Fair Isle sweaters are everywhere these days. Have you noticed? I should probably say sweaters inspired by traditional Fair Isle patterns. Or Shetland, or Icelandic patterns. Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant all showed chunky knits with traditional Fair Isle or Shetland patterns this season. I’ve always loved these woolly, traditional sweaters. And I have a number of them tucked away. Hand knit sweaters. Made by me, way back in the eighties. So, I unpacked a few of them today. Because it’s definitely Fair Isle sweater weather.

Watching the ice on the Rideau River.
Checking out the state of the ice on the river.

Most of my sweaters were made by me. In 1983 when I packed my bags and returned home to New Brunswick for a year, I learned how to knit. And in the evenings after supper, Mum and I had knitting marathons. Sometimes Mum would have an unravelling marathon. If she spotted a mistake that she’d previously missed, she’d unravel ruthlessly, undoing all her hard work, the yarn pooling in a pile on the floor, until she reached the spot, corrected her error, and began all over again. I was such a slow knitter that this was torture for me to watch. I would groan and protest, “MUM! All that work.” Seriously, she was the unravelling queen, the knitting perfectionist.

That year I made several sweaters for myself, and several for friends, and even for boyfriends of friends. I was busy. The cream and brown and beige Icelandic sweater, below, was my first attempt. It’s knit on a round needle which is great for beginners. No need for sewing together assorted parts, or fitting sleeves, etc.

Wearing my old brown and cream Fair Isle sweater with my new cream down jacket.
My first handmade sweater. Circa 1983.

I remember so clearly working on that sweater. When the pattern began to emerge, I was fascinated. And dying to know if it would actually look like the picture. Especially the yoke. Once I started the yoke, I could hardly put the darned thing down. The suspense was killing me.

In fact, one night I worked into the wee hours.

Mum and my step-father had gone to bed. My cup of tea beside me was stone cold. It was so late that the TV channel I’d been half watching had gone off the air. But I still sat in the big easy chair, in a pool of light in the otherwise dark living room, soundlessly knitting, winding yarn, counting stitches. I think it was about three o’clock in the morning when my step-father came downstairs. He’d seen that a light was still on. “Snooze, what ARE you doing? You scared the life out of me,” he said when I looked up. “I think I’m obsessed,” I chortled, a bit wild-eyed. “I have to see what it’s going to look like. I’d go to bed, but I’ve been knitting so long, I’m not sure I can unkink my fingers.”

The first Fair Isle sweater I ever made.
Uniqlo jacket, Theory turtleneck, Frame jeans, Paul Green boots.

Here’s a selection of my old knitting patterns. I made two of the Cottage Craft sweaters you can see below. The pink one on the cover of the booklet, and a lovely, golden yellow cardigan, with a lilac and purple yoke. Cottage Craft was a local company based in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. They had wonderful patterns. And I bought the yarn to knit my sweaters from a small woollen mill in Harvey, New Brunswick. Just up the road from the farm where I grew up. I was amazed, and pleased, to find out when I was home last month that the Briggs and Little Mill is still operating. You can check out their website here.

some of my knitting patterns including those for my Fair Isle sweaters.
My old knitting patterns.

Gosh, I love those Cottage Craft sweaters. I wore the yellow cardigan with a long, full-skirted, fawn-coloured suede skirt, and flat boots for years. In fact, I’d still wear that outfit if I could. I guess all my old sweaters are heritage sweaters in more ways than one. Next time I’m home I’ll drive up to the Briggs and Little Mill. For old times sake. And maybe buy some yarn. I never did make that soft green turtleneck sweater, above. with the blush-pink and white pattern. Wouldn’t that look lovely with my green tweed Max Mara blazer?

Loving my old blue and white Fair Isle sweater with my cream down jacket.
Theory turtleneck, Uniqlo jacket, AG jeans, Stuart Weitzman boots.

This blue and white sweater is the only one I have that I didn’t make myself. My friend Janet made it for me for Christmas in 1982. I know! It’s totally vintage now. I love the colour. I’ve worn this sweater a ton over the years. And I’ll wear it again this year. Especially since Fair Isle sweaters are on trend again. And under my Uniqlo ultra-light down jacket, my wool sweater is just the right weight for outdoor skating.

Wearing my Fair Isle sweater and watching the ice form on the Rideau River.
I can hear the ice talking today.

