Friday, October 16, 2009

High Time to Learn Fair Isle!

I have procrastinated for far too long on learning to knit fair isle. The main reason being that this style of knitting appeared both complicated and the patterns seem largely outdated. Enter Alice Starmore's Hat Trick a trio of hat designs inspired from flowers in her garden. I fell in love with these hats the minute I saw them and knew that the time had finally arrived to learn to knit fair isle!

The beauty of learning a new technique on a hat is, well, because hats are small! That means sizing and shaping issues are minimal and the time commitment to finish is short. Which boils down to less risk of investing in an expensive project that you never finish because you find yourself bogged down with troubling sizing issues or complicated pattern instructions which invariably lead to a project that languishes for want of love and attention.

Even so, I didn't embark upon this venture lightly, or without advance preparation. I've had the book The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, History, Technique, Color & Patterns by Ann Feitelson for years, which I pulled out and reread in earnest. The best piece of advice I gleaned from this book was that if I did nothing else I needed to master carrying two colors of yarn simultaneously if I was ever going to enjoy knitting fair isle. While it's possible to knit with just one color yarn at a time and then drop and switch colors as needed, this will never allow you to develop a rhythm or uniform tension.

Several methods of carrying the yarn are described in the book, along with the strong advice to try them all before settling on one. I followed that advice and found that carrying both yarn strands in my right hand afforded me the most uniform tension. This also happens to be the most common Shetland method where, after all, they developed this style of knitting and should know a thing or two about how best to go about it.

Something to remember about fair isle knitting is that you only have two colors of yarn in any single row. That means you only carry two strands of yarn at any one time, which, with a little practice isn't all that hard to do. I know it looks complicated but the richness and complexity of the designs is achieved through the genius of mixing both graduating and contrasting colors all the while using just two colors at a time.

I'm running a little long in this post, but when I'm knitting my next hat from this kit (they are all different in both pattern and shape) I'll take pictures showing my hand position to give you an idea of what yarn position worked for me. Unfortunately I did not find any great videos out there to make this any clearer than the pictures I found in Ann Feitelson's book, or I would have linked to them for you.

In summary, I think we can all agree that this is a beautiful design. But it is supposedly inspired by the Hebe flower (picture of a Hebe flower is shown below). Do you see it? I don't know. It's a tough call. I think if you consider how well I captured the plant life in my brooch (immediately prior post) this is a real stretch. But, who am I to say. Alice Starmore is a legend.

Particulars: Hat Trick (Hebe) by Alice Starmore; available as a kit from Virtual Yarns; US 2 double pointed needles; my only modification was not to increase to US 3 needles after knitting the brim sticking with the US 2 needles. I did this because I thought some of the pictures of the hat looked on the large size. As it is, it's a snug fit on my 21" head but I suspect with a few wearings it will relax some.

Mr Puffy Update

I explained to Mr Puffy that now he's doing so well there's been enough lolling about. It was time for him to be productive and useful again. I told him "all your fans have missed seeing you model." When he heard this, he was then only too happy to oblige.

Something to Try this Fall: Homemade Granola

I love homemade granola and this time of year it's particularly nice to have some on hand. My current favorite is Coconut and Macadamia Granola recipe courtesy of Andon-Rein Inn. I generally find that Bed and Breakfast recipes are tried and true and this is no exception.

The only modification (really a substitution) is that I use plain whole wheat flour instead of "pastry" whole wheat flour. I also skip the coconut extract, simply because I don't have any on hand and never seem to remember to buy any. I'm pretty generous with the quantity of unsweetened coconut, which I love. It's hard to find unsweetened coconut flakes but you might find it in the organic food section.

There are a number of ways to enjoy granola. It's nice sprinkled over a dish of fresh fruit. It is also great mixed in with a box cereal (which is what my parents like to do) or you can crush it into small bits and mix it with cream cheese for a fancy bagel spread. Mostly, I just snack on it by the handful.

For a quick and easy alternative recipe, here's Mr Puffy's own recipe for homemade granola:

1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
3 cups slow cooking oats
Dried cranberries - roughly 1/2 cup (or to taste)
Chopped fresh pecans or almonds - roughly 2/3 cup (or to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Mix together maple syrup, canola oil and vanilla extract. Pour wet mix over oats and stir until oats are well covered.
3. Spread mixture evenly in a shallow roasting pan. Roast 15 minutes.
4. Remove mixture from oven and add chopped nuts. Continue roasting for another 30 minutes - turning once more after 15 minutes. Watch oats and nuts closely and reduce oven temperature if they are cooking too quickly. They should be a nice golden color - not brown - which means they have over cooked. All ovens are different and some are hotter than others.
5. Total cooking time is roughly 45 minutes. Final step is to add dried cranberries after fully cooked and mixture is removed from oven. Cool completely in pan and store in air-tight container.

