Pop quiz: when you think of winter, which textile patterns come to mind? For us, it’s all about Fair Isle, that gorgeous, intricate knit that’s full of color and brings instant coziness to a room.
The origins of the Fair Isle pattern are a bit sketchy, but we know this much: the knitting technique developed in Fair Isle, a tiny, picturesque island midway between the Orkney and Shetland islands to the north of Scotland. (Fair Isle was used for thousands of years as a landmark for sailors, and those rocky shoals have claimed a ship a few boats; there are more than 100 documented shipwrecks off its coasts.) The pattern bears resemblance to ancient Moorish designs, so there’s a good possibility that at some point, a bit of Moorish knitting made its way to Fair Isle on a trading ship.
From there, the skilled women knitters of Fair Isle went to town creating all-new patterns. By the mid-1800s, they were trading their patterned garments off the isle. In the 1920s, their popularity exploded after Edward, Prince of Wales, (later King Edward VIII) wore Fair Isle jumpers during public appearances. They were later co-opted by outdoorsy types, who hit the slopes, ice-covered lakes, and horseback decked out in Fair Isle sweaters, hats, scarves, and gloves.
Traditional Fair Isle patterns typically stick to two colors per row, worked in the round, with about five colors total used on any one garment or textile. There are a few basic patterns, including crosses and hexagons (often featuring religious symbols), OXO shapes, animal heads, and flowers. But modern versions—like Annie’s brand-new woven cotton rugs—often streamline the palette to just a couple of colors. This lets the graphic nature of the pattern shine, and keeps the overall room palette from shouting out loud.
Here’s how we’re using Fair Isle in our decorating. How about you—are you a friend of Fair Isle?