If you’ve already seen our 2017 Autumn-Winter collection, you couldn’t fail to have noticed our pretty Fair Isle design pieces. But what do you know about the origins of this traditional British knitwear style?
The Fair Isle pattern is a complex design created by skilfully weaving numerous coloured strands into a distinctive motif. It owes its name to ‘Fair Isle’, a tiny island to the north of Scotland in the Shetland archipelago.
Just 3 miles long by 1.5 wide, Fair Isle is one of the hidden gems of Shetland. It lays claim to the title Britain’s most isolated inhabited island and counts just 60 hardy souls as resident. So how did this little island, battered by storms and the extremes of a harsh climate, give birth to the world famous Fair Isle knitwear?
The answer lies in the rigours of such tough winters that necessitated warm and hard-wearing clothes, traditionally knitted by the wives of the sailors. This artisan tradition was a local secret until 1921, the year when Edward Prince of Wales, (later king Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor following his abdication) wore a vividly coloured Fair Isle waistcoat in public!
West cliffs, Fair Isle by Dave Wheeler and Duke of Windsor by Mati Ventrillon
Traditionally, Fair Isle patterns use a palette of five or six colours, but only two different colours on each row. They are worked on in circular fashion, and don’t include any large plain areas. The variety of shapes which make up the tiles is practically infinite. Aside from the classic lozenge or chevron, you will find Nordic-inspired motifs such as snowflakes, or more recently queens or fir trees following the British craze for ‘Christmas Jumpers’.
In today’s fashion world for some the term Fair Isle is used to describe any knitwear design that uses lots of alternating bright colours, while for others it’s strictly the traditional Shetland motifs.
Fair Isle designs are ever present in the winter collections of fashion designers and brands. Thanks to its joyous old-fashioned style and retro charm, it’s the perfect thing whether on the ski slopes or around the family fireplace. It’s a design that is perfect for Christmas celebrations and end of year holidays.
Wear it like any other knitted pullover in your wardrobe, but ideally alongside something relatively plain with a single colour (great with jeans, beige trousers or a pencil skirt) to avoid clashing.
Reserved for men in days gone by, this style is now hugely popular with women who have rediscovered the famous design on sweaters, cardigans, dresses or accessories… Take a look at our Fair Isle collection for men and women, we’re sure you’ll fall for its old world charm.
I miss Argyle pattern sweaters you used to sellI hope to see their return.
I would also like to see more Ladies cardigans with pockets.
I am 83 years old. When I was 24 I taught school in Shetland. I learned Fair Isle knitting in a crofter's
cottage & completed several jumpers. I copied lots of designs onto graph paper from the children's jumpers. I still have these patterns today. I go back to Shetland as often as possible.The true Shetland wool is the warmest ever.