Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sailing to Fair Isle

The greater part of the American Midwest was stifled by a blanket of severe cold this past weekend, but I didn't feel it. I was at Threadbear Fiber Arts Studio, surrounded by knitters, wool, knitters holding wool, knitters covered in wool, and wool wrapped around knitters.

On Saturday, the Tomten Jacket class was packed once again. Such is the genius of Elizabeth Zimmermann, that a pattern she wrote in 1961 still draws a crowd. I loved watching the faces of the students as the little coat unfurled under their fingers. Knitting Elizabeth's best patterns is like reading a cleverly plotted thriller, and the Tomten is enough to make you drop your popcorn.

After our brief lunch break, I got a surprise–a giant birthday cake topped by a strikingly true likeness of Dolores.

FranklinCake

It was delicious. Pity I had to sue them for copyright infringement.

Much better, let me tell you, to have Dolores on the cake than to have her pop out of the cake, which happened last year on Tom's birthday. Seven visits from Stanley Steemer and we are still trying to get the icing out of the carpet.

Cake at Threadbear

If you gotta get older, this is the way to do it.

On Sunday, I hung out at the shop and signed copies of the little book. It was very jolly.

Black Sheep Knitters

Knitters just kept coming and coming in nice, steady stream so I wasn't pining alone in the corner.

Signing at Threadbear

Some I had met last year at the 1,000 Knitters shoot, some I knew from Ravelry or the comments, and many had no blinking idea who I am but figured it was either me or another afternoon at home watching the "Rock of Love" marathon on VH1 and decided to give me a shot.

For the first time ever I was asked to sign a boob, which puts me into the same club, I believe, as Willie Nelson, Kaffe Fassett and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Ma will be so proud.

Sign Here

I am indebted to Matt of Threadbear for taking and sharing these sweet souvenir photos.

Something About Alice

On Saturday night I was hanging around with the bears themselves, Matt and Rob, and our conversation about the current crop of pattern books took a detour onto books no longer available, including the bulk of those written by Alice Starmore.

Now, I've been knitting since 1992, but I spent most of those years completely out-of-touch with what was going on in the field. I didn't know any other knitters, and could barely find yarn, let alone pattern books. By the time I joined the dance, Alice had already pulled her work off the shelves.

As a result, I'd never seen any of the books myself. Not one. Everything I knew of them was secondhand. I would hear how wonderful In the Hebrides, Pacific Coast Highway, Tudor Roses and all the rest had been. I would read of exorbitant prices paid for old copies, of knitters begging local libraries to re-shelve them with the rare books so they wouldn't be stolen. I encountered a few garments knit from the patterns, though never using the original colors. They looked complex, yes. But there are lots of complex patterns out there.

So my opinion of Alice Starmore was that she was probably an excellent designer, and her books had probably been good ones, but the hysteria and the high prices were likely no more justified than the ridiculous sums that changed hands during the Great Pink Chibi Mania of 2004.

As for Fair Isle, I'd seen great heaping piles of that. Most of it either looked dowdy–the kind of ho-hum, shapeless stuff that almost killed knitting at the end of the 20th century–or was so busy it induced seizures. I remember one vest which sported such a gamut of vibrant colors between the hem and the neck shaping that it looked like an abridged version of an acid trip. "You can do anything you want," said the perpetrator, "and it's perfectly okay!"

I beg, madam, to differ.

So when Rob began to pull his copies of Alice Starmore off the shelf I was curious, but not overly excited. Then I sat down with The Art of Fair Isle Knitting and almost wet myself.

So this is what makes people gaga over Fair Isle. The tension, the incredible chill-giving tension, of vibrant colors rippling in counterpoint to vigorous patterning, the two constantly pushing and pulling like opposing voices in a Baroque orchestral suite without ever tipping the balance.

I kept on poring through the books, with their solid writing and their wildly creative variations on a theme, and I realized that for maybe the third time in my life I'd encountered an artist who was actually worthy of the hype. It's tough to design one good sweater, let alone a book full of them. It's damned near impossible to crank out a whole string of terrific books without going stale. And it's rare to find a scholar, a writer, and a designer all sharing the same body.

