Saturday, September 1, 2018

Oh to be Again in Scotland

I write this with a 'wee dram' at my elbow and a wee tear in my eye, remembering how, almost a year ago now, I travelled once more to Scotland, a place that's as beautiful and dear to me as these Canadian prairies...and, in some places indeed, they bear close resemblance to each other.

View of one croft from another, Isle of Skye
(an island in of the Inner Hebrides
 -- nowhere near Fair Isle!)
On that trip, our tour visited a croft on the Isle of Skye, where I saw both Hebridean sheep (black) and Cheviot sheep (white), got to spin some of the latter 'in the grease' (i.e., right off the shorn fleece), and (of course!) bought some of that yarn to bring home.

But the Yarn Story I'm writing this week is about a 'wee isle' in Scotland that I've not (yet) visited:  Fair Isle.  It is "wee" indeed -- just under 3 square miles in area, with a population of somewhere between 55 and 60.  It's located between the Orkney Isles and the Shetland Isles, well north of the mainland of Scotland.

And it's the home of a tradition of stranded knitting with origins that are somewhat uncertain, origins that include Moorish and Viking influences.  These arose in natural colours -- cream, black, brown -- based on the wool from the sheep raised there, and were augmented with colours from natural dyes: yellow from amphibious bistort (also known as water longweed, water smartweed or willow grass), reds from madder combined with a type of local lichen called Korkallett, and blues from indigo that was likely bartered for with ocean-faring traders.

Pattern of unknown origin!
The designs created and still used today in genuine Fair Isle knitting require only two yarns to be used at one time, and on average, only four colours altogether in a garment, in blocks of pattern that are not repeated.

As with all stranded knitting, the process is much easier knit in the round, so that the tension of the  'floats' -- yarn carried across the back of the garment -- is easier to control.

What if you can't knit -- or don't want to knit -- in the round?  Or want an easier, quicker way to achieve the Fair Isle 'effect', whether working in the round or knit flat?

There are yarns that have been dyed with colour repeats designed to mimic Fair Isle.  Many have been created for sock yarns, and others are in heavier weights, for other garments -- and we offer you one of those this week:

Baby Fair Isle Effect

50 grams = 164 metres (179 yards)
55% Nylon
45% Acrylic

Regular Price: $8.50
75% off Sale: $2.13

Machine-washable and easy for new parents to care for, this yarn creates cute and pretty patterns all on its own, for delightful wee sweaters, booties, hats and even blankets.

Check out our stock of patterns when you make your purchase -- and if you need a lesson in knitting in the round, catch Lori and me at the Creativ Festival West in either Edmonton -- September 7 and  8 -- or Calgary -- September 21 and 22 -- where we'll be teaching you how to use both circular and double-pointed needles to do just that!  See you soon!

I leave you with a wee poem, read first in Fair Isle/Shetland dialect and then in English, by the late Scots poet -- who hailed from Fair Isle -- Lise SinclairYou can read along and listen to it here.

*Written by Margaret, who loves to do stranded knitting, especially if it's in the Fair Isle tradition.

No comments:

Post a Comment