To steal a line from Joni Mitchell, Hubby and I wish we had a river to skate on. Well, we have the river. We just wish the ice would hurry up. I could hear it groaning and squeaking, and grunting from where I was standing on our lawn this afternoon. Sounded like a bunch of whales calling to each other. Hopefully, if the temperature stays below freezing and we don’t get any snow to mess up the surface… we could be skating soon.

Hubby says to remember that it sounds more romantic than it actually will be. There will be cracks and rough spots, and I’ll probably have to borrow his hockey helmet so I don’t crack my skull. But all things being well… we could be swishing down the river on Christmas morning. Okay… maybe not swishing… more like shuffling.

But I’ll be swishing in my mind, folks.

Wearing my Fair Isle sweater and watching the ice form on the Rideau River.
Waiting for a river to skate on.

If you’re in the market for a Fair Isle sweater, and you don’t knit. Or you’re a very slow knitter like me and would like to wear it before 2025, there are some lovely ones out there at various price points. I particularly love the navy and white Tory Burch sweater on the left, below. And the grey and white J-Brand one. That Boden sweater is very well priced. And the Frame sweater was featured in Harper’s Bazaar this fall. I love them all.

I found lots of books about Fair Isle knitting as well. This one has “simplified” sweater patterns and even a Kindle version. This one says it is best for rank beginners, with helpful tips as well as sweater patterns. And this one is supposed to have lots of traditional patterns as well as social history of the craft that I thought sounded really interesting.

You know, I remember that first year of knitting so fondly. Knitting is very calming. I needed calm that year, after quitting my stressful and much hated sales job here in Ottawa and hightailing it for home. And knitting helped me to quit smoking. After all, I couldn’t knit and smoke at the same time. And doing something new, something creative, and productive was therapeutic. So all in all, learning how to knit was very beneficial for me. I wish I hadn’t let my knitting habit lapse. I keep thinking that I will take it up again. Maybe this will be the year.

But I do cherish all my handmade sweaters. Even the ones I don’t wear anymore. Even the ones I don’t own any more. A year or so ago, I washed up a bunch of them and donated them. Someone else, somewhere must be able to benefit from these sweaters, I thought. I hope that someone saw them at the Salvation Army store and is now wearing them.

All cosy, and warm, and totally on trend.

Now, it’s your turn my friends. Are you a knitter? A lapsed knitter, like me? Or a non-knitter? Do tell.

P.S. The clothing links above are affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking on my link, I will earn a commission.

Linking up with Catherine at #IWillWearWhatILike and #ShareAllLinkup, Patti at Visible Monday , and Jennie at Monday Runway.


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57 thoughts on “Fair Isle Sweater Weather”

  1. i am definitely a lapsed knitter. its rarely cold enough here in australia to wear the kind of sweaters i would like to knit. yours are gorgeous

    1. Thanks, Noreen. My sweaters are so heavy that I haven’t worn them much in the past few years. Now that I have a light winter jacket, I hope to remedy that.

  2. Your Fair Isle sweaters look wonderful-they are kind of sweaters (the thickness,not necessary the pattern) I’ve imagined one’s wearing in Canada,before I’ve better known- they look so elaborate to knit! You are full of surprises 🙂
    I was good at crochet (from shawls to coats) and it is very calming ,but a bad knitter. Excellent idea for smoking quitting indeed

    1. They are very easy to knit, actually. No complicated stitches, no sewing parts together. You just have to remember the order of the colours to make the pattern. Which makes conversation hard …for me anyway.

  3. Well you kept that quiet , talk about hidden talents . What lovely woolie jumpers ( can’t seem to call them sweaters ) & so fashionable now . I did have one or two from the old days but they’ve gone to the charity shop . The sleeves on mine were so full I had arms like Popeye – not a good look . My mum & aunt were knitters . My Aunt Emily could even read & knit at the same time . I didn’t inherit the knitting gene & I’m not good at anything requiring neatness & precision . Too impatient . My needlework teacher despaired of me too . So lots of admiration here .

  4. I’m with Wendy — you’ve been hiding your knitting skills.
    I made a couple of those Cottage Craft sweaters as well, way back in the day (80s, wasn’t it? or maybe early 90s?) — Canadian Living featured a few patterns, and I think they made have offered a kit with the wonderful Briggs & Little yarn. . .
    Not sure I’ve ever knit that far into the night, but I do find it hard to stop as well once the pattern starts emerging. . . .
    Now I’m curious to see if you start knitting again — you definitely have the winters for it. . . .

    1. I’ve tried in the past few years to take it up again. Finished one sweater after I retired that had sat in my knitting basket for years. It’s a wonder it wasn’t two different colours… one half faded. Ha.
      P.S. I remember when the Cottage Craft patters were in Canadian Living. How lovely it used to be to drive to Saint Andrews to visit their store right on the waterfront!

