If you’re Rhinebeck-bound, we would love to see youย at Jill Draper’s studio in Kingston on Saturday night–details here.

Sober Reflections on Fair Isle Knitting

Dear Kay,
It’s been just a heckuva week, between the bourbon milkshake problem last Sunday at book group, the Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Balls which made their annual appearance at our house, and the general bourboniness of the season. Hubbo figured out a way to debourbon the Bourbon Balls (he likened it to gutting a fish–a swift twist of the knife, and you’re left with a chocolatey shell), but to me, why would you want to tamper with a product that leads with chocolate and ends with a cocktail, all in one piece?
Anyway, I hope everybody had a great holiday. I’ve entered chocolate detox (Weight Watchers Anonymous), and swear I will never, ever eat a Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Ball for breakfast ever again.
In the brief hiatus while the Perfect Handknit pattern is mellowing in its aged oak cask, I’ve come dangerously close to achieving my new year’s goal: completing unfinished objects. I’m down to a small pile of stuff:
Baby sweater, needles yanked for another project never to return.
Ill-fated day trip into log cabin knitting.
Something cylindrical, never to be felted.
Worst idea of the year: nutmeg-colored shetland lace. Even the needles ran from this project.
Nutmeg? Please don’t say anything about this, or about any of these. Dregs, dregs, DREGS. I’m scraping them into a bag, writing TIME CAPSULE–OPEN IN 2105, and throwing it in the attic.
Down to the Wire: Keava
The 2004 UFO that has most dogged me has been the one that’s been teaching me the most: the Keava Fair Isle pullover from Alice Starmore’s 1995 In the Hebrides. (I’d include a link to it but I can’t find one for this elusive, seriously out-of-print book. I may have hallucinated the whole thing.)
I’m just about done with the first sleeve, and I have some observations:
The simplicity of this pattern (three tubes, basically, with no seams) means that once you’ve begun the sleeves, you’re toting a serious load of knitting with you. It means that you’re not taking this thing anywhere. It turns this into a Homebound Project, which is a bummer because some of my finest moments are the five and ten minutes that come along while Waiting for Children.
Kay, I know this is an alarming sight. I know we agree about socks, and how we are not sock knitters. (Yet.) But the dirty secret of Keava is that by the time you crank your way cuffward, there comes a point when even a 12″ size 3 circular needle is no longer helpful. The time comes when the double-pointed needles come out, and you’re down to 72 stitches, and hell you might as well turn a heel and make the thing into a giant sock. This sleeve has me halfway to a sock without my ever realizing it. I have been tricked into knitting a sock.
This is the seamy underside of the Keava sleeve. The pattern crashes together like two women at Kroger fighting over the last chess pie. I have a lot to refine when it comes to decreasing a Fair Isle pattern in a tidy way. It’s not hard, but for some reason things get very blumpy and burbly during the lane change. The good news: this pattern is so LOUD and CRAZY that it doesn’t even much matter. What’s going on back there? Just keep it down, willya?
Packing Up for Chicago
We’re heading out tomorrow for Chicago. The Sister-in-law and I are really looking forward to seeing everybody at the Windy City Winding Party Thursday night. If you’d like directions, please email me. I’m packing my yarn winder and some yet-to-be-determined portable projeck.
I’m contemplating my 2006 new year’s resolutions. What are yours?
Happy new year, everybody–we’ll be back in Nashville next year . . .




  1. Sock knitting, sock knitting, sock knitting . . . come on over to the dark side. You’ll like it. Weighs less than a sweater. Fits in your purse. Great for 5 or 10 minutes. What’s not to like?

  2. Oh My God! What a BEAUTIFUL sweater your Keava is. In all my life I may not knit a sweater as lovely as this. I tend to go for big needles and the quick finish. . .instant gratification that’s me. I really admire your skill and patience to knit such a project.
    Have been reading your Blog for some time now and enjoy it lots. Thanks

  3. Hee hee hee! You gotta watch fair isle — it’s sneaky like that.
    It looks fabulous, tho. Even if it IS trying to lure you into knitting socks.

  4. Inspiring! I have that book, but I also have the book and the kit for Abalone from Pacific Coast Highway.
    Your beautiful work *almost* gives me the courage to cast on. Almost!
    Have a wonderful New Year, and be safe on the road.

  5. I think it’s pretty funny that the sock you knit ended up being fair-isle. What a lousy trick!
    Enjoy the Windy City!

  6. So does this mean that there will be a pair of Keava socks to match the sweater? The boys could probably start them on the classroom knitting frame. ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a great holiday and a safe trip.

  7. You might like trying putting those sleeves on two circular needles (that’s my preferred method of knitting socks). Starting it is the trickiest part, but since you’re mid-sleeve all you need to do is put half the stitches on one circular and half on another. Then you let one needle rest while you knit half the round, then pick up the other needle to knit the last half of the round. No prickly double points!

