Alice Starmore’s book on Fair Isle is an exceptional work, covering a history of Fair Isle, various theories on the origin of the traditional Fair Isle patterns, chapters on use of colour in creating designs, and the technical details of constructing and understanding Fair Isle sweater design. The text is clearly written, the photographs often beautiful, and in both its design and presentation the reader holds a book whose purpose is to teach and inspire the willing student.
In the ‘Brief history’ on the Shetland Islands, several of the theories on the origin of Fair Isle style, and on its colour designs (the well-known OXO pattern) are presented. The author has her own very interesting ideas on the subject, and even enlists the aid of school students in her experiments on how much variety is possible in creating geometric patterns.
In a chapter on patterns, the designs prevalent in Fair Isle are described – peerie and border patterns, wave and peak patterns. Each is described in terms of their individual characteristics, and also how they work in context with each other and the overall sweater design. There is also an excellent section on how to adjust pattern repeats in order to arrive at the number of stitches you require for a garment.
Mhe pattern library section has charts of hundreds of traditional Fair Isle patterns, from the simple to the complex; Peerie, Border, Large Fair Isle, Allovers, Norwegian Star and Seeding Patterns.
While the overall quality of this book shows on every page, the chapter on colour stands out. There are charts of patterns with illustrated colour combinations showing what works, what doesn’t, and why. Pages of photographs of fall and spring landscapes, rocky shores, Mardis Gras – all accompanied by knitted Fair Isle designs reflective of the colour schemes inspired by the photographs. From subtle gradations of muted colours to bright and lively combinations, there are several lessons in colours’ magic to be studied and learned.
In the chapter on the technical aspects of knitting a Fair Isle, instruction is given in stranded knitting using a combination of English and Continental style; knitting and finishing a steek; and making a ‘wooly board’ over which a washed garment is shaped or ‘dressed’.
Mow that the knitter has immersed themselves in the history, patterns, colour, and construction of a Fair Isle garment, the author has provided several patterns for the knitter to express their new skills. There are ganseys, cardigans (both adult and child), as well as a tammy, and a pair of mittens and gloves. For the more experienced knitter there is a section on more advanced techniques used in garment construction – for use in creating your own designs.
It is not only Alice Starmore’s passion for her subject which glows in this book, it is also her desire to teach others to know and understand her craft and the rich tradition it derives from.