  5. I used to be a fanatic knitter too, but I find now that it makes my shoulders ache. I do have a cardigan in process which will get finished one day, hopefully ! You are so clever to knit Fair Isle, I could never master it, my work would come out all bunched up and tight.
    I did buy an absolutely beautiful mohair Fair Isle sweater from the English company Brora recently, it’s so light and soft to wear, I can’t bear heavy knits.

  6. All admiration for your knitting talent (love the sweater/jumper). The fact that you still fit into something your wore in 1983 is also quite admirable. I am a knitter but have not attempted a Fair Isle pattern. Cables, yes. Fair Isle, no. My Brit mother was an amazing knitter. Like Wendy’s aunt, she could knit at lightning speed, read and watch a TV program at the same time–even while working a Fair Isle pattern. She made a number of those jumpers for me in my teens/20s–we called them ski sweaters because that was the most common activity for wearing them.

  7. Oh yes, yes, yes. I was just talking about knitting on round needles with a friend of mine yesterday. For me, I started with a navy blue fair isle sweater with hunter green and creamy white for the details at the top. Very eighties and preppy – wore it with my boat shoes and work socks! Everything comes back around again, doesn’t it? I can’t believe hair scrunchies are back!! -Jenn

  8. Beverley in Canada (MsGidgetty on Ravelry

    I still knit constantly. And I adore it. Though I tend more to the lace shawl side of things these days.

    Several of the same Fair Isle pullovers, knit in Paton’s Shetland Style chunky yarn, came off my needles in the ‘80’s: my size, my husband’s size, and that of my small boys. I remember being particularly productive during a rainy summer at the cottage.

    I’ve passed on the little ones to my new grandchildren. Heirlooms! The adult versions were donated long ago, but I still have all the patterns.

    I just might make a new one my January project. Smile.

  9. Lapsed Knitters Unite! I loved to knit back in the 70’s and 80’s and made a few Fair Isle sweaters. They’ve all been donated years ago. Sorry I didn’t pack some of them away as you did, and could be “au courant” now. Knitting was calming until the unraveling happened. Like your mom, I was a perfectionist and had to correct a mistake. What happened to knitting? I think buying cheaper sweaters made in China was easier than the hours of knitting it took to make a sweater. Anyway, I loved this post. Let us know if you take up the needles again

  10. Good Morning Sue,
    The things we find out…such beautiful, cozy sweaters!
    My Welsh grandmother was an amazing knitter and such…but a perfectionist, no errors.
    My skill?! was never like my grandmothers. I would knit scarves (haha) when driving across Canada on our road trips. I’d constantly unraveled if there was an slip…needless to say, the air was blue on my side of the car.
    We would celebrate if one ever got done!

  11. I just took up knitting this year, after crochet only for a decade. I’m finding it to be enormous fun, and I have to believe that taking up a new skill at over-60 I stood for the brain!

  12. I loved this post, Sue. I’m an unraveller like your mom, only in crochet we call it “frogging” (ripit! ripit!). I envy your ability to wear wool. I’m trying to move to natural fibres with my crochet projects, but I can’t even hold wool in my hands to crochet without itching and getting a rash. I ordered a hemp yarn from Paton’s. It is supposed to be soft, but I suspect that it will be too coarse for garments. I hope you continue with your knitting. I will look forward to seeing your next completed sweater (no pressure ;-))

    1. You know, writing that post has whetted my appetite for knitting again. I really should have a project on the go. But I’ll have to choose something that is timeless… because it takes me forever to finish something.

  13. I’m so impressed that you knitted that yourself. It looks great! And shows that sticking to the classics is a smart move.
    We have a skating rink at the central square with the Christmas market, but I think it’s all mush–we had 18 C today. Far from freezing. I even opened the windows. No sweaters for me. Maybe in January.

  14. I haven’t parted with my knitting books and patterns yet so seeing your post I just might have to give it another go round. My mom and aunts were all wonderful knitters, crocheters, sewers…you name the needlework and they could do it -for hours. I took it up back in the 70s and made a few sweaters. But it seems that maybe the winters have gotten shorter or warmer or something. Either way I let it go. It is relaxing as you say and a good way to spend a rainy/snowy afternoon. Your fair isle is gorgeous and something I would not attempt!!!!

