I think I’ve discovered my favourite form of knitting. I don’t know how many people actually enjoy this method, as it can become very complicated very quickly, and is a disaster when you have to frog. But I always fall in love with the result. It’s Fair Isle.
My first attempt at Fair Isle was in a colour knitting class, where we touched on stripes, intarsia and other ways to work with multiple colors. I don’t remember falling in love with any of the methods at the time, but then we were only making small squares to learn he theory, rather than whole garments.
My first real Fair Isle project was this kit from Knit Picks. I was so in love with that sweater vest that I was even willing to brave Fair Isle to make it. (What I didn’t realize at the time was that I’d also be braving steeking. More on that later.)
Ribbing for the Corrie vest, with one row of Fair Isle.
The kit arrived with all those beautiful earth tones, and I couldn’t wait to get started. It didn’t take long, after the initial rounds of ribbing, to see this gorgeous pattern emerging from my very own hands. Now I know someone who considers knitting a kind of magic with sticks and thread, but this was the first time in a long time that it really looked like magic to me too.
Finished Corrie Fair Isle vest
And while it’s a little tight on me now, it’s still one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever knit. It was my favourite, until I knit this:
Which I love with every fibre of my being (pun intended). Another steek, this was my first project working with Icelandic lopi, and it’s amazing stuff. All the knitting was done within a month. The finishing took a little longer. And now I’m working on this Dale of Norway baby cardigan:
Baby Fair Isle cardigan
Recognize the colours? Palette is just a dream to work with for these projects, though I am struggling to finish with the bits I have left from the Corrie vest. You can see I used two different shades of green because I ran out of the first one.
I guess what I love most about Fair Isle is what a stunning, intricate and eye-catching garment you can make doing little more than a simple knit stitch.
A word about steeking
Steeking is when you actually cut into your knitting to create an opening. Of course you have to secure the stitches on either side of the cut beforehand, otherwise your knitting will simply unravel. It’s a scary technique, because if the stitches aren’t secured properly, you can completely destroy your project, and you can’t recover the yearn either because it’s been cut into short lengths.
Because Fair Isle knitting is best done in the round rather than back and forth, it’s fairly common for there to be some steeking involved to create any openings. My two first Fair Isle projects above (the vest and the lopi cardigan) both had steeking involved. The vest called for steeks at both the neck and the two armholes. I tried to secure the yarn with a crochet stitch before cutting. This was a dismal failure, and I very nearly lost the whole project. Luckily, I was able to take it to a local tailor’s and they were able to secure the edges along the neckline where I had already cut (as well as the armholes), and saved the project.
So in my experience, the best way to secure your stitches before you cut is with very strong machine stitching on either side of the cut. Problem is, I don’t sew. At least nothing more complicated than sewing sleeves onto sweaters and buttons onto shirts. So when I started my lopi cardigan, I decided to take it back to my tailor to sew either side of the opening. The seamstress looked at me like I was crazy, but she did it and it worked beautifully again.
Long story short, steeking isn’t so bad as long as you know you have secured the stitches really, really well. The only thing keeping me from my next steeking project is that look on my seamstress’ face when I explain to her what I want to do.
Update: I thought I’d add a photo of the Corrie vest pre-steek, so people can get a sense of what it looks like.
Corrie Fair Isle vest before steeking