Book and DVD Review: Fair Isle Designs from Shetland Knitters and 50 Tips from Shetland Knitters

It's a Shetland fiesta here this morning at A-C Knitwear Towers! My love of Shetland and its incredible knitting heritage, along with the wonderful wildlife, has been mentioned a few times here over the years. Today's post covers the new book from the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers, Fair Isle Designs from Shetland Knitters Volume 1, and the fantastic DVD, 50 Tips from Shetland Knitters, produced by Hazel Tindall and Elizabeth Johnston

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New design: Sumburgh Hat

We've been back from Shetland for a fortnight and I'm still daydreaming about when I will get back there. I keep squeezing balls of Shetland wool and thinking about casting on new projects. I designed a hat for this year's Wool Week Annual which I haven't yet shared here. Sumburgh hat is a beanie with fine twisted stitch cables winding seamlessly from brim to crown.

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November's design: Yellow Wagtail scarf by Sarah Hatton

I can't believe we're now three-quarters of the way through the patterns from A Year of Techniques! It's been such brilliant fun, and we are so looking forward to seeing everybody's projects popping up on Ravelry and Instagram! Thank you all!

By November the weather will have turned cooler, and we'll be reaching for warm and cosy knitting projects. Sarah Hatton's Yellow Wagtail scarf couldn't be a better match for this time of year!

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A Shetlander's Fair Isle Graph Book

A few weeks ago, the postman delivered a book from Shetland. Jen remarked, "The Wool Week Annual is bigger this year - that's a bit of a surprise," then opened the package. It wasn't the Shetland Wool Week Annual, but something a little different (the Wool Week Annual arrived a couple of days later and more on that another time!).

Knitting pics - 1

A Shetlander's Fair Isle Graph Book in Colour consists of reproductions of two notebooks from the second quarter of the 20th Century. These originally belonged to Bill Henry who was in charge of the Hosiery (Knitwear) Department at Anderson & Co. of Lerwick through the middle of the last century. 

Carole Christiansen's introduction gives a great insight into the knitting industry in Shetland and really sets the scene for why what follows is a little special. Usually, if charts were drawn, their purpose was to give the knitter an idea of how the colours should change, rather than which colours to use. What sets these notebooks apart is that they have been fully coloured in, that is directing the knitter to colour choice as well as pattern.

Knitting pics - 2

What fascinates me about this book is the air of mystery over who actually drew the charts and what the purpose of the charts was. Is this a record of Fair Isle motifs that Bill had seen coming in from the local knitters, or were they produced by him, or someone for him, to direct knitters to a particular pattern, or a combination of both? Whatever the truth this is an important record of how external influences affected design through the period of the books, from the inclusion in the earliest pages, and thereafter absence, of swastikas to the appearance of Norwegian styles through the 1940s.

The big draw of this book is obviously the huge number of Shetland colourwork patterns to use within your own knitwear, but I think it is more than just that, so if you have an interest in the development of knitting, or are looking for a reference for colourwork, then this is a must-have book.

A Shetland's Fair Isle Graph Book was produced by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers and is published by The Shetland times. It is available from The Shetland Times bookshop and is priced at £20. 

Disclaimer: We received a review copy of the Shetlander's Fair Isle Graph Book free of charge from The Shetland Times. We have not received any other payment for this review, and are sharing it because we think it's a great book!

Shetland Heritage Patterns - more news!

When I posted about the Shetland Heritage Fair Isle Jumper last week, eagle-eyed Felix spotted that the design was familiar to her. She pointed me towards Mary Jane Mucklestone's excellent 200 Fair Isle motifs, and sure enough, on page 35 there was a photo of a jumper that appeared to come from the same design!

How I wished I had seen that photo before I wrote the pattern for Jamieson & Smith... But all was not as simple as it at first seemed.

I was lucky enough to have worked with Mary Jane last year, when I edited her lovely hat and gloves for the Knit Real Shetland book, so I dropped her an email to ask her if she knew any more about this lovely Fair Isle jumper in the photo in her book. Despite being in the middle of deadlines and travelling, she was kind enough to email me straight back, to let me know that the photo was from the Shetland Museum Photo Archive. You can see the picture in question over on their website here: Fair Isle Allover Jumper in photo archive.

I was fascinated! On looking closely at the photo, it seemed clear that the design was the same. There are so many different Fair Isle motifs, all in exactly the same positions, that there was no chance that this was a coincidence. However, it was also clearly not a photo of the same jumper before it was worn and cut into pieces... If you look closely at the motifs on the bottom band, you can see that in the cut up jumper I worked on in the archives, the motifs are unsymmetrical and "incorrect", whereas those in the jumper in the photo are correct. I speculated all sorts of explanations for the design similarities!

I fired off an email to Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum and Archives, to ask her if she knew anything about the Fair Isle jumper in their photo archive. I received this information in response:

The jumper in the photo of SM01003 is a replica of the one in pieces that you looked at (TEX 8943).  We went through a period in the 1990s of having replicas made of some items in the collection, so they could be used for handling, etc. but they were never exact replicas, using modern yarns in colours that were available at the time.  The replica was hand-knit in 1993 of machine-made yarn and the knitter ‘corrected mistakes’ she felt had been made in the original.  