I hear tell that Alice may be ready to come back to the playground soon, and I certainly hope so, because if not the loss to the knitting world is immense.

And So...

Fair Isle PaletteOnce upon a time, after dreaming over lace as presented by Nancy Bush, Galina Khmeleva, and Sharon Miller, I set out to knit a shawl of my own and came up with this.

Now, having seen what Fair Isle can be when it's well done, I'm in the mood to cook up a vest for myself. In this I was aided and abetted by Matt at Threadbear, who knows from color and helped me put together the shades of Rauma Finullgarn you see at right. (By "helped me," I mean I watched in amazement as he deftly assembled the palette from a huge basket of yarn. Then, at the end, I took out the ball of cream.)

I'm swatching right now to figure out my gauge, and then it's time to chart. I haven't been this jazzed about a new project in ages, and you know I'm easily excited. Will I knit a decent vest or will I crash and burn? Time will tell.

75 comments:

Teri said...

I met her once. She's tiny with dark hair. I have several of her books, but the one you mention is the best. She's very talented and the only designer I know that uses long double points.

Kristen said...

Funny you should bring up Alice Starmore... When I was wasting time the other day looking through my Amazon recommendations, lo and behold, a book on Fair Isle by Alice Starmore is due to be released in August. I wonder if the publishers are truly prepared for the onslaught.

Jasmin said...

More than that, fair isle is more addictive than crack. Better look for the user, too. :)

Welcome to the dark side. (PS, I love the two-handed technique that I learned from the Philosopher's Wool folks.)

halfasheep said...

I'm currently knitting "Dunadd" by Alice, which takes cables to a whole new (and astronomically complex) level. I shall probably finish it the day before I kick off for the great LYS in the sky, and they can bury me in it!
I truly, truly wish that Alice would come back and play! There's a whole new generation of knitters who have yet to be gobsmacked by her genius!

Two Beans said...

I don't have a large budget for books (how about next to nil?) but last year I came across an Alice Starmore knitting book selling at a reasonable $20 (or something like that), I slept on it 1 night and went back to get it. Who knows when I will find something like that next? Like you, I've heard of Alice Starmore but never seen her books before. I don't know how the book I got stack up against the rest of hers, but it definitely worth the price I pay.
I can't wait to see what you cook up.

undeadgoat said...

And this, in a nutshell, is what is so terribly, terribly wrong with today's copyright regime.

Judy in Indiana said...

That cake was adorable, of course, because it was your artwork on it. I hope it gave you immense joy to cut that naughty Delores apart, bit by bit.

Lori said...

As you know timing is everything. There is a free Fair Isle tutorial / online work shop starting on the EZ as Pi yahoo group http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EZasPi/ on the 30th. Elizabeth Lovick from Orkney is the teacher. She's good.

Sue said...

I went to ThreadBear today
a few days late
but your presence was still there.

Marcela said...

Thanks for such a great class. It is so much fun to learn from someone who is as into EZ as you are. It was a really great weekend and can't wait until you come back!

Mel said...

You know you're always welcome to fondle my first printing Starmore when you come visit.

kmkat said...

I bought her book, The Celtic Collection, off a remainder table at the bookstore for $5 and her Fisherman Knits on eBay for about the same price. Want me to shop for you? ;-)

=Tamar said...

There's one Starmore book that stays in print, but the story is that most of it is her daughter(?)'s work: The Celtic Collection. It will be interesting to see what happens in August. Go look at the Shetland Museum's online collection to see more variation than you may have expected. The "traditional" natural browns and grays (and purplish!) date from an early 20th century fad; before that they used whatever colors they could get.

The colors you have lined up should make a glorious sweater!

Geek Knitter said...

Boob signing... the mind boggles. You, my dear man, have most certainly arrived!

Gregory said...

Perhaps my monitor isn't registering the colors accurately, but it looks like you might need a bright. My apologies for any technological insufficiencies and for questioning the colors, even tho they do look rather gorgeous. Regardless of color selection, and it is indeed a subjective, personal thing, welcome to the addiction that is colorwork. You have just found a whole new reason to stay up knitting all night long. Enjoy!!

JellyDonut said...

