Fair Isle Knitting

Who can celebrate Shetland Wool Week and not think of Fair Isle Knitting?! This style of knitting was developed on Fair Isle, Scotland centuries ago. Along with fishing and crofting, knitting became a significant part of the economy. Fair Isle knitting has been a popular trade item for centuries.  Everyone loves to wear Fair Isle garments from the earliest recorded trade merchants and Dutch fisherman to Queen Victoria and Prince Edward.

    photo courtesy  of http://www.fairisle.org.uk/Crafts/arts_crafts.htm

Originally, Fair Isle knitting used only natural colors of wool to create the traditional patterns. By 1850, local plants and lichens were used to dye the yarn bright colors. Traditional Fair Isle knitting has only 2 colors used per row and only 4-5 colors used throughout the entire garment. Blocks of patterns are not repeated. The patterns are a combination of XOX and peeries.  The stranding of the colors makes a double thick fabric and creates a very warm garment. Fair Isle knitting is not only found in sweaters, but also stockings, caps and vests and numerous other knitted items.

The patterns and skills of Fair Isle knitting have been passed down through many generations. Historically, knitters have not received high prices for their finished garments. Because of this, many younger knitters have left the knitting profession in search of more lucrative careers. This leads way to the ‘knitting grandma’ stereotype. However, the Shetland Wool Week festival has imparted a revival of interest in this iconic knitting that was so much a part of the Shetlanders lives, and inspired new knitters to learn the techniques and patterns from the experts. Let’s keep the tradition alive!

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