bought plenty of yarn to knit one of those also.

Am I going to design and knit a Fair Isle sweater?  I think so.  I've already thought about what I would or would not want - no pullovers given the climate where I live.  Either a cardigan or a vest.  Something for me not for anyone else at this point.  We will see.  I will post the details when I make the decisions.