Fair Isle is an extraordinary and magical place, just 1 1/2 miles wide and 3 miles long, lying 80 miles north of the Scottish mainland and 25 miles south of Shetland, at a place where the Atlantic meets the North Sea. For hundreds of years, knitting has been an important part of the way of life for the islanders.
The success of their distinctive approach with striking colour work and complex patterns was such that the island gave its name to a generic knitting technique that embraced much more than just the ‘traditional Fair Isle knitting’. The name is now used worldwide to describe stranded colour knitting. However, authentic Fair Isle knitting follows three rules:
it must be made of Shetland wool
it only uses no more than 2 colours per row.
it adheres to traditional Fair Isle patterns
Additionally, if it is made on Fair Isle you are guaranteed the genuine article!
There are only a few people still knitting commercially but it remains a big part of the island economy. The craftsmanship is passed down between generations and generously gifted to any incomer showing interest.
Originally the knitters were knitting using “wires”—very fine double-pointed needles. The knitting was often done in the round, helped by a knitting belt (a specially designed leather padded belt used to hold a needle in place and so free one hand to allow the agile knitter to increase speed).
Nowadays, people still continue to knit by hand on the island but usually only for pleasure. In order to use time more efficiently, professional knitters use flatbed knitting machines as a mechanical aid. To achieve a perfect result, it is paramount to all Fair Isle knitters that items are hand finished with the highest attention to detail. Usually, 50% of the work of making a garment is still done by hand.
The island is rich in natural beauty, suffused with colour and light that inspire Marie every day.