Our third morning of knitting was a rare treat, indeed. We were instructed by two of the finest Fair Isle knitters anywhere -- Pearl Johnson and Wilma Couper.
As you know, I've never pretended to be a color knitter, however, I wasn't going to miss out on learning from these two experts, well known on Shetland for their skills both in designing and "the knittin'". We split into two small groups to see what the women had brought with them, and to hear their tips on Fair Isle knitting.
Pearl Johnson is third from the left on the front standing row, and Wilma Couper is the very center of the kneeling row, resplendant in a Fair Isle cardi of her own making, in this photo of Guild members.
My small group began with Pearl showing us her masterpieces and telling us about her experiences, which include a spinning and knitting trip to Japan, to display her prowess with both. Here are some of her lovely things:
Lots of hats.
A jacket she designed that has become quite famous. Pearl said that she has made so many of them that she got tired of them! My monitor doesn't do justice to the colors, possibly yours won't either, but it is a lovely design. She wore it that morning, and she had exquisitely finished both inside and out, and you can see how she has used motifs around the sleeves and hem. The edges were all self-faced.
A bit of sleeve detail.
Here's one that I really love. I consider it a masterpiece:
Note the cuff and band detail, and her bold use of color. Pearl doesn't like plain bands, she said. They're too boring.
Here is some neck detail:
And the sleeve cuffs:
And the cuffs. It is interesting to recall that both of the above were fairly old pieces, probably designed prior to the Starmore Fair Isle collections. At any rate, they are delightful.
Then we have Wilma Couper. Here you see her in her multi-colored Fair Isle cardi:
This one is perfection itself, in that everything lines up exactly right. Don't you hate to see a cardigan where the stripes don't line up? I know I do, and I've seen them even in fine knitting magazines. You won't see that problem with one of Wilma's creations.
More of her work:
A very traditional Fair Isle design, executed so well that the inside was almost as interesting as the outside!
Wilma's hands, knitting. Here, you see her knitting belt:
Both knitters knit with knitting belts and long "pins", in varying numbers, depending on what they are knitting. In fact, Pearl's husband makes knitting belts for sale.
So what did we learn from them? Well, here goes, we'll see what I recall.
They don't even use the term "steek." To them, a "steek" is merely a stitch. Those stitches that will be cut to form armscyes and front openings are just called "the extra stitches". They certainly use the extra stitches, but each had their own method. Pearl actually cut the opening, going back and picking up the stitches for bands or sleeves. Wilma, on the other hand, leaves the area of the extra stitches intact, picking up the band stitches from the appropriate row of stitches and leaving it intact until she is ready to cut, later on. Here's an example:
Here you see the sleeve that she is knitting. Below, you see the inside of the sleeve, uncut:
You can see the slight ridge in the center, right here. She doesn't cut until her sleeve is done.
This brings up a good point. Although I have said it myself in the past, it probably isn't accurate to say "The Shetland knitters do it this way, or that way," because they aren't monolithic any more than we are. Relatively speaking, their knitting culture is probably more consistent than ours, living on the islands and having such a strong knitting tradition, but techniques do vary among individuals. Most use the long pins, but not invariably. Mrs. Amedro, herself, was well known for using a circular needle, and circulars are sold on Shetland, today. Someone must be using them!
Pearl ties in all her colors as she uses them, then she goes back and re-ties them as she buries the ends. Pearl throws with her right hand and "picks" with the left, while Wilma carries both colors on her right idex finger and throws. Both warned against leaving long ends and "wasting too much wool". I was hoping for some words of wisdom about floats that were too tight, but the word was the same -- practice. (What I'd been afraid of.) They were in agreement about never carrying a float more than 5 stitches, and both agreed that it is alright to carry them up one row, but not more.
It was a brilliant morning, a little foggy outside, but the inside of the yellow parlour at Glen Orchy was punctuated with the colors of Fair Isle knitting, like it had never seen before, I'd wager. I know it has inspired me, and my Elephant Vest project is progressing. I'm almost done with the second set of elephant motifs, so I must have learned something. One thing I've noticed: my floats weren't too tight when I was knitting on Shetland. Once in awhile, I find a tight one or two, now that I'm home. Wonder what that means...