Until next time, be well, love well, and try making your own homemade granola ~ I think you'll enjoy it!


t does wool said...

the hat is fabulous,Claudia,but I am not sure who wears it better {wink} or Mr Puffy!
and the,you have hit a home run with that...mixed with cream cheese...must try it!
Fabulous flower BTW.

jillian said...

It's beautiful! I bet you'll be on a fair isle roll now!

Renee said...

Wow, Claudia!! Your Fair Isle is tres magnifique! Love the colours and your strand work looks excellent. It's been a lot of years since I knit FI, but you've got a great idea on starting with a reasonably small sized project and I'm feeling inspired. I'll check if our library has that book.

Mr Puffy looks dapper in the hat too ~ great to see him back modelling.

Homemade granola is always the best. Thanks for sharing your recipe. :)

Willow said...

You certainly chose a complicated pattern for your first try at Fair Aisle. It's beautiful and beautifully worked.

It's wonderful to see Mr. Puffy looking so well! Please let him know how dashing he looked and that I was thinking of granola just this afternoon, wanting to make some.

betty said...

Great looking hat! I believe the most useful factoid I learned from your post is that "you only have two colors of yarn in any single row". I always wondered why knitters talked about carrying only 2 strands at once. This does make fair isle sound a lot more tractable.

raining sheep said...

Ooh! beautiful toque. You did a great job. I have tried fair isle knitting and although I did get the whole color carrying thing, can't say I really got into it. I think fair isle does take focus and I like really easy projects where I don't need to think too much! I did pay an arm and a leg for a similar toque at a craft fair, just because I loved it and knew I would not make my own any time soon. It should be perfect for the cooler autumn weather.

subliminalrabbit said...

gorgeous photos, as always - and new technique, yay!

hi to mr puffy and gentle ear tugs! glad to hear he's doing well.

Mary said...

Glad Mr. Puffy is feeling better.

Your hat is fantastic! You did a wonderful job with fair isle for your first time. I have always wanted to try it, but have been to intimidated. Sounds like a hat is the way to go! :)

CelticCastOn said...

*jealous* I still haven't learned fair isle either, it scares me but I loooove how it looks.
Glad Mr.P is doing well, he's looking good. You always have the best recipes, I have a granola one but I want to try this as well. Do you have any pumpkin baked goods recipes??

Bridget said...

Claudia, congrats on your first FI project - it's really beautiful!

Mr P - so glad you are feeling well enough to model. You always add a certain panache to your mom's knitting projects.

Granola. Yum.

SissySees said...

Hmmm... I think I need to do a little research before I just jump into my first stranded "clothing" project. I tried floating last time and have the sock in the "to frog" pile, so I think I'll need that book...

Granola and cream cheese. Now THAT is a must-try.

Anonymous said...

Hi Claudia, Congratulations on your very beautiful first try at Fair Isle -- I thought Californians eschewed this technique because it would be too warm for them (or have I misunderstood it?) Raining Sheep should see one of my knitting group members who knits Fair Isle speedily while talking. I think all it takes is practice (easy for me to say, I've never tried it). Mr. Puffy looks more dapper and expressive all the time. Is he taking modeling lessons? Ursula

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

Thank you all for your nice comments!

Kelly at CelticCastOn asked about pumpkin recipes and I have two on the blog. Both can be found if you click on the label "recipes" on the sidebar. The post "Everything is Coming up Pumpkin" is a sweet dessert with chocolate chips; the post "The morning After" is more a bread than a cake. Both dishes are very popular whenever I take them anywhere. I do intend to share more of the savory dishes this Winter and I have a delicious pumpkin soup recipe that I think you will like.

Ursula! Lovely to hear from you. Indeed you are right - most Southern Californians do not knit fair isle because the climate isn't really cool enough. I do venture out in the elements more than most because Mr Puffy and I take long walks twice daily. We also have rather more extreme temperatures being at a higher elevation on the mountain in Topanga. Do you think Mr Puffy's modeling has improved? How nice to know. I'll tell him you said so!