So the photo is of a new garment knitted from the cut-up jumper in pieces that I worked from in the summer. It is interesting to see where the new photo-archive garment, and the new pattern I've written differ - I think that most of the differences come from the fact that I was writing instructions that had to work as a printed pattern for other knitters, whereas the knitter in the 90s was just making a one-off piece. The charts would have been even more enormous if I had kept to the arrangement of different motifs on front and back!

In related-news, Jamieson & Smith have released the kit for the Fair Isle Cap that I worked on at the same time. This is also a pattern written from an item in the archives.

That's a slightly bonkers-looking picture of me modelling it, when we were at J&S in October! It's knitted with a full lining, so there are 4 layers of fabric keeping your ears warm! Perfect for the icy cold weather we've had this week.

Here's a more sensible flat photo of it, so that you can see the lovely motifs incorporated:

Fair Isle Cap
© Jamieson & Smith

This hat also has a bit of story behind it, as it was purchased on eBay and donated to the Museum by Masami Yokoyama (designer of the delightful tea-themed tea cosy in Knit Real Shetland). It's a 19th Century hat, that was most-likely a fisherman's hat, designed and worn for work (unlike the jumper which was more of a fashion item). You can read more about how it was discovered and donated over on the Visit Shetland website here: Fair Isle Cap donated by Wool Week eBayer

As with the jumper, I've had to make some adjustments from the original artefact. The motifs were incomplete and confused up the back of the hat, as you can see below:

Fair Isle Cap2

And the folded-up brim was just left curling over. In fact, the brim appears to have been knitted at a different time to the rest of the cap, as the colours are not quite the same, and the yarns slightly different. Carol advised me that this was likely to have originally had a knitted lining, so that was the construction that I used in the new pattern.

Fair Isle Cap1
You can see the Fair Isle stranding poking over the top of the curled brim. There are pattern pages on Ravelry for both the jumper and hat: Shetland Museum and Archive designs

And both can be purchased as kits from Jamieson & Smith.

Happy knitting!

Shetland Heritage Pattern Release

Well it's all go around here at the moment! Kate's book (Colours of Shetland) is now on sale (scroll to the bottom of this post to purchase a copy), and at some point next week, I shall tell you all about how much I enjoyed working on it! But today I'm delighted to share with you some work that I did over the summer...

Jamieson & Smith approached me earlier in the year to work with them on some patterns for their new Shetland Heritage yarn. I blogged about how much I liked the new yarn when it first went on sale, but now I'm delighted to be able to show you one of the patterns I've written for it.

© Jamieson & Smith

This is the Fair Isle V-Necked Jumper (it is not my own design!). I was asked to study some garments held in the collection of the Shetland Museum and Archives, and to create knitting patterns for them. So the design is the work of the unnamed knitter who created the original pieces. I've not changed the colourway, or the construction; I've just tried to recreate the design as closely as possible. This is thought to be a fashionable men's jumper from the early 1920s (rather than a fisherman's jumper).

While we were in Lerwick in July, I spent a day happily transcribing the patterns, and Jim even joined me to help out in the afternoon! There was such detail in the original pieces!

Shetland Museum & Archives1

The V-Necked Fair Isle jumper from which this pattern comes wasn't in the best condition. It had been worn and loved to pieces! Above you can see what remained of the sleeves.

Shetland Museum & Archives11

Even the body had been cut into pieces! In fact, when it was first laid out in front of me, it had appeared to be a cardigan...

Shetland Museum & Archives4

It wasn't until we laid the piece flat that it was clear that actually it was a jumper that had been cut open up the side seam.

Then began the meticulous task of transcribing the stitch patterns. The motifs appear in a fairly random arrangement, with many of them being knitted "incorrectly" in the lower portions of the body, and later repeated with the mistakes ironed out. Jim noticed that in the band of patterns where the neck split occurs, new motifs are introduced, and the gauge changed somewhat. So we speculated that perhaps more than one person was involved in making this sweater? Or perhaps it was put to one side for a while, and the knitter returned to it having improved their skills on other projects. It was fascinating how much you could guess from just looking at the remains of a jumper!

It was quite a task to decide how best to recreate the design - I took the rib pattern from the cuff fragment and used it at the welt, neck and sleeve cuffs, since the original garment had just a few rows of two-colour stocking stitch and it was curling badly.

In the interests of keeping the pattern to a manageable number of pages I felt it was best to repeat the design on front and back, so the arrangement of OXO motifs that you see on the front in the picture above is repeated on the back. I have tried to keep the feel of a sampler piece however, and resisted the temptation to cut down the number of different O designs. If you wanted to, you could easily adjust the pattern to use just one or two designs, or go the whole way and mix them up with your own patterns, making each one different!

The jumper has been sized to fit chests from 32 to 48 inches (81-122cm), and is only available as a kit directly from Jamieson & Smith: V-Necked Fair Isle Jumper

© Jamieson & Smith

I'm immensely grateful to Dr Carol Christiansen at the Shetland Museum & Archives for her assistance, as well as to Grace Williamson who did an amazing job of knitting up this jumper. Thank you both!