Fair Isle knitting with the Ministry of Craft

Fair Isle knitting – characterised by bright colours and symmetrical geometric patterns – has really come into its own in the last couple of years, thanks in part to famous faces like Rihanna and Victoria Beckham stepping out in traditionally-styled jumpers and coats. Me, I just love those Christmas jumpers and have had a burning desire to make my own for quite a while now, so I signed myself up for a class with the Ministry of Craft┬áin Manchester, thinking: “Hmmm, if little old ladies in the Shetland Isles can do this, I shouldn’t have too much trouble.”

So, naturally, I struggled A LOT! The sign-up sheet for the three-hour workshop said I had to be able to cast on, cast off, knit and purl and because I’ve only ever made a scarf before, my faith in my skills was decidedly lacking so the night before I was there with some YouTube videos, practising for a few hours on a scrap ball of wool, getting it all down quite quickly. Pretty pleased with myself, I headed off to Manchester city centre, all ready and raring to start making my first beautiful jumper.

Founder of the fibre art project Yarnart and visual artist Rachael Gwilliam led the class and after explaining a bit about Fair Isle itself – it sounds quite easy, with just two colours to a row and alternating between knit and purl between rows – dropped the bombshell that we would be doing continental knit and purl, as well as English.

Say what? Never having heard of this before and only just being able to do it the UK way, panic set in a little, but after a bit of practice I got to grips with pulling my wool through with my needle when doing the knit and purl stitches, rather than swooping it over the top. I think because I’m only a very novice knitter, having only made a scarf before, it was easier for me to adopt this other style than some of the other more seasoned click-clackers in the group.

That said, this was pretty much my only success of the day. I was concentrating so hard on getting my stitches right that I seriously confused myself when following the VERY simple pattern and kept forgetting to do three red, three green, three red, three green. Doesn’t sound too hard, right?

Well, after a three-hour class, this is what I had to show for it:

Maybe those little old ladies do know something I don’t after all! But, as they say, practice, practice, practice is how you get to Carnegie Hall so I’m definitely not giving up just yet. I had a brilliant time learning all the required skills and, really, when you think about it the basics behind the Fair Isle style are just that – basic. With a bit of time and effort, I’m confident that Christmas jumper will be mine one of these days!

If you’re looking for a beginners’ class to help you realise your Fair Isle ambitions this Ministry of Craft offering would be a great place to start. Rachael definitely knows her stuff and is on hand immediately if you need some help. Plus – you get two balls of wool and some needles to take home with you to practice on, which is always a bonus really!

Here’s a little video on continental-style purl stitch:

And one on knit, just to get you going:

Are you a Fair Isle knitter? Please help me!

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11 Responses to “Fair Isle knitting with the Ministry of Craft”
  1. Penny says:

    Jolly brave of you to have a go. I knitted a Fair Isle jumper years ago, oh, and a scarf as well. Funnily it was for my daughter who happens to be called Sarah. It was blue and white and rather fun. I believe I still have the pattern. You have inspired me to get back to knitting but I am doing some embroidery which is keeping me busy. One day…
    By the way, the classes at the Ministry of Craft are brilliant.

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