Allie said...

That hat is wonderful - and yes, I can almost see the flower in the pattern. Abstracted, though. The hat looks great on you, but absolutely smashing on Mr. Puffy - I'm glad to hear he's feeling so fine!

amanda said...

Claudia, that hat is awesome! I've only done a few fair isle projects, but I find it works fast because you're motivated to finish a section at a time (instead of rows...) There are lots of great new fair isle sweater patterns out there if you get more adventurous!

Glad Mr P is doing well and back to his modelling :-)

Monika said...

Oh that hat is gorgeous! I really would love to see how you hold your yarns. I'm not comfortable with Fair Isle knitting, but it's sooooo pretty!
I'm also very glad to see Mr. Puffy in action again. Gald he's doing so well!
I love homemade granola as well, but I'm nuts about nuts! Love coconut flakes too. I should make some soon. I've never seen granola spread on a bagel though!!! :o)

knittingdragonflies said...

Glad to see a post from you and Mr. Puffy! I love the hat. I have only done one fair isle project, a long time ago. It looks especially pretty.
Thanks for sharing the granola recipe! I was just looking for one.
Take care

A South Park Republican said...

The hat is gorgeous. I am with you that most fair isle turns me off, but your hat? Very tempting!

Ally Jay said...

Good to see Mr Puffy is up to a bit of modelling again. The hat suits you just a tad more tan him, perhaps it's not quite his style. Great job and brilliant explanaton of the two yarn carrying method.

At Home Mommy Knits said...

Love the hat! I never did manage to do two yarns in one hand. I just have one in each hand when I do fair isle.

Mr Puffy looks great!

amanda said...

And now you've started you won't be able to stop! I love small stranded projects. Your hat is gorgeous!

Rebekah said...

It is fabulous. Beware once the fair isle bug hits, it doesn't let go! I personally can't get enough, but often the costs of knitting a fair isle make it impossible to oblige my every whim.

Denise said...

you did a great job, this looks fabulous on you. Looks pretty nice on Mr P. too ;-)
Hugs to you both

Bubblesknits said...

Gorgeous work. :) And Mr. Puffy looks dashing.

Tracy said...

So much beauty--you modeling that tremendous hat...and Mr. Puffy modeling it too! It is so good to see him modeling again--hooray! So very happy he's on a good health roll again--I hope it stays that way. :o) Your hat is truly fabulous! I've been stalling on the whole Fair Isle technique just seems so intimidating and fiddly. And like yourself, I've often felt many Fair Isle patterns to suitable for me personally, just too large and too much. You've de-mystified it all for me. Thank you! I really like the colors you've chosen for this design--so soft, gentle but all together giving a good punch. WOW! And your granola recipe looks so good. I can't wait to try this one. Homemade is so good. I'm coming up for air here... We've doing a good deal of interior painting and wallpapering, and so I've been in a bubble for some days now. Great to be back in blogland and chatting up. Happy Days, my friend ((HUGS))

KnittySue said...

Claudia your first FI hat is just beautiful, I think you've inspired me to give it a try. I look forward to seeing what technique worked for you and since I study up on new ventures before beginning them as you do may just save me some time.
Give Mr.Puffy a pat and a hug from me I'm glad he's doing well.

Jules said...

What a cute hat! The colors suit you perfectly. Thanks for the granola recipe, too.

tiennie said...

Glad he's doing better!

Great recipe and hat! Isn't stranded knitting fun?

Anita said...

Your hat is lovely! You & Mr. Puffy both look great wearing it. :) I haven't tried fair isle, it still scares me. LOL

Mmmm, the granola looks yummy...

Windyridge said...

I knit with one color in each hand. I love to do fair isle. I don't know if you remember my blog post on the Nautical Socks. haven't done it in awhile tho.
It was GREAT to see Mr Puffy back in his modeling job!

Hilary said...

That is a beautiful hat, Claudia! I'm shocked that this is your first fair isle look like a pro already! I'm also VERY glad to see that Mr. Puffy is still feeling better and that he's back to his modeling. :) I missed him showing off your handknits!

Marie said...

I'm so glad you were able to talk Mr. Puffy into modeling the hat for us. He's so charming!
Great job on the Fair Isle. My first attempts at fair isle were awful, but I think that was because it was only my 2nd knitting project. I really should go back to it and try it out again.