Fair Isle sweaters are everywhere these days. Have you noticed? I should probably say sweaters inspired by traditional Fair Isle patterns. Or Shetland, or Icelandic patterns. Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant all showed chunky knits with traditional Fair Isle or Shetland patterns this season. I’ve always loved these woolly, traditional sweaters. And I have a number of them tucked away. Hand knit sweaters. Made by me, way back in the eighties. So, I unpacked a few of them today. Because it’s definitely Fair Isle sweater weather.
Most of my sweaters were made by me. In 1983 when I packed my bags and returned home to New Brunswick for a year, I learned how to knit. And in the evenings after supper, Mum and I had knitting marathons. Sometimes Mum would have an unravelling marathon. If she spotted a mistake that she’d previously missed, she’d unravel ruthlessly, undoing all her hard work, the yarn pooling in a pile on the floor, until she reached the spot, corrected her error, and began all over again. I was such a slow knitter that this was torture for me to watch. I would groan and protest, “MUM! All that work.” Seriously, she was the unravelling queen, the knitting perfectionist.
That year I made several sweaters for myself, and several for friends, and even for boyfriends of friends. I was busy. The cream and brown and beige Icelandic sweater, below, was my first attempt. It’s knit on a round needle which is great for beginners. No need for sewing together assorted parts, or fitting sleeves, etc.
I remember so clearly working on that sweater. When the pattern began to emerge, I was fascinated. And dying to know if it would actually look like the picture. Especially the yoke. Once I started the yoke, I could hardly put the darned thing down. The suspense was killing me.
In fact, one night I worked into the wee hours.
Mum and my step-father had gone to bed. My cup of tea beside me was stone cold. It was so late that the TV channel I’d been half watching had gone off the air. But I still sat in the big easy chair, in a pool of light in the otherwise dark living room, soundlessly knitting, winding yarn, counting stitches. I think it was about three o’clock in the morning when my step-father came downstairs. He’d seen that a light was still on. “Snooze, what ARE you doing? You scared the life out of me,” he said when I looked up. “I think I’m obsessed,” I chortled, a bit wild-eyed. “I have to see what it’s going to look like. I’d go to bed, but I’ve been knitting so long, I’m not sure I can unkink my fingers.”
Here’s a selection of my old knitting patterns. I made two of the Cottage Craft sweaters you can see below. The pink one on the cover of the booklet, and a lovely, golden yellow cardigan, with a lilac and purple yoke. Cottage Craft was a local company based in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. They had wonderful patterns. And I bought the yarn to knit my sweaters from a small woollen mill in Harvey, New Brunswick. Just up the road from the farm where I grew up. I was amazed, and pleased, to find out when I was home last month that the Briggs and Little Mill is still operating. You can check out their website here.
Gosh, I love those Cottage Craft sweaters. I wore the yellow cardigan with a long, full-skirted, fawn-coloured suede skirt, and flat boots for years. In fact, I’d still wear that outfit if I could. I guess all my old sweaters are heritage sweaters in more ways than one. Next time I’m home I’ll drive up to the Briggs and Little Mill. For old times sake. And maybe buy some yarn. I never did make that soft green turtleneck sweater, above. with the blush-pink and white pattern. Wouldn’t that look lovely with my green tweed Max Mara blazer?
This blue and white sweater is the only one I have that I didn’t make myself. My friend Janet made it for me for Christmas in 1982. I know! It’s totally vintage now. I love the colour. I’ve worn this sweater a ton over the years. And I’ll wear it again this year. Especially since Fair Isle sweaters are on trend again. And under my Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket, my wool sweater is just the right weight for outdoor skating.
To steal a line from Joni Mitchell, Hubby and I wish we had a river to skate on. Well, we have the river. We just wish the ice would hurry up. I could hear it groaning and squeaking, and grunting from where I was standing on our lawn this afternoon. Sounded like a bunch of whales calling to each other. Hopefully, if the temperature stays below freezing and we don’t get any snow to mess up the surface… we could be skating soon.
Hubby says to remember that it sounds more romantic than it actually will be. There will be cracks and rough spots, and I’ll probably have to borrow his hockey helmet so I don’t crack my skull. But all things being well… we could be swishing down the river on Christmas morning. Okay… maybe not swishing… more like shuffling.
But I’ll be swishing in my mind, folks.
If you’re in the market for a Fair Isle sweater, and you don’t knit. Or you’re a very slow knitter like me and would like to wear it before 2025, there are some lovely ones out there at various price points. I particularly love the navy and white Tory Burch sweater on the left, below. And the grey and white J-Brand one. That pink and white Boden sweater also comes in a lovely cream and navy. And the brown and white Frame sweater was featured in Harper’s Bazaar this fall. I love them all.
And just for fun, to go with your Fair Isle sweater, here are some woolly hats.
I found lots of books about Fair Isle knitting as well. This one has “simplified” sweater patterns and even a Kindle version. This one says it is best for rank beginners, with helpful tips as well as sweater patterns. And this one is supposed to have lots of traditional patterns as well as social history of the craft that I thought sounded really interesting.
You know, I remember that first year of knitting so fondly. Knitting is very calming. I needed calm that year, after quitting my stressful and much hated sales job here in Ottawa and hightailing it for home. And knitting helped me to quit smoking. After all, I couldn’t knit and smoke at the same time. And doing something new, something creative, and productive was therapeutic. So all in all, learning how to knit was very beneficial for me. I wish I hadn’t let my knitting habit lapse. I keep thinking that I will take it up again. Maybe this will be the year.
But I do cherish all my handmade sweaters. Even the ones I don’t wear anymore. Even the ones I don’t own any more. A year or so ago, I washed up a bunch of them and donated them. Someone else, somewhere must be able to benefit from these sweaters, I thought. I hope that someone saw them at the Salvation Army store and is now wearing them.
All cosy, and warm, and totally on trend.
Now, it’s your turn my friends. Are you a knitter? A lapsed knitter, like me? Or a non-knitter? Do tell.
P.S. The clothing links above are affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking on my link, I will earn a commission.