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Book of Fair Isle Knitting

Author: Alice Starmore

Originally published in 1988, and out of print for a few years, Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting was updated and re-issued in 2009 by Dover Publications. This comprehensive collection of patterns and techniques offers unlimited inspiration.

Starmore begins with a bit of history about the Fair Isles and the hardy inhabitants who developed this style of knitting. Beautiful photographs enhance the introduction. She delves into theories of symbolism and design origins, and offers her own opinion of how patterns developed.

For a pattern to be considered true Fair Isle, it must meet two requirements. First, there must be just 2 colors used in each row and they must interchange frequently, with unused color stranding across the back, at intervals of not more than 7 stitches. If longer runs occur in the pattern, the stranded yarn must be caught up to avoid long floats. The second requirement is for the pattern to contain diagonal lines. Tension is created where the yarn color changes occur, and diagonal lines distribute the tension on successive rows by shifting the changes. This allows the fabric to remain elastic. Additionally, most Fair Isle patterns have an odd number of rows and are symmetrical.

Starmore presents 32 pages of pattern graphs which can be used singly, or in combinations, to produce an endless variety of designs. Color is an essential element of Fair Isle , and patterns of background and design colors are illustrated in charts and photographs. Knitters are encouraged to swatch with a broad spectrum of colors.

The technique chapter covers stranded knitting in the round, weaving in strands, and how to knit with one color in each hand. There are detailed instructions for steeking and grafting.

The Wardrobe of Patterns has instructions for knitting nine sweaters of various styles, two vests, a tam, mittens and gloves. The last chapter is devoted to creating your own design. Starmore takes the process step by step from design idea to working pattern, employing measurements, gauge, and some knitter's mathematics to get all the designs in place.

A Fair Isle sweater is my ultimate knitting challenge, and I know I'll consult Alice Starmore when I begin the journey.

-Review by Karen Fogle

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