Why Don't We Knit Sweaters That Fit?
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Book Review

I recently bought 200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter's Directory, by Mary Jane Mucklestone. It is a book that every knitter should have, and I would say that even if I didn't know that Mary Jane was fabulous.

Basically, the book is in two sections, "Essential Skills" and the "Motif Directory". I found the 2-page "About This Book" to be very helpful too. This is meant to be a real working book, a book that you really get down and dirty with, and it will help if you know what it can do before you start. I am blown away with how Mary Jane, in a very efficient, Fair Isle fashion, was able to get  so much content in so little space so clearly. It's an amazing book.

The Essential Skills section has just the right information that a knitter needs to get started. MJ talks about Shetland wool and how and why it is wonderful it is for Fair Isle knitting, but she also talks about other yarns too, and what you may need to do differently if you use them. She talks about needles and other equipment you will need. There is a very good section about gauge, and how to make a gauge swatch properly, as well as how to choose a gauge properly. See, this is about designing your own sweater or mittens or a cushion ... all you need is a little guidance and it will work.

Then comes casting on, circular knitting, how to hold the yarn (three ways; I will need to look at the left hand method and practice it), stranding and yarn dominance, weaving (again, she has clear pictures, and I am especially keen on the weaving with the left hand), and increasing and decreasing. It's like I asked Mary Jane to show me exactly how I can do Fair Isle, and she wrote me a book. She wrote the book for everyone, really, but secretly, I think it's just for me! 

She also put in correcting mistakes and joining pieces together, the oh-so-mysterious steeking process, which is not mysterious at all with all the wonderful pictures, and blocking and finishing. There's a good explanation of color theory, too. She finishes with some design principles and planning your project. If Mary Jane had stopped there, it would be a very helpful book. 

But no. Now comes the meat of the book.

She starts out by putting a motif selector, pages of just the photographs of the actual knitted motifs that Mary Jane knit, with the design number and the page to find them. How helpful is that! The Motif Directory pages have a stitch and row count; the motifs are organized by the number of rows they use. Every page has a black and white chart for knitting; an easy to read color chart in the knitted motif's colors, as well as a color variation chart. Columns next to these charts are an easy way to keep track of what colors are used in each row, pattern (left column) and background (right column). Amazing. 

There is a large actual photograph of the knitted swatch that you can see up close, every single stitch. She has a black and white all-over chart that you can use too. And finally, there is sometimes (from Motif 186 up) a mix-and-match suggestion demonstrating how to combine motifs to make large desings. Heavenly!

Mary Jane has been addicted to Fair Isle ever since knitting a hat way back when, in the fall before we went on our first yarn show, but she has been addicted to color and fiber, and a joy to be around, her whole life. She used to work with me and Brenda, the original owner of Unique One, and she was a breath of giddy inspiration even then. She came and visited me a few times after I had my stroke, and showed me the piles of the motifs she was making for her book, and I was so proud of her. I'm so glad she wrote this book, and I look forward to many more.

Whether you want to create a whole Fair Isle sweater or just make some thrilling fingerless mittens, this book is one that will keep you designing forever. I am gonna try me some Fair Isle just as soon as I get my courage up, but now that I have this book, I think I can do it. I used to knit with two colors using both hands, keeping one color in each hand, but after my stroke, I thought I couldn't do it. I can't knit like that anymore, but I might be able to knit Fair Isle using a new technique. It will be hard at first, like everything I am learning, but I can do it. (I can hear a very loud little bird, chirping in my ear, saying, "Believe!!")



We watched the women on Shetland knit their two colours with just their right hand. One strand over the forefinger, the other over the middle finger. The trick is to turn the hand over so it is slightly off horizontal (back up) and position the fingers over tips of needles. Of course they were using a knitting belt and the long dpns. Bet it would work for you too! Come to SPA next month and I will show you!! Shelagh.


I think you can do anything you decided to set your mind too stroke or no. You are so inspiring.

Beth Collins

Your tempting me with SPA Shelagh!

Beth Collins

I just put my head down and do it, brandi ... it's like a puzzle, and you win if you can do it. Like Angry Birds or Bug Chucker, just keep trying and eventually you'll do it :)

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