Last month I learned the basics of two-color knitting at Vogue Knitting Live. Instructor Amy Detjen was practical, helpful, funny, and skilled. I was able to leave class with the foundations of understanding how to wrangle two colors at a time while knitting, and I’m now furiously collecting colorwork knitting patterns on Ravelry. And I also started doing some meandering research into Fair Isle knitting–iconic knitted-in-the-round colorwork that unbelievably uses just two colors per row but produces a vivid, complex, and varied pattern and palette.
As things usually go when my curiosity is piqued, I first read up on the history of Fair Isle sweaters and learned about the tradition that Spanish sailors brought the technique to Shetland’s Fair Isle (for which the type of knitting is named). I also spent some time exploring the early twentieth century photographs of Shetland residents in their sweaters at the Shetland Museum and Archives Photo Library. I particularly like these:
- a nicely outfitted old man sitting before his fire
- a group of industrious stitchers (making Shetland lace AND Fair Isle)
- a boy with his pony
- a museum-worthy sweater
- a little girl in Fair Isle and plaid
These are just a few of the personal and evocative images you can browse online thanks to the work of the museum and the crowdsourcing telecrofters who worked to identify, tag, and categorize the images.
And from this point, it is no small leap for me to start planning to visit the Shetland Islands or perhaps even move there in the future. Of course this is all just daydreaming, but I do like the idea of a visit during their annual Wool Week celebration (Oct. 8-14, 2012). At the very least, though, I will try my hand at knitting some Fair Isle article this year, even if it means bravely facing a steek. And I will continue to appreciate the telecrofters’ and the knitters’ labors.