Hello everyone, at this point in my life I think I must admit to myself that I have become a semi-professional knitwear collector.. when I started collecting knitwear it was really just for things to wear – which I still do, from September to May every year I am pretty much-wearing something knitted every day. I’m not fussy and have a lot of items which to me are everyday gansies and tops however I’ve built up a small collection of what I would call ‘traditional’ fair isle garments – these are not garments which initially would have appealed to me when I started buying knitwear but as my appreciation has changed I have come to find a great deal of time for these styles.
Anyone interested in Shetland textiles may have different ideas of what a traditional Fair Isle is but to me its garments which use early colours – shetland colours aka naturals like Shetland Black, Moorit, Fawn, White etc alongside colours described as Indigo (blue), Madder (red) and Gold (yellow). They also contain motifs found in the earliest examples from the Island of Fair Isle itself, commonly known as OXO patterns with bands of peerie patterns and often but not always – corrugated rib.
These types of motifs and patterns are known to be in existence from around 1856 onwards as this is when the activity of dyeing is known to have been happening in Shetland. Dyes such as madder and indigo were imported and local vegetables could be used for other shades such as yellow. The motifs are said to have come from other textiles – shawls and woven items in which patterns had been embroidered or woven in. This is explained by many as coming to Shetland through the travelling of fishermen and sailors as Shetland was and is a main thorofare and was visited by people from the Baltic, Norway etc and much further afield. The Sheila McGregor fair isle book and Ann Feitelson one both go into the history in that way that people who are not from somewhere can and both clear up rumours and untruths about the origins very well.
Anyway, what started this thought process was the above two jumpers. I got them from eBay late last year – they actually arrived on the same day which I hate. When I’m eagerly awaiting a new second-hand purchase I love the excitement of opening the parcel and when you have more than one that really dilutes the appreciation BUT that says more about my addictive tendencies than anything else. (as an aside, I’m making a big effort to only buy second hand these days which for a former fast fashion addict is very difficult so these parcels have come to mean more to me than ever..#saddo) Although purchased from eBay they are both from Shetland originally – the left is TM. Adie and the one on the right is a Shetland from Shetland – only known by the labels and both brands which sold Shetland knitwear, T.M Adies, in particular, was a very prominent brand which created all kinds of textiles. I decided to wash and board them both on Thursday as they both needed a freshen up, only when I put them on the board did I notice the number of similarities in them. You can see certain motif’s and colour placements are exactly the same and the addition of the sections with the hearts and the corrugated ribbing are the only difference on the Shetland from Shetland one. One thing I love about Fair Isle is that you can see the basque and ribbing detail makes a huge difference to the overall colour ‘feeling’ of a garment. To me the ‘main’ colour of the one on the left is red and the one on the right is shetland black just because that’s what the background of the ribbing is.
These kinds of styles are almost impossible to date as they are so traditional in nature – they are in extremely good condition, as they came from outwith Shetland perhaps they weren’t worn often, a souvenir or special reminder of Shetland. The Adies one was listed on eBay as one of a pair, there was this one in my size (UK 10) and a much bigger one probably for a man. In my head, they were bought in Shetland by a couple who then came to their senses once they were home and realised they would never wear matching jumpers.. haha!! anyway, the style and condition of the label say to me 50s/60s. I have seen examples of Shetland from Shetlands designs and these traditional styles seemed to be made all the time they were producing but I think this garment is perhaps late 70s/80s.
This one also came from eBay but is much newer – made and bought within the last 10-15 years for sure and is actually still available from Anderson & Co another long time Shetland knitwear seller. I can tell you I definitely didn’t pay £200+ for this though – I think I got it for £20..! But I think it is an excellent example of a modern made version of this style. The colours are the same and motifs are similar although they are smaller and have more bands, it sits very well with the other two.
Finally, I wanted to touch on a couple of Fair Isle slipovers I have which are both made by Shetland from Shetland (which is the brand that made Spencer Dresses by the way) one is extremely similar to the above right jumper minus the hearts and the other is a bit different as it has no blue:
Again though they are both so striking. The blue and red ribs on the right again makes it feel like the main colour is blue – to me at least. You can see how if you had these motifs in your arsenal (all of them can be found in Shetland knitting books with pattern sections) you could endlessly make successful garments. The colours could be switched out for different ones and as long as you follow the same values in colours it would work. The one on the left looks that bit different without the blue and comes across more graphic to me with the bigger motifs.
You can see in this picture the pitfalls with big graphic motifs though, although the pattern has been centred over the fronts either side of the v-neck this means the big motifs aren’t centred on the front and as its a v-neck this really stands out when you’re wearing it. However, I still love it!
If you are interested in the shades available to match up colours in 2ply Jumper Weight from J&S they would be:
Shetland Black – 5, or in Supreme Jumper Weight 2005
Indigo – 142
Madder – 9097
Gold – 28
White – 1A, or in Supreme Jumper Weight 2001
They also produce the Shetland Heritage range which although finer than 2ply Jumper Weight makes a perfect match for very old textiles and these kinds of shades were the colour inspiration. You can see that here
I hope this has been interesting? If you’ve made it this far you’ve done well! If you would like me to do posts like this more often please let me know.
The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, Ann Feitelson
The Complete Book of Traditional Fair Isle Knitting, Sheila McGregor
A Shetland Pattern Book, Mary Smith and Maggie Twatt
Fair Isle Knitting Patterns, Mary MacGregor
200 Fair Isle Designs, Mary Jane Mucklestone
I share these pictures for inspiration, please don’t copy garments from my photos please
Speak soon x