IWTO share The Fair Isle Knit TechniqueNobody knows exactly how the distinctive Fair Isle Knit pattern came into being, but this unmistakable two-stranded knitting technique remains popular for the creation of woollen garments, especially jumpers and hats. International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) delves into the history of the technique and looks at its contemporary relevance.

The Fair Isle Knit – From Regional Curiosity …

The Fair Isle Knit is a stranded knitting technique native to Fair Isle, one of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland. It is used to create patterns, using two colours a row in multi-coloured woollen garments.

Fair Isle has a signature “OXO” pattern, with alternating “O” and “X” shapes in rows of knitting. Fair Isle traditional motifs tend usually to stay away from being figurative, but occasionally have crosses and snowflake-inspired patterning. The Shetland Textile Museum carries a diverse collection of original Fair Isle caps dating back to 1850.

In the mid to late 19th Century, Dutch and Norwegian fishermen would spend summers in the Islands so they could fish for herring. They would often take the Fair Isle caps and jumpers they bought there back home with them, and so the style became familiar to people on the European mainland.

… to International Fashion Staple

Then in 1920, a portrait of the future King Edward VIII, painted by Sir Henry Lander, became widely printed and distributed – the early 20eth century’s version of going viral. This famous image shows the Prince wearing a Fair Knit jumper, having just come off the golf course. So the style began to spread in popularity, now carrying the endorsement of this charismatic and stylish royal. The style has remained in the mainstream ever since.

Today, fashion giants such as Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne, Chanel, Celine, Balenciaga, Raf Simons, Versace and Dries van Noten have all included their unique takes on the Fair Isle knit among their collections.

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Fair Isle by Marie

French knitwear designer Marie Bruhat, pictured here, is a leading proponent of the Fair Isle style. She has lived on Fair Isle since 2017, where she tends a small croft of around 50 sheep and runs her small knitting studio where she produces sought-after Fair Isle jumpers.

“I didn’t choose this specific knitting technique for design purposes; rather, what drew me to it was the island and its way of life,” Marie says. “Being able to care for a flock of sheep, being a part of a close-knit community, and following in the footsteps of generations of incredibly talented women are what captivated me. If I were not living on Fair Isle, I doubt I would be engaged in Fair Isle knitting in the manner I am today.”

The Fair Isle knit is a remarkable success story in the world of wool: an eye-catching pattern and a knitting technique that represents the way of life of a tiny island community, but now has universal appeal.

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