The Art of Fair Isle Knitting

Hey everyone! Last post, we discussed abstract art (if you didn’t get to read it, click here) and I said that we were going to have a guest writer! Our friend Lucy does a lot of neat knitting projects, so I’ll hand the reins to her so you can see one of them.

Fair Isle is a very small island off the northern tip of Scotland. It is part of the Shetland island group. http://www.fairisle.org.uk/ Only 60 people live there. Even though it is small and lightly populated, it is very famous for its unique style of knitting. Sweaters, vest, and tams are knitting in the round using two colors at a time. The combination of these colors makes Fair Isle very distinct. This is a famous painting of Edward, Prince of Wales in a Fair Isle sweater. This painting made this style of knitting very famous. It was painted in 1921. He wore is golfing in Scotland.

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]Basic to Fair Isle design is a fundamental knowledge of the color wheel and color theory. Just like notes combine to make music, colors sing their own song. Isaac Newton compared colors in the color wheel to musical notes in 1704 in his work, Opticks.

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This sweater was made in Fair Isle by a traditional Fair Isle knitter. It uses contrasting colors of reds and greens to make up its colorway. There is also use of dark and light and color gradient.

This is the vest I am finishing. It was done in neutral grays and tans with contrasting oranges and yellows. For an unexpected spark of color there is a line of bright pink and bright blue worked into pattern. Notice how this has been knit entirely in the round. The V-neck opening has been knit shut using “steeks.” Steeks are extra stitches that are secured and cut later to open the arm holes and the neck opening. Steek is a Scottish word that means “to close shut.” I now will pick up stitches to finish the neck and armhole edges. Traditional patterns include the XOX pattern in the vest and smaller patterns used in-between the larger ones called perries.


This is the same view of my vest. The steeks have been cut and the neck edging knitted. It is starting to look like a wearable vest!


This is a Fair Isle tam I made this fall. It uses the neutrals of gray, cream, and black with the spark of deep red. It was knit using genuine Shetland wool from Scotland.

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Shetland sheep have wonderful natural colors with names like “shaela” (dark gray), “sholmit” (pale gray), “moorit” (brown), “mooskit” (dark fawn), “essit” (pale fawn), and natural white. These are the colors I’ll be using in my next Fair Isle project. You can see the yarn pictured below.

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