Wednesday, 23 October 2013

fair isle knitting

Last Friday I treated myself to something special: I went to a Fair Isle knitting class. The class was organised through our local yarn shop, The Yarn Cake, where I buy a lot of my yarn. Antie (the shop owner) stocks DROPS yarn, which is affordable and of good quality. It was the weekend of the Glasgow School of Yarn event, which took place for the third time this year. The venue was the Mackintosh Church on Queen's Cross, a quite formidable and unusual landmark tucked away in the midst of Maryhill in Glasgow. I forgot to take a picture, I was too exited. The class was a beginner's event, which suited me just fine, taught by Liz Lovick (find her on Ravelry here).

First we had to knit a small piece of swatch of about 5 x 5 cm, just one colour. When were asked to cut the swatch right through, bottom to top, there was an audible sharp intake of breath in the room. Steeking! It needs more than cutting a piece of knitting to shock me, I am a "seasoned" steeker and have recently cut a jumper knitted in the round to turn it into a cardigan. I HATE purling and prefer to knit everything in the round, if I can. But I did really want a cardigan rather than a jumper, a smooth stockinette, no fuss kind of cardigan. It was fun! Turns out that steeking is rather common in Fair Isle knitting.

Next we were given the task to knit a camera pouch using four colours. The yarn I used was Jamieson & Smith 2ply jumper weight. A bit scratchy to touch but it comes in a lovely range of colours. These are the colours I chose:

It was quite tricky, I haven't knitted with two colours for ages and the last time I did, I remember I did swear quite a bit.... Liz didn't really "teach", she let us muddle for a while and every now and then would part with a little secret. I realised that all I needed was really a couple of hours of peace and a little encouragement. Luckily I knit in the round all the time so at least I only had to deal with the colour changes. I realised that I had another advantage: I am a continental knitter I have been told. How strange, there are different ways of knitting? I mostly knit around my German friends, who knit the way I do and it was a bit of a revelation today that my technique was utterly different from that of the other ladies in today's class. There was a lot of talking about how to avoid a yarn mess when dropping one colour to pick up the next and how to maintain the tension. So, where is the advantage of continental knitting? Well, I wrap the running yarn around my left pointy finger when knitting, thereby always maintain a good tension. The solution for colour work: use two fingers, one for each colour, both with a perfect tension. Keeping one ball of yarn on the left side and the other on the right side prevented crossing of strands.

It was just a tiny throwaway comment by Liz about continental knitters that made me realise this "trick". What a revelation. From then it was quite easy.

(note to self: must take better care of my nails!)

I didn't get very far with my camera pouch of course, there was a lot of chatting, listening to Liz talking about Fair Isle and the history of Fair Isle knitting and seeing lots of examples from the Fair Isle museum on (guess!) Fair Isle.

When I got home, the kids were either sleeping (feeling poorly), playing the Wii or playing Minecraft. I didn't think it wise to interrupt for once and quietly sat down on my favourite armchair to start a Fair Isle phone sock. I don't need a camera pouch really and the way it was planned seemed more complicated than necessary. I am all for simplifying things.

I cast on 30 stitches, joined them in the round (using short double pointed needles) and ribbed for a good inch. Then I started knitting random 5 stitch wide Fair Isle patterns (we were given a selection of patterns at the course) using the four colours above. I stopped when the phone sock was the length of my phone plus the rib. I joined the stitches using Kitchener stitch, which leaves a seamless joint. I can never remember how to do it and use this tutorial on Knitty.

After I finished, I tugged and pulled it from all directions (apparently this helps with the tension). Quite satisfying. Then I washed the phone sock with Fairy Liquid, which is, according to Liz Lovitt, just about the best to wash wooly items, especially before blocking. I am a bit lazy when it comes to blocking, usually a steam iron will do.

What a lovely day I had.

Christina xxx


  1. I'm in awe of your fair isle! I'm a novice knitter so much so that today I tried moss stitch and was happily knitting away (and was actually very pleased with myself!) until I realised I wasn't getting the stitch pattern I expected!! I think I've ribbed!! ah well it looks OK anyway :)

  2. Hi Christina, I love your phone sock, so gorgeous! Great job on the Fair Isle too, something I'd love to try one day soon even though it does look pretty tricky :-) Mel x