I had tears in my eyes when I saw the photos of the christening shawl. (Some day I want to be able to do something half as beautiful.) Her children will admire that shawl one day and speak of you in hushed tones. Jelly bows at your greatness

meezermeowmy said...

I love the colors, but wonder if it wouldn't be good to put the cream back in. It is needed to give the eyes a moment's break, a surprise in the middle of all those rich colors.

Matt said...

Despite the good advice to the contrary, I still agree with your earlier assessment that the brightness of the cream can make the whole fabric look busier. In my opinion, it would certainly make the fabric prettier, but it could also make the garment less flattering.

Rana said...

I was lucky to get a huge stack of Fassets and Starmores from a friend who was moving, had given up knitting (!) and didn't want them any more (!!)

The Fisherman's Sweaters book is my favorite, though I did learn that Ms. Starmore is not nearly as OCD as I am about making ribbing and cables line up.

I think the colors you have are intriguing - but I agree that you might want something in a lighter, brighter tone to add just a small accent - it's counterintuitive, but just that tiny "pop" of contrast can make the whole thing so much more compelling.

You should also check out the various Fair Isle groups on Ravelry - there are some amazing knitters out there!

matt said...

All said, you could have higher contrast without it being too busy. When I get my restocks, I'd be glad to look at colors we might have missed that would work. There was that porcelain clay color. It was the one that read almost white against the rest of your palette but was actually quite dark.

(Not-So) Cynical Gal said...

You are very brave. I am still really enjoying lace, colorwork is too much for now.

I love your book so much!

(formerly) no-blog-rachel said...

Happy belated Birthday! What a fab cake.

XO

GinkgoKnits said...

I could see having another green shade -- a brighter/lighter green might give the tradition pop without making it too much variation for everyday wear.


After all, with that red shirt in the photos you are obviously not as much of a shrinking violet with regards to clothing as many.

anne marie in philly said...

sweet jeebus, what a cake!

will be interested to see what kind of vest you can pull together with those marvy colors!

smooches! :-)

Dutch Jan said...

What a wonderfull Cake and what a pity this devoted fan of yours can't get a slice :-(
Anyway: I have met Alice in person. First she gave a lecture about her work which was senational with beautiful images from the Hebrides (were I have spend a wonderfull holiday years ago) and afterwards I followed a workshop which was so great (and I got private lesson from her because ) was the only male knitter in the group)We got little skeins of her yarn and you can see all colours from the hebrides in it
She is wonderfull, very sweet and has a great talent.
I am so pleased that her Fair Isle knittingbook will be reprinted :-)

Lynn said...

I have *three* or the originals, published in the 80's, and my children have been instructed not to get rid of any of my knitting books without checking on eBay first. Wouldn't do to tell them *which* ones are valuable, or just how valuable they are...

Love the colors you and Matt have chosen; those are some of my favorites, and I think they will play nicely together.

Great cake! happy belated! [When are you coming to North Texas?]

Linda said...

I like lace but nothing makes me as orgasmic as fairisle. Am I allowed to say that?

Alwen said...

I was gobsmacked to find that Dover is supposed to bring out her Book of Fair Isle Knitting in August!

Oh, yay! and that's the month we have the Michigan Fiber Festival, too. (Nothing like a load of woollies in August humidity.)

Jennifer said...

THAT's a cake???? No way. I thought it was a card. Very impressive. Happy, happy birthday.

Alice? I already pre-ordered the book on Amazon. Woohoo!

The Country Mouse said...

Understand that I am not dissing EZ (because I would surely be struck by lightning), but have you considered that the attraction to the class may have had anything at all to do with you?

sweetpea16 said...

Hiya,

I don't do FI myself, but I spend time on Fair Isle in 2007. In the little museum there's some very garish looking FI work that is quite old (imagine acid yellow, with tomato red, sky blue and a poop brown thrown in :)).

The other thing I wanted to tell you is that Jamieson's of Lerwick on Shetland (NOT Jamieson & Smith Woolbrokers also in Lerwick, but different company) in Lerwick still has fresh copies of some of the Starmore books. The website is here: http://jamiesonsshetland.co.uk/public/homepage.jsp and you can ask them about the books through the contact page. They used to work together with Ms Starmore for the yarn, but had a bit of a falling out and are 'stuck' with boxes of her books...

