Yarns of Italy

My LYS owner texted me one day to let me know there was a book in that I had to have. What a clever lady! She knew that was the quickest way to get me to come into the shop. So I showed up to be handed Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting (Dover, ISBN-13: 978-0486472188), and I have to say that the yarn shop owner was right. Oh. my. goodness. This is now one of the essential volumes in my knitting library.

This was a book I had heard about and longed for, but copies were few and far between (and expensive). Originally published in 1988, it was updated (everything but the patterns, it seems) in 2009. I bought it as soon as it hit the shelves and have never regretted the purchase for a second. I occasionally let a friend (or my mom) borrow a book, but this one stays on my shelf. If someone wants it, they have to get their own copy. Mine lives at my house.

There is not a single pattern in this book that I can foresee making, but the few patterns are not the point of this book. To me, they are more like displayed applications of technique. This is a book of history, theory, and technique tutorials. If you've ever wanted to create fair isle patterns that are uniquely your own, this is the must-have book. If you've ever wondered about knitting history, this is the book. And if you've ever wondered about steeking, carrying yarn in colorwork, or combining colors in a pattern, this is the book. 

I like knitting and crochet books that I can read. In other words, I love pattern books that tell you what to do to create a garment you like, but I like the meat and potatoes books that really explain the hows and whys of creating said garment. This is a how and why book. Here's an example outside of knitting: I've been making lip balm. I can find lots of recipes online and in books for lip balms with different waxes, butters, oils, and scents. But after my third batch, what I really needed was the recipe that tells you what proportions you need to create a lip balm, such as x% wax, y% solid fats, and z% brittle fats. That's it. As long as I have the how and why, I can create my own what. That's what this book is to fair isle knitting. It's the proportion and color and technique answer to most fair isle questions.

If you're someone who likes to get creative with colorwork, there are pages and pages and PAGES of fair isle motifs, listed by number of rows and types of pattern. The only thing I had to add myself was the number of stitches in a repeat. By spending a car ride jotting down the number of stitches in a repeat next to each pattern, I basically created a little index of peeries and motifs I could throw into my projects at whim. (Example: I'm making a hat with 96 stitches, and I want a ten row pattern, so I find a 10 row motif with a pattern repeat that evenly divides 96.)

A couple of Christmases ago, I worked coordinating motifs into a set of sweaters for my nieces. I used their favorite colors and a coordinating neutral to create sweaters that would fit them for a couple of years and could be machine washed. I used Sailor's Rib Sweater by Wendy Bernard for the base pattern and then freestyled the color changes using what I learned from Alice Starmore's book. The sweaters were simple and well-received by the nieces and their parents (easy care is always the winner when kids are the recipients). 

I also used the book to make a couple of fair isle hats for male friends that had particular interests. One ended up with what he called his Loch Ness Monster hat, and another had a hat that included stylized dice and fishing hooks that looked just like a normal fair isle hat to everyone else but was very personal for him.

No matter how you plan to use fair isle in your designs or in your projects, whether to add a motif here and there or to create your own allover pattern, this book will help immensely. I go back to it again and again, and I am so glad it was republished. If you're thinking about colorwork and want to add an essential volume to your library, I highly recommend this one.

Written by Alessandro De Luca — March 31, 2012

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