  15. Well what a surprise to learn that you are a knitter. Such wonderful sweaters and it’s good that you have not parted with them as there are lots of memories tied up in those sweaters. As I tell everyone, I can knit but choose not to, as I much prefer playing with fabric. My mother was a keen knitter and like your aunt could knit and read at the same time.

  16. I knit but only simple patterns. Fair Isle is too difficult for me. I don’t find it relaxing if I have to closely follow a pattern. I really like knitting the various pieces then sewing them together. When my nieces and nephews were young I knitted all their jumpers and cardigans. I even knitted dolls clothes.

  17. Hello Sue,
    I remember going to the Cottage Craft store in St Andrews! It brought back long forgotten memories!
    Thank you for your wonderful blog!

  18. What a treasure trove! I’ve been tempted by Fair Isle, they are so of the moment, but it just doesn’t get cold enough here for sweaters. Where you are these must be perfect, and how fun to have them as part of your personal history.

  19. Not a knitter, not much of a sewer either but I understand the intense creativity involved and why it is so compelling. I love a Fair Isle but never wear patterned knits though they look splendid on you and they are the best sweater for a very cold day. On a slight tangent, I don’t know if you can get The Repair Shop over yonder but, if so, via BBC, find it and watch. It is totally and utterly gripping, full of human stories, kind and skilled people and amazing handiwork. That’s a lot of qualifiers but worth it. Hope the ice turns up trumps.

  20. Mostly-lapsed knitter here too, although I pulled out the needles in 2017 to knit a pink “pussy hat” for a protest march, and I still do an occasional scarf or hat. I always end up knitting during the Winter Olympics – love to watch them but feel the need to do something other than just stare at the TV. Did a Fair Isle fisherman’s sweater, ivory with the complicated diamonds, cables, etc. in college but donated it long ago. Love your ski sweaters, as we call them in the U.S., but am worried about whether I’d knit at a consistent gauge. May have to wait for the 2022 Olympics.

  21. Woo hoo! I can remember when these were the height of fashion in the ’80s, even here in Israel. They’re way too heavy for here, but winters used to be colder then; and they’re so beautiful – yours especially, Sue!
    I’m also a lapsed knitter. Did some when the kids were small. One of my most surreal experiences is from the first gulf war in 1991 – sitting on our bed with the kids, the room hermetically sealed, all of us in gas masks except the little one, who fortunately just turned two so he got a helmet (we told him he can be an astronaut) instead of a baby tent, listening to the explosions of Iraqi missiles in nearby Tel-Aviv, and me knitting like crazy. I made several sweaters at the time. It sure helped me calm down during those days.
    I started knitting and doing crochet again a few years ago, but a torn wrist tendon put an end to that. I miss it …

  22. I knitted back in the late 70s and 80s, then got too busy and stopped. I found a box of yarn cleaning up after my house flooded and started knitting again. I am now a devoted sock knitter – keeps me busy while “watching” TV. Sox take a short time, are fun, very instant gratification, and people love them as gifts. A good way to get back into knitting.

  23. I am a very lapsed novice knitter. I knit two sweaters about 30 years ago; one for my daughter and one for myself. I haven’t knit anything since! Your sweaters are gorgeous and I’m totally impressed that you tackled a Fair Isle pattern for your very first project!

    1. It wasn’t hard at all. No fancy or unusual stitches, no knitting into the back of the stitch, pulling, looping or whatever. Just straight knitting. The only think was keeping track of he order of colours. Sometimes I lost the mantra…”brown, white, beige, beige, brown, etc. and started saying something completely different whereupon I had to unravel for a bit.

  24. Oh, the lucky shoppers who came upon your Fair Isle sweaters in the thrift store! It’s wonderful you’re getting to wear your beloved sweaters again…maybe even while swish/shuffling down the river on your skates.

    Merry Christmas. Thank you for your blog.

      1. The Killing, starring Sue ” I once sprained my neck pulling a turtleneck on too quickly ” Burpee as Detective Inspector Sarah ” There’s a kiss in every stitch ” Lund !

  25. Hi Sue – love your sweaters and shout out to Canadian company Briggs and Little – I just saw some of their yarn at a local yarn shop in Vancouver.
    Old sweaters can also be cut up and easily stitched into lovely pillow or hot water bottle covers – I have a clever friend who does that (not much sewing involved). And there are so many wonderful and easy colourwork patterns out right now – this wonderful designer from Japan makes some great and fun designs alafosslopi-rug-sweater-kit-406px-406px.jpg

    1. I love that Briggs and Little exists after more than a hundred years, still in the family, still in their little mill “out back of Harvey” as we say.

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