The Secret to Speed in Fair Isle Knitting

Fair Isle Mitts

photo credit: amonja via photopin cc

I love knitting color work. It is fun and interesting, and looks beautiful and intricate. But I also like to do things quickly. Now, you might think that knitting beautiful color work and knitting with speed and effiency are separate and incongruent concepts.

Au contraire, my friends. Au contraire.

You may be surprised to learn that traditional Fair Isle knitting designs were developed for speed. For traditional Shetland knitters, the more sweaters a woman could knit in a week, the more money she had to put food on the table. So you see, speed was imperative!

Here are some of the key requisites for speed and efficiency in Fair Isle knitting:

  1. Maximum of 2 colors per row 
  2. Small intervals between color changes 
  3. Simple shapes and repeats 
  4. Small movements of fingers and hands

Let’s look at each in turn:

1) Maximum of 2 colors per row

Despite the fact that some Fair Isle designs use up to twelve different colors (though often no more than six or eight), the general rule is to use no more that two colors on a single row. This makes it possible to hold both strands of yarn at the same time, and eliminates any stopping and starting  involved with dropping and picking up new colors.

2) Small intervals between color changes

By keeping the interval between color changes short (no more than 4 or 5 stitches), there is no need to pause and twist the strands to ‘carry’ the unused color. Also, it prevents creating long strands, which are susceptible to snagging and allows for more even work (i.e. less puckering).

Fair Isle Chart

Example of Fair Isle pattern chart, using 6 colors

fair isle chart, single row

Single row of chart showing no more than 2 colors and small intervals between color changes

3) Simple shapes and repeats

Stopping to look at a chart takes up time.  The simple shapes characteristic of Fair Isle knitting makes the pattern easy to remember without referring to a chart.

4) Small movements of fingers and hands

Traditional Shetland knitters work with a knitting belt, and three long, heavy double-pointed needles. The knitting belt is absolutely essential for speed and frees the knitter from supporting the right needle. The right hand hovers above the knitting, and the fingers flick the yarn over the needle, while traveling minimal distances – a bit like touch typing. (For more information, see The Art of Fair Isle Knittingby Ann Feitelson)

Though most of us will not be using a knitting belt, we can speed up our knitting by minimizing the movements that our fingers and hands make as we pass the yarn over the needles.

Fair Isle Knitting

A stunning example of Fair Isle knitting
photo credit: knittinganney via photopin cc

Some of you may feel intimidated by the apparent complexity of Fair Isle knitting, but honestly, it really is not that difficult! When taken one row at a time, you will find yourself falling into a simple rhythm of pattern and background stitches.

I find it helpful to have a sort of counting mantra that allows me to remember the pattern repeats across the row. I chant away to myself, singing “two, one, one, one; three, one, one, one; two, one, one, one; three, one one one”, and so on. Before I know it, I have reached the end of the row, and then a new mantra begins: “two, two, two, one/two, two, two, one….”

These tricks help to promote faster knitting. You’ll think less and move more automatically and rhythmically. This rhythm not only makes the work seem effortless and enjoyable, but it is also essential for speed!

Fair Isle Knitting

photo credit: qusic via photopin cc

Fair Isle Knit Beanie

photo credit: sand_and_sky via photopin cc

I hope this post offers you some reassurance that Fair Isle knitting is not as difficult as it appears, and maybe even convince you to give it a try if you haven’t already?

Good luck, and happy knitting!

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The Devil Finds Work for Idle Hands

hand knit cotton dish cloths

My last big project was the Sanctuary Beanie, and whenever I had a spare moment to knit, I was working on it. I knit so much in a matter of days that I think I got a little bit addicted to the feeling of having a project in my hands and being productive in those moments of the day when I would otherwise feel helplessly unproductive (like when I’m waiting at a bus stop or watching my kids play at the park).

See, this is why I love to knit. I like to be doing things, being creative and productive. Knitting allows me to do this wherever I am, and when I have a few (rare) moments to myself. People often say to me “Oh I couldn’t knit, I’m not a patient person”. This makes me laugh, because it is exactly because I am not a patient person, that knitting is a good for me. It keeps me occupied when I would otherwise feel restless and impatient. It helps me feel like I am doing something useful with my time.

So, when I finished the Sanctuary Beanies, I found myself empty handed all of a sudden, and didn’t have anything else to work on! I felt incredibly antsy. I needed to knit something! But as you may know, starting a new project can take time, because you need to choose a pattern/design a pattern, buy the right yarn, knit a swatch to ensure you have the correct gauge (a step that I’m sure nobody in their right might would knowingly skip), and if all is good, you can cast on.

So, from that day forward, I vowed that I would always have something to work on in between the bigger projects. These “in-between-er” projects need to meet the following criteria:

  1. Small – good for taking wherever I go.
  2. Easy – the kind of knitting that I can do while at the bus stop, at the park with the kids, or chatting with friends.
  3. Stash busting – something that allows me to use up left over yarn, or just use whatever I have available NOW!.
  4. Practical/Useful – It has to be something I actually want or would use. 
  5. Quick to cast-on and get started – for those times when I need to knit NOW!

