Fair Isle is a beautiful island lying around 30 miles south of the Shetland mainland, and the home to this stranded colourwork style of knitting. Traditionally Fair Isle knitting only ever has 2 colours being worked in any row at a time and the varied natural colours of the Shetland Sheep were used as well as natural dyes to achieve colours like ochre and red and sometimes blue.
I was lucky to get a wonderful Christmas gift from my sister Wendy of a Donna Smith book called ‘Langsoond – A Shetland Yarn’, which features 10 modern knitting patterns inspired by her island life.
My sister also got me the ‘kit’ to knit one of the patterns called Jacobina Cowl which I enjoyed knitting over the festive period and into the New Year.
I got a bit carried away and started knitting the fingerless gloves with the wool I had left over plus some Jamieson’s of Shetland wool that I had in my stash.
This pair will soon be winging their way to snowy Colorado to a friend I have out there.
Langsoond Yarn is from Donna’s own family sheep and this skein or ‘hank’ is in the natural undyed colour Keksie and is double knitting (DK) thickness. It was great to knit with and the end result is super-cosy.
My sister Wendy demonstates that process here with some real heritage Shetland yarn from her stash that we have figured out could be around 50 years old or more, as it came from our grandmother Josephine who was a wonderful knitter. You will notice Wendy using the word “peerie” on a regular basis – that is the Shetland word for small!
Prior to Christmas I enjoyed knitting several of this years’ Shetland Wool Week hats for gifts to my family. Linda Shearer from the island of Whalsay was 2022’s Wool Week patron and she designed this hat (the official hat of Shetland Wool Week 2022), which is based on a maritime theme with waves anchors and a compass rose.
I chose to line each one of my creations with a 3” piece of fleece fabric which I hand-stitched in at the end, to keep the wearer’s ears extra warm and protected from the Shetland winds. This also has the advantage of making the hat soft to wear for those a bit sensitive to natural wool against the skin.
Fair-Isle knitting is very addictive and once you start you are always thinking of the next project. I hadn’t done any for a few years and decided to get going again about 3 years ago and I chose to do the traditional ‘Fishermans Kep’ . The fisherman keps were knitted on the island of Fair Isle and used to trade with goods from visiting Dutch fishermen who came into the harbour on the island. I sourced the pattern from ‘The Fair Isle Fishermans Kep Page’ on Facebook, which promotes the original pattern produced by Anne Sinclair, and proceeds of which go towards the museum in Fair Isle. The page has 11k members and the kep pattern has been enthusiastically embraced by knitters from around the world. Why don’t you join the page and get some inspiration for your next or even first project!
You will be amazed at the range of colours and creations.
Below is my kep with my own colour & pattern choices reflecting the traditional stone Shetland crofthouses and the blue of the winter sky.
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