Authentic Fair Isle Knitwear
Fair Isle is the home of Fair Isle knitting and is still the only place where real, authentic Fair Isle knitwear is made.
The term ‘Fair Isle Knitting' is now used worldwide for a type of stranded colour knitting with horizontal bands of geometric patterns. But this unique style developed on Fair Isle long ago, when local knitters discovered that fine yarns stranded into a double layer produce durable, warm, yet lightweight garments.
For hundreds of years demand for hand-knitting kept Fair Isle women busy. Islanders traded with passing ships, bartering their home-made textiles and fresh produce for goods they couldn’t make themselves. In July 2011, several hand-knitters on Fair Isle revived the tradition of bartering by making and bartering Fair Isle Fisherman’s keps for items offered by the crew of the passing Tall Ship ‘Sorlandet’ from Norway, with remaining keps auctioned to raise funds for an extension to the island’s George Waterston Memorial Centre and Museum.
In times past, the traditional colours of madder (red), indigo (blue), moorit (brown), yellow and natural white, combined with the original patterns, were much sought after for their unique value, but in the 1920s Fair Isle sweaters knitted in the natural wool colours of moorit, shaela (grey), eesit (fawn) and natural white became highly fashionable. Nowadays, the traditional Fair Isle and natural (undyed) colours are still highly popular and are also complemented by more modern colourways.
Fair Isle hand-knitting is a very time and labour-intensive activity and throughout generations often involved all the female members of a family, including young children, to help earn an income for the home. Fair Isle Crafts Ltd., a small, workers’ co-operative was then established in 1980 when it was realised that the use of hand frames would allow the islanders to continue to produce their traditional knitwear in a manner which would be economically viable for both the knitters and their customers. After many years of successful trading world-wide, the cooperative finally ceased operation in 2011. Since then, some of the former and newly-trained knitters are now working loosely together in a friendly, informal manner, helping to keep the famous Fair Isle tradition alive.
Today, the only source of the genuine article is still Fair Isle, where a small but vibrant number of Fair Isle knitters continue to produce high quality traditional and contemporary garments on hand-frame machines which are then all carefully finished by hand, washed and dressed. Each knitter designs her own garments using her interpretation of the local patterns and she has the freedom to use either the traditional colours or to make use of the other beautiful colours now available.
Hand-knitted garments are still made on the isle for friends and family whilst a few hand-knitted and hand-woven items are sometimes available for sale.
Each genuine Fair Isle garment made in Fair Isle carries Fair Isle’s own distinctive trademark ‘Star Motif’ or other official authentication mark as the customer’s guarantee of quality and authenticity.
Authentic Fair Isle knitwear can be purchased on Fair Isle throughout the visitor season and also on-line.
WHERE TO BUY -
LINKS TO LOCAL FAIR ISLE KNITTERS -
Text and photographs Copyright Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative. All rights reserved.