  8. So, Mrs. Fair-ilse knitter,pack a sock for Chicago !
    I’m deeply impressed with Keava. Fab knitting.

  9. Would starting each day with a Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Balls be a bad New Year Resolution?

  10. While joining WW Anonymous, you might also want to join FO anonymous because you’re an FO fool!! I’m in love with the Fair Isle. It’s so….Fair.
    And not sock like. I just finished a pair of socks, and lo and behold they fit! Will wonders never cease.
    Happy trails to Chicago. Go get some of that danged caramel corn that everyone waits for in a line around the block before you start WW, you Bourbon Ball Eating Woman, you!

  11. Two circulars. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. Wow, that is an amazing sweater. What a wonderful project, I’m inspired. Waah, I want some AS books too!

  13. What an amazing looking sweater! Great looking colors and pattern. Your perseverence is admirable!

  14. Might I suggest a dye job for the Nutmeg instead of an attic adventure. socks are wonderful for those 5-10 minute waiting for the kids times.

  15. Next year, I resolve to keep my yarn hording ways to a mimimum, to learn how to knit socks (yup!) and to really pick up the pace of my skills with beading lace.
    BTW, that yummy caramel corn is from Garrett’s. Perhaps I should bring a tin of it to the party?!

  16. yay for fair isle!
    i suspect i will bring my fair isle mittens to show off on thursday. maybe i will start some socks…then again, i have so much already started….hmmmm. hopefully i can crank out the collar of a WIP to wear it TO the party…off i go!

  17. i used to live in chicago so am sad i won’t be there for the party. i’m terribly jealous about keava, WOW, that is impressive. i’m venturing into my first pair of mittens soon, 2 circulars seems like great advice. happy new year all.

  18. The only resolution I’ve decided on so far is that I’m going to match all knitting related purchases with charitable donations. Both to keep me from making ill considered impulse purchases, and to increase my level of charitable giving.

  19. Hmmm. I actually like the Nutmeg lace. Like, *really* like it. How does my forehead feel? A little warm? Maybe I’m coming down with something… Excuse me while I go have a little lie down…
    The two circs idea for the cuff end of the sleeve sounds like a good one. I’ve never tried it but I’m certainly intrigued.
    Have a safe trip to Chicago! Sorry I won’t be there to share in the fun. Have a great time!

  20. Ann – does your husband know that it is a CRIME to de-bourbon the bourbon balls? In fact, the homemade version that have become a holiday cookie staple in my house CANNOT BE DEBOURBONED. For now, I’ll keep my mouth shut, but if any federal agents come-an-asking, I’ll spill what I know, just out of principle.
    I’ll miss you in Chi-town by two days – but you can hug Cristina for me!
    Cheers and best for the new year . . .

  21. I don’t see any blurbles. It’s amazing!

  22. Wow, that sweater is amazing. I have yet to attempt anything quite so challenging. I think I’m more of a lace challenge person, actually, but fair isle is so alluring…

  23. I leave town and there you go, showing off the Fair Isle. Fair-Isle this, and Fair-Isle that, you’re so very Fair-Isle.
    Me, I’m knitting doubled Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Bulky. That’s right. Bulky. Doubled. One color at a time, so as not to excite myself too much.
    Is it weird that a bourbon ball doesn’t sound at all appetizing to me? I don’t like to mix my chocolate with my booze. Plus, to me, bourbon is some nasty fermented-mash stuff. Yucky. On the other hand, I’m going to try my first Black Velvet (stout and sparkling wine, TOGETHER) on New Year’s, though, so there’s no accounting for taste.
    Extremely envious of the Chicago gathering. Enjoy enjoy! TAKE PICTURES CONSTANTLY.
    xoxox Kay

  24. One of my many goals is to finish my adult-sized fair isle Starmore which is also too big to tote around anywhere, even though I’m not even done with the body part. But I do love it. Now if only it were Merino. Oh wait! I can knit a Dale next…

  25. Love the sweater, and the metaphors about the pattern fighting at a supermarket. A suggestion, though: skip the dpns & just use one really, really long circ. I use 40″ers on almost everything. When one knits a tube (especially a decreasing tube, like a sleeve or a hat), one finds the midpoint of the tube, pulls the excess (slack) of the cable out at that midpoint, and knits almost as if one was back-and-forthing, but clockwise…. If you need illustration, it’s the same concept as Magic Loop. Or let me know, and I’ll post a photo on my blog. I usually do two small things at once on one needle, like a pair of socks or mitts, but the concept is the same for one WIP.
    Anyway, love y’alls blog. Never stop. I grew up in Richmond, VA, and I love the taste of the south mixed with the flavors of my adopted home. It’s nice that they drink bourbon everywhere, no?


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