Cheers Eva

CarolineF said...

I have good news and good news.
1) Posters above are correct, Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting is going to be reissued by Dover later this year.
2) Ann Feitelson's book about Fair Isle knitting is at least as good and still available from Interweave. She has a lovely color sense and her pages of swatch photos are swoonworthy.

Donna Lee said...

I've seen a few starmore patterns and she has a genius for color and pattern. Now, I'll have to keep an eye out for that fabled Aug. release.

Helen said...

Oh great minds...I've been stashing and saving 4-ply tweeds for ages...and have decided a Fair Isle vest is in my near future. Ann Feitelson's book will be near to hand :-) and yes, Fair Isle Knitting is back in print August. That'll upset the folks who paid $200 on eBay...

TraceCub said...

I'd like to consider myself more "involved" in the nuances of the knitting world than my mother. After all, it was *me* who introduced her to Ravelry.

But she's been going on and on about Alice for the past six months or so and every time I think to myself, "Who?"

When she recently told me that she heard that a new Alice book would be released very soon, I thought it interesting.

Now that I see Franklin's excited - I'm very interested. ;) (Sorry Mom.)

AliP said...

GORGEOUS!!! And the cake and yarn palette are very attractive too.

Miss Sandra said...

Looking forward to some swatchiness Franklin.

Bobbi said...

I have an original copy of the Starmore book and just this past weekend noticed it is due to come out in August. Is there some kind of Starmore spell that swept the globe this past weekend? Has someone invented a "thought inducer"? Where's Dolores!?!

SunshineDreams said...

Happy birthday! The cake was just the best. :)

I've been hearing about Starmore for awhile, so it's nice to know that I may have a chance to see one of her books for myself. (That link from sweetpea16 was great too.)

I'm wondering if the 3rd color down might not function as your "pop" color? It seems to brigten when placed next to the darker color before it and still stands out well with the brighter color below it. How's it look next to the browns and greens?

FiberQat said...

Monitors can be deceiving so I'm trusting the Bears did you well in choosing colors. Color value does so much with Fair Isle and I'd hate to see such hard work turn to mush.

I would love to see Pacific Coast Highway reprinted. I have four Starmore books but the sweaters that strike me most are the ones based on the places I vacationed as a child. Oh pleez oh pleez oh pleez oh pleez . . .

Cynthia said...

Her Fair Isle book is the best of the bunch, IMO, because it's the one where she really explains principles of design instead of just presenting the finished works. But be sure to read Ann Feitelson's Art of Fair Isle Knitting, too; it takes the design & colorwork process even further.

Seanna Lea said...

I was looking at one of her books in the library (cables everywhere), and while I wasn't completely floored by the patterns I definitely coveted a sweater or two.

I'd love to see the fair isle book, because that is one of the areas I would love to do more with. I am finally feeling like I should do more than lace and cables.

geeky Heather said...

I'm so excited for you to knit the vest. I've never seen one of her books, but your description of it makes me want to...BAD!!!

SuzySZ said...

When i read the comment about copyright on the cake design the first thought was--Alice & her copyright issues. I kept reading and there she was!!! I have 4 of her books (before prices crazy))and would like more. Her patterns are so well designed and written with very concise directions that they are fun to do.Fair Isle can be beautiful but I have seen some that I wouldn't let even Dolores wear. BTW, Happy Birthday to you sir.

subliminalrabbit said...

first, happy belated b-day! second - so glad you found alice. alice is a magnficent thing. i say "thing" because she's so ethereal, she's defies categorization.

helenkosings said...

Heh heh heh...you thought lace was addicting/tortuous....Welcome to the Dark Side of knitting. Yes, those of us who are enslaved to the whims of the Marquis de Starmore. Colorwork and cables (or should I say "colourwork?) in an endlessly frustrating array of unavailable books, unavailable yarns now tantalizingly on display on Ravelry to appeal to the knitting masochist in us all. Ahhh...it hurts so good! nyuk nyuk nyuk

ponyknit said