Sunday, December 09, 2007

Breathe In The Knit

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots
Volume 1, Number 1

Some time ago, I got Fiona Ellis' new book, "Inspired Fair Isle Knits". I've been perusing it on and off for a couple of months, trying to decide what I think about it. It's an admirably presented volume, with arresting photographs and an interesting premise. There has been a fair bit of buzz about it since its release this fall, so I won't drone on and on about her approach (this book, like others, is inspired by nature).

The designs are nice. REALLY nice. Flipping through, there are several that caught my eye and begged to be added to my mental queue. My favourite is probably "Glowing", which is in the "Fire" chapter, and is knitted from 7 different colours of Mission Falls 1824 wool. For my size (44") I'd need to buy 28 balls, and I don't have a spare $170, so I won't knit that soon. But if I had some 1824 stashed, I would definitely modify the pattern so I could use the colours I had. It's beautiful - a raglan hoodie in a rich raspberry colour with bands of colourwork in plum, orange, teal, cerise and pistachio. The bands are striking: designed to evoke flames, they succeed surprisingly well considering their simplicity.

Another one from the "Fire" chapter is "Sunkissed". This cotton halter is so pretty I almost considered dieting to look good in it. Actually what I'd need is more along the lines of reduction surgery, so as it is, I'd rather just knit it for someone else - someone whose bra straps can reasonably be expected to be less than 1" wide. The design is so rich - the lower edge is knit primarily in umber, with bits of red and orange here and there. As the top progresses up toward the straps, the colours lighten and brighten, with bands of orange, peach, amber and gold. The intro to this design says the colours are placed to mirror the beauty and glow of the setting sun. GORGEOUS. My only problem with this design is, it's knit in 100% mercerized cotton. I personally like to know I've got the blocking magic on my side, to relax and bloom the wool, and to even out any little tension issues. I'd knit this, but not as a first "Fair Isle" project. The frustration of stranded knitting with mercerized cotton would take away a lot of my enjoyment.

This brings me to the main issue I had with this book, on first glance. I am not convinced that the title is particularly apt - I feel that in order for something to be called "Fair Isle" knitting, it should involve animal fibre, a fairly fine gauge, and geometric, repeating patterns. The designs in this book are stranded, to be sure, but I am not sure they qualify as true "Fair Isle". There are a few designs, such as "Crystal", which is subtitled as "Classic Fair Isle Turtleneck", that conform to what I would list the rules to be. This design is in the "Water" chapter, and contains Nordic snowflakes with simplified peerie bands and seeding. However, even here Ellis has thrown a twist into the design by vertically offsetting the snowflake band partway across the sweater. It's not quite a half-drop - maybe a quarter-drop? Anyway, the overall effect is kind of..... well...... it's kind of scroogiewye*. Know what I mean? It sort of sproings my brain a bit. It assaults my optic nerve. I'll show you.

*"Scroogiewye" is a technical term. You might not be familiar with it.

Despite my reservations about the application of the word "Fair Isle" to these designs, I understand what she intends by it. This is the tried and true approach of "a twist on a classic" - modernizing tradition to hopefully introduce it to a new generation of knitters. These knitters might not ever consider undertaking a traditionally coloured, traditionally shaped, fine-gauge, scratchy woollen Fair Isle design, but they'll find themselves drawn to the vibrant, soft, heavier yarns featured in this volume, as well as the simpler, bolder, edgier colour patterns. For someone looking for a first colourwork project, there are lots of ideas and eyecatching designs here. Many garments have the stranded bits confined to bands and edgings, making it easy to impressively showcase a relatively small amount of work.

One really well-thought-out feature of this book is a little two-page spread at the back. These two pages are the book at a glance, with thumbnail pictures of each design, along with the design name and the yarn it calls for. It's a GREAT idea - makes yarn shopping and substitutions much easier, and it's a handy place to go when you can't recall where to find a garment you liked.

All in all, I'm happy to have this book. It's got some downright cool stuff in it. There's the Petroglyph pillow, knit in 50% hemp, 50% wool, with stone-coloured cave-art designs on each of the four quadrants. There's "Spindrift", a beautiful cotton/rayon tank with a lacy scalloped border and pretty, crocheted ties.

And I think I've decided which design I'd like to make first. In the "Air" chapter, there is "Drifting". It's the cutest toddler pullover in superwash merino - plum on the bottom, purple on top, with a charming, almost butterfly-shaped stranded band between. The model shown has the sweetest little butterfly buttons proceeding up both front raglan seams. This sweater would make a great baby gift, especially since much of it could probably be knit from ball ends. Sizes run from 12 months to 3 years, requiring 8-9 balls of DK wool. I've got a friend whose baby girl will be nine months old this winter - I think with a little judicious sleeve-rolling, the 18-month size will work from now til her second birthday. Just as soon as the Christmas knitting is finished, I'll pull this book out again and start the sweater...I think it'll be beautiful.

Inspired Fair Isle Knits
by Fiona Ellis
Design Breakdown:
Children's - 1 toddler pullover, 1 kids' zippered cardigan
Women's - 3 tops, 6 pullovers, 2 cardigans
Men's/Unisex - 3 pullovers
Accessories - 1 wrap, 1 scarf, 1 pillow, 1 felted bag


Jo said...

Errm... Better you than me. I avoid stranding, fair isle, etc. like the plague. I just find it too busy for my liking. Good luck!

lizbon said...

I agree with your assessment of the optic assault snowflake pattern. It's a bit like staring too hard at an MC Escher print.

And halter tops in cotton are just asking for trouble. Ask me how I know...

Tabatha said...

You kick my butt in knitting. You kick it all away around the block and back again.

You are freakin' amazing.

The sweaters are beautiful.

Gwen said...

I saw a great sweater at the Wholesale Club the other day, only $12.91 and there's one in my size.

Can I play with you and be in your club?

Kate said...

OK, I think the snowflake sweater ROCKS! I'd wear it just to watch people do the double take :) (Yup, I also used to wear an Escher print shirt.)
The colours in that tank are gorgeous. Maybe because they make me think of warm sunshine!!

Sonya said...

My first fair isle project was in Rowan's wool cotton and even that little bit of cotton, combined with wonky stranding tension, made for a hat that only a pinhead baby could wear.

Shan said...

Tabatha, the only difference between you and me in knitting is time. Plus I haven't made any of these yet - maybe you better hold your applause for a bit!

Gwen, you can be in the club but only if you bring all the snacks. And if you refrain from using the words "great sweater" in the same sentence as "Wholesale Club".

Sonya, "pinhead baby" made me snort with laughter, and also gave me a scary mental picture.

uberstrickenfrau said...

OOO, I love the snow flake one too! I've discovered that I love doing stranded knitting, it makes the peice go really fast for me. I may have to ask for this book for Christmas, but of course I can't actually afford the yarn it takes to knit the things!!!

Penny said...

I liked the snowflake one as well. I think they are using the "inspired" tag to mean not fine guauge wool.

My personal test is that it is 'true' Fair Isle if there are only two colours on each line. The actual motifs are less important, or the guage of the yarn.

knititch said...

substitute substitute substite. after all you are in the land of yarn. and i am sitting here in boring bleeding denmark salivating at webs and beaverslide and occasionally giving in to the crave. it is soooo wrong to call cotton knits fair isle. they are stranded knits and i think it is a big mistake to knit anything stranded in cotton. it all is in the wool. but i actually like some of the patterns.

Tabatha said...

the only difference between you and me in knitting is time

Now I know you truly love me. X