I don’t tend to design using stitch dictionaries. Personally, I prefer to think of a shape and try to recreate it in knitting. However, they can be a very useful tool and 200 Fair Isle Designs is a great book for anyone interested in creating their own fair isle projects. Mary Jane Mucklestone is a very talented designer who specialises in stranded colourwork.
The book starts with an extensive skills section, not only covering basics like casting on and increases and decreases but things specific to stranded knitting, such as how to hold the yarn, managing floats and steeking. It also covers yarn choice including how that will affect things like float length and gives the names of all 11 recognized colours of Shetland sheep. I like that the tension section considers that different tensions are suitable for different purposes.
Photographs are used to demonstrate the techniques, which are fairly clear although I feel this could be improved in some places. For example, in the weaving section (dealing with floats) there are only photos showing weaving background yarn when working with both hands, and weaving pattern yarn for that style is only described in the text. As the photographs seem to all use Shetland wool, this can make it harder to see what is happening.
I also feel that while technical terms are described, the language used to describe them is sometimes quite a high level. Some people might struggle with terms such as superimpose and laterally, especially if English is not your first language. While the meaning can usually be worked out from the context, it’s something to keep in mind.
If you are feeling particularly brave and want to design your own fair isle jumper or cardigan, Mary Jane gives advice on pattern placement, traditional Shetland construction and colour choices.
The 200 Fair Isle Designs are organised according to width and height, making it easy to find motifs that work well together. It starts with the small peerie designs and finishes with large designs suitable for jumpers, or using singly on accessories. The section starts with a Design Selector, showing all the knitted up versions together.
Each design has a black and white symbolic chart, showing the pattern outline, two colour variations, one of which is shown knitted up and a suggested all-over repeat chart. Depending on how the small designs are placed, the all-over repeat can have a very different look to the individual chart.
As colour choice can dramatically change how a design looks, I like having two options shown. Often one uses more colours than the other, showing how the basic structure of a design can be broken up into the traditional Shetland gradient.
The 14 largest designs also have a Mix and Match box, showing how they can be combined with previous smaller designs and suggesting how colour choices can enhance the effect. This really helps show what is possible and shows what to consider when combining motifs.
200 Fair Isle Designs is a great collection of motifs. I think for anyone interested in creating their own fair isle project it would be a valuable resource and the design section is very well structured. Because traditional fair isle tends to be worked in horizontal bands, I think this style of book is especially suitable.
While the essential skills section has some useful content, I feel like it could be improved. However, it does cover everything you would need to know. I would perhaps not recommend it to someone who has never worked stranded knitting before, but as a refresher and a skills builder, it works well.
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