I'm back in Shetland, the weather isn't terrible (which is a bonus for this time of the year), and it is still good to be away. I'm even getting used to the different and changing covid restrictions. It's amazing to be here in a year that I really didn't think I'd make it. I've already been knocked out by the fresh air (it makes you so sleepy!). It would have been wool week right now in normal circumstances - it's going ahead in a fashion online, and hopefully means that I'll be able to schedule a visit t the textile museum before it closes for the year. It still feels vaguely ironic that the first time I've been in Shetland at this time of year for a long time is This Year.
On the other hand I do have a copy of 'Knitting From Fair Isle' with me to review, and that's more than enough excitement to be getting on with. I had been anticipating this book for a while. Mati Ventrillon has a distinctive style that I really like. She came to Fair Isle in 2007, moving from London where she had been an architect. She joined the Fair Isle Crafts Co-Operative and spent the next four years learning how to knit traditional Fair Isle garments and motifs. In 2015 there was a row with Chanel (speedily resolved on their part) when a jumper she had designed was used in their cat walk show without proper attribution. There have also been projects with Fortnum & Mason (tea cosies, I really wish the pattern had been included, maybe another time it will be) and others.
The tag line for this book is '15 contemporary designs inspired by tradition'. As Ventrillon discusses, every Fair Isle knitter brings there own style to the things they knit, most obviously through the motifs and colours they choose. It's her distinctive use of colour that had me most interested in this book, and it hasn't let me down.
There are a few things that 'Knitting From Fair Isle' does really well. There are 3 chapters or sections - Inspired by Tradition, Playing With Backgrounds, and Past and Present, each with 5 projects. There are variations on hats and mitts which are ideal for the beginner. Scarves and neck warmers, including one which is knitted in panels and sewn together so that the patterns run horizontally rather than vertically, which are the next obvious step up, and then a vest, 3 different jumper patterns and a poncho which are much bigger projects, and because of the shaping required more ambitious.
It's a pleasing collection which has just the jumper I want to knit, and there are several of the accessories that I like the look of too. I've had this book for just over a week and have been working through a pair of wrist warmers which have made me realise the importance of swatching for any of the projects in this book. Which is also why wrist warmers are a great place to start as they act as a very effective swatch. I think my tension is a bit tighter than it could be, and I will probably have to change the size of the needles I use accordingly.
There are 3 colourways for each pattern, and this is tremendously helpful. There are 2 tone versions, traditional colours, and then depending on the chapter, combinations called Admiral, Ombre, and Stripe. Three quarters of the way through an Ombre combination (dictated by the few bits of yarn I'd packed from the scrap bag) I had a penny dropping moment about how the colours and design tied together which have made it very clear to me just how useful this book will be. How to put colours together and make them work is one of the hardest things about Fair Isle knitting so I really mean it when I say useful.
Something else I really love about this book is the way that the test knitters are acknowledged. Instead of a list of names, their work is credited in every picture it appears in, and at the back there are photographs of all their hands knitting. It underlines how much work goes into producing a book like this, and how many people are involved. It's not a form of acknowledgement I've seen before, which is a shame because it says so much about the collaborative nature of the enterprise, and the sense of community that knitting can bring.
A very worthy addition to any knitting library, I really recommend this one, and will almost definitely finally commit to starting a jumper (the slash neck all over). I am 100% committed to buying the yarn for it to the point that I've almost been dreaming about it.