Saturday, 18 February 2012

Book Review: 200 Fair Isle Designs

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200 Fair Isle Designs.
Knitting charts, combination designs and colour variations.

by Mary Jane Mucklestone
Search Press 2011
ISBN: 978-1-84448-692-2

Published in the USA by Interweave Press as
200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter's Directory

This is a stitch dictionary. But it is a stitch dictionary with added value as the information, and the way in which that information is provided, together turn the book into an inspiring and confidence-building resource.

The title of the book gives a good idea of the content: 200 Fair Isle Designs (UK version) or Motifs (US version). A key property of these designs is that they are recurring designs: patterns that are intended to be used repeatedly around the knitting, and can be repeated in the row direction too.

The book has two main sections: Essential Skills and the Design Directory. The organisation of the Design Directory is a huge strength of the book. The comprehensive collection of designs is arranged in careful order, first all the one row designs, then the two row designs, then the three row designs and so on. Within each row count, the designs are in order of increasing stitch count. Each design is presented in five ways: a full-size colour photograph of a knitted swatch, a black and white chart showing the pattern and background stitches, two colour charts (one for the swatch shown and a variation) and a black and white chart suggesting how the n-row design might be repeated to give an all-over design. The colour charts not only show the design, it is also indicated which is the pattern colour and which the background colour in each row. At the beginning of the Design Directory there's a visual table of contents, in which the knitted swatches for all 200 designs are displayed together with the relevant page number. Towards the end of the Design Directory "Mix and Match" boxes appear, showing knitted swatches that combine two or more of the basic designs in traditional-style repeated pattern.

The Essential Skills section of the book is clearly illustrated and includes practical advice on topics including knitting in the round, working with two colours at a time and steeking. An ability to read charts is assumed. This introduction is followed by advice on colour choice, project planning and design principles. Together with the Design Directory these elements are key to the success of the book. Many enthusiastic Fair Isle knitters avoid designing for themselves, or changing colours in a published pattern, because it just seems too scary to contemplate. The book will give such knitters sufficient confidence to start designing their own small projects. Furthermore, even if you aren't interested in traditional multi-colour Fair Isle designs (where although there are only two colours in any one row, a multi-row pattern might contain a variety of both foreground and background colours), the repeating designs work well with just two colours, and inclusion of the black and white charts is helpful in this regard.

Appropriately there are no projects in the book, but the author has separately released patterns (such as Muckle Mitts) that can form the base for design substitution and colour experiments. Following the guidance in the book I happily substituted a different design into the Muckle Mitts pattern, and have gone on to incorporate other designs into new projects.

This is an excellent book, highly recommended to enthusiasts for traditional Fair Isle and to any knitter interested in repeating colour work patterns.

Disclosure: I purchased this book. My review is of the Quarto Book published by Search Press.

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