Initially published in 1988, the Book of Fair Isle Knitting by Alice Starmore is considered one of the holy bibles of Fair Isle Knitting. I was SO EXCITED to purchase this book at a local crafting store with a 50% discount because $25 was too steep for me, regardless of how much I love the thought of knitting gorgeous Fair Isle sweaters for my whole family.
Overall, the book was a bit of a disappointment for me when it comes to pattern assistance. I was very interested in the History & Technique sections, but I feel the Pattern/Pattern Library section is a complete mess. I think she could have cut out everything except the technique section, a brief color section (instead of twenty pages of pictures and explanations of why the pictures look "so pretty"), and expanded the pattern section. She would easily have gotten a 200 page book and it would be less overwhelming for people like me who are new to Fair Isle and were hoping this book would help them ease into it rather than throwing them in over their heads.
The book is 200 pages long and the patterns/library section is a meager thirty-four pages. There was so much information crammed into what I think of as the Pattern Theory section that I had to go back and re-read several times—and I still felt lost.
I think for me, it would have been easier if the pattern library was worked neatly into the "types of patterns" section. For example, the information about Peerie patterns would be located as a sub-paragraph under the Peerie Pattern heading followed by the common peerie patterns and the book would continue to do this for the Border, Large Fair Isle, Allover patterns, Norwegian star patterns, and seeding patterns. After those would be the sections on reading pattern charts, stitch repeats, adjusting stitch repeats, etc.
I would have preferred an added section about determining a good “repeat” for a chart that would have gone something along the lines of this:
A 60 stitch by 60 row repeat is perfect for working in a well-rounded pattern consisting of a Norwegian star pattern in the center flanked by peerie and border patterns…The peerie pattern, you’ll notice, uses a 6-stitch repeat for a total of 10 even repeats across 60 stitches, the border pattern uses a 12 stitch-repeat, and the Star is a 20-stitch repeat which creates a perfect center star with the first and third stars on either side of it.
This for me, is a big problem when designing charts. I’ve spent countless hours trying to work out an attractive pattern with an even repeat of all the pieces and I feel that a lot of my trouble comes from three major issues I have with the pattern library in this book.
My first big problem with the pattern library is that the patterns are shown in dots. Typically, knitting charts show patterns as a break-down of squares. Each square represents one stitch. Not so in Ms. Starmore’s book. Each stitch is represented by a tiny dot and in my opinion, this makes it hard to determine if a pattern is going to be attractive in a chart or not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created a color chart only to rip it to pieces because that ‘cute little leave-looking peerie pattern’ in the library ends up looking like teeth trying to eat my center star panel.
My second issue with the pattern library is that there are no indications of repeats. There are no squares showing that “this section in red” is a single full repeat that can be copied evenly across your chart. Nope, you get to figure that out on your own and let me tell you, it’s easier than it sounds. I have tried to pick nice round numbers that lots of numbers divide into without nasty leftover stitches, but inevitably, I pick a pattern or two that just refuse to conform.
Thirdly, there are no numbers in the pattern library so, for example, if you want to know how wide a particular star is, you get to count all the little dots and hope you don’t miss any, which usually means you’re going to have to pick up a pencil, draw a box around the square and count. If you’re one of those people who go crazy about “ruining” your book—which I am—I think you can see my problem with this.
I’m not even going to get into the sections of sample patterns she included—none of which made me want to pull out yarn and cast on—or the “Creating Your Own Designs” section because, honestly, I didn’t read that section all the way through. I started getting way too confused and felt like I need to take a Sweater Workshop before I could approach that section again even though I’ve read tons of articles that made me feel like maybe, just possibly, a beautiful hand-knit sweater could be in my future.
So, after reading through this book, I have to agree with my friend Tori when she misheard me during my first attempt to make a gauge swatch of Fair Isle knitting and asked in a tone of disbelief, "You're FERAL knitting?"
Yes, yes I am.