Recently, I have been knitting cotton dish cloths and it is the perfect in-between-er project. I started with this one: Double Bump Dish Cloth. Then, I began to experiment with other stitch patterns, developing my own dishcloth pattern along the way.

Hand knit cotton dish cloths

hand knit cotton dish cloths

For months, we’ve been using old, ripped pajamas (cut into squares), as dishcloths, so I am actually pretty excited to start using these beautiful, and vibrant hand knit ones instead.

I picked up several balls of Bernat Handicrafter Cotton while shopping at Michaels, so I will continue to experiment with other stitch patterns and whip up a few more handy-dandy dishcloths, while also keeping the devil away from my idle hands.

hand knit cotton dish cloths

The Sanctuary Beanie

Sanctuary Beanies

The Sanctuary Beanie

Over the last couple of weeks I have been busy designing and knitting a fair isle hat for Jan’s upcoming birthday.

Unfortunately, the first version was a poor fit, so I had to go back to the drawing board to tweak the pattern, alter the chart, and then knit a second version. I’ve been waiting to finish knitting the second beanie before sharing it with you here.

I’m happy to report that the Sanctuary Beanie was gratefully received by Jan and fits perfectly!!

So, without further ado, here it is…

Sanctuary Beanie

Sanctuary Beanie (version 2)

THE MATERIALS:

Grignasco Knits Yarn

Grignasco Loden

Yarn:

Grignasco Knits Loden (1.76 oz/50g, 120 yd/110 m, 50% Virgin Wool/25% Alpaca/ 25% Rayon)

5 partial balls worsted weight yarn:

# 734, Dark Blue (MC)

# 601, Light Blue (A)

# 585, Cream (B)

# 818, Green (C)

# 590, Light Grey (Used as MC in version 1)

Needles:

US size 4 [3.5 mm], 16” circular needle

US size 7 [4.5 mm] 16″ circular needle

US size 7 [4.5 mm] double-pointed needles

Tools:

Stitch markers

Tapestry needle

THE PATTERN

Size:

To fit average adult

Finished Measurements: 

16” circumference; 8” (height from CO edge)

Gauge:

18.5 sts and 24 rows = 4″ instockinette stitch with 4.5 mm needles.

Begin:

Using smaller needles (3.5mm), cast on 88 st, place marker and join for knitting in the round.

*K2, P2, repeat from * to end of round.

Continue in 2×2 rib for 1.25 inches.

*Knit 22st, M1, repeat from * 2 more times, knit 22, M1 (4 st increased, 92 st total).

Switch to larger needles (4.5mm) and knit in stockinette stitch for 0.5 inches.

Fair Isle Section:

For the next 23 rounds, follow chart below:

Sanctuary Beanie Chart

Sanctuary Beanie Chart

In MC, knit 3 more rounds, or until piece measures 6 inches from CO edge.

Shaping:

Knit 23 st, place marker, repeat 2 more times, knit 23 st (Note: It helps to have the marker at the start of the round in a contrasting color).

You should have divided the round equally into 4 sections, with 23 stitches between each marker.

Decrease Round:

Round 1: Knit2tog, knit to 2 stitches before marker, ssk, slip marker, k2tog. Repeat around until 2 stitches remain on round, ssk (8 st decreased).

Round 2: Knit all stitches.

Repeat these last 2 rounds until 8 st remain between markers, switching to double pointed needles when necessary.

From now on, decrease on every round until 2 st remain between markers,

Finish:

Break yarn, leaving 6 in tail. Thread tail through remaining stitches on needle and pull to close the hole. Weave in loose ends.

Sanctuary Beanie

Sanctuary Beanie (Version 1)

Sanctuary Beanie

Sanctuary Beanie (Version 2)

Endpaper Mitts – Done!

Endpaper Mitts

Louet Gems Fingering Yarn

endpaper mitts

I have finally completed the beautiful Endpaper Mitts, by Eunny Jang.

I first attempted this project a few years ago, when Isla was just a toddler. At the time, I just couldn’t get into a groove. I’d sit down to start knitting and then something (usually Isla), would drag me away again. When I’d come back to it, I was mid-row and always lost! I put it into hibernation and forgot about it.

Fast forward three years, and I decided it was time to embark on this project again. I have always loved this pattern and the yarn I had chosen for it, and desperately wanted to give it another shot. This time, I found my groove almost instantly and thoroughly enjoyed the simple, yet stunning colorwork. The pattern repeats are easy to memorize and predict, making it a fast knit.

endpaper mitts

This is an excellent pattern! A beautiful design, with easy shaping and clear, well written instructions . A great project for novice colorwork knitters.

Go on! Give it a bash…

Happy knitting!