Vintage Fair Isle Knitting


Fair Isles – they’re all the rage!  Following my last post, I’m harbouring fair isle desires … seems that if you’re sporting a natty little fair isle tank top around town you can put a big tick in the vintage fashion box. Okay, time to confess, my fair isle technique is not the best in the world (resembles a plate of spaghetti on the reverse side and the pattern starts to look more Picasso cubist than Renoir, sigh) so I do have to work on it, but I’ve got the incentive now, I’m hooked.  With that in mind I’ve gathered my favourite fair isle patterns into their own collection.  Go on, have a peek for some inspiration, you know you want to. Meanwhile, here’s a short history lesson kids …

Duke of Windsor (and friend)

Duke of Windsor (and friend)

Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in the UK, lying halfway between Shetland and the Orkney Islands. The knitting style gained a considerable popularity when the impeccably-dressed Duke of Windsor (later to become Edward VIII) wore Fair Isle tank tops in public in 1921.

Strictly speaking, traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour (you can find more about the Fair Isle history on the Scottish Textiles Heritage site). Nowadays we tend to refer to “Fair Isle” as any colourwork knitting where stitches are knit alternately in various colors, with the unused colours stranded across the back of the work. So I’m using a bit of free licence and applying the more liberal sense of the term (although there are some traditional patterns in my collection too).

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There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Anne Tabas at 16:28

    I am looking to buy a fair isle tank top for a male as a Christmas present. Can you help?

    If not a pattern would be lovely. Please let me know.

  2. admin at 13:38

    Hello, thanks for getting in touch and so sorry I didn’t reply immediately – I imagine it’s too late for Christmas now!

    It’s difficult to find a good authentic ’40s looking fair isle top without paying top whack! There are a few around but they tend to use modern colours – Hackett come the closest using shades of brown ( and Gant do a nice version in pastel colours:

    Occasionally originals come up on eBay but expect some fierce competition!

    I have recently sold some great men’s tank top patterns which I’ve kept a scan of – I don’t sell copies as a rule but if you’re desperate I could email you a couple of pictures and if you’re interested I’d email you a .pdf for £1.50.

    Hope this is of some help …

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