Sunday, January 10, 2021

Fair Isle Weekend - Mary Jane Mucklestone

For a while I didn't think I'd be able to get a copy of this book - it's not a particularly cheap one and ordered direct from Laine (a Finnish publication) the delivery charges were prohibitive. I've got a bit of a hang up about online shopping (it's saving me a lot of money at least) which I see no particular reason to overcome whilst I'm without a job and it's all to easy to click on things without thought. On the other hand I know Mary Jane a little, and like her a lot, so I really wanted this book.

Happily, because I no longer have a local yarn shop in Leicester, Jamieson and Smith are stocking it. They're welcome to my money, so in the end it wasn't so difficult to get hold of, and Laine have an extensive list of UK stockists to check for other local suppliers to.

I've only been to Fair Isle once, when I was quite young. Back then it was mostly known for it's bird watching, the knitting was taken for granted across Shetland, and whilst people might have made the pilgrimage specifically for wooly reasons, I don't think it was common. I remember an older, long gone, incarnation of the bird observatory, a spectacular sandy beach, and the very small plane we flew in on. Although I've been past, and over Fair Isle more times than I can remember since then, a return visit is long past due. 

It's an odd place - not quite Shetland, although I can sometimes make it out on the horizon from the hill above my dad's house on a clear day, definitely not part of Orkney either. It's an amazing thing to pass it on the ferry to or from Aberdeen on a clear night or still morning (you have to be up early in the morning) in the summer. It's something like looking at a giant snow globe with all the birds wheeling around the cliffs, it's relative isolation is more obvious when you fly over it, but however you see Fair Isle if islands are your thing, it has a powerful pull about it. 

So powerful that I've let the matter in hand get away from me a bit. Getting back to 'Fair Isle Weekend', like most of us I've had a bit to much time indoors and on my own this last year, during which I've become ever more interested in how books like this - and more often food related titles - are put together; how the collections inside them are linked. In this case the patterns are things you might literally pack for a Fair Isle weekend stay. A couple of Jumpers, a pullover vest, some hats, a cowl that won't blow away, and some fingerless mitts. It's a sound summer capsule wardrobe for a remote Scottish island, There are wrist warmers too, which you might even knit whilst you were there if the weather was particularly bad, you were waiting for the Puffins to come in of an evening, or just sitting around an open fire - inside or out - chatting and enjoying the place. 

There's a jumper - Lower Leogh -that I particularly like, but would have to make about a foot longer to suit me, based on a childs jumper in Ella Gordon's collection. There's a simple stripe of pattern around the bottom of the garment, and bits of seed stitch at hem, neckline, and wrist, that add some pleasing texture. The cowl is a winner as well - as is the choice between a pretty beret and a warm, much chunkier, bobble hat. 

There can never be to many wristlets, or patterns for them in the world either. They're quick to knit, and excellent way of swatching, and as Mary Jane points out - determining the itch factor of the yarn you're thinking of using. Something you want to know before you go the full jumper. They're practical, make really nice small gifts, are the perfect Fair isle beginners project, are really good for using up scraps of yarn - the list could go on.

What I really love about this book though is it's love of place, and the generosity of spirit that it captures. There's all the information you need about places to stay, which also includes a link to donate to the rebuilding of the Bird Observatory, which used to be the main accommodation on the island and tragically burnt down a couple of years ago. It's rising from the ashes, which is vital to the community on Fair Isle (link here There's also a link to the Fair Isle Fisherman's Kep group which I'm a big fan of.

There's also a bit about the history of Fair Isle knitting and the specific names given to families of motifs there, as well as a sense of the adventure that trips to Fair Isle have bought for Mary jane and the friends she's visited with. I can't help but fall for this kind of enthusiasm, or appreciate the respect for the place behind it. Mary Jane has written a handful of books about Fair Isle and Scandinavian knitting motifs that I really recommend too


  1. I took a look at the book's patterns on Rav, and I too like the Lower Leogh patt. There's one project on Rav that's made much longer than the sample, and I agree, for me, longer would be better.

  2. I don't go on Rav much but will take a look at that. I'm long in the body and wide around the middle so cropped things really don't work on me but that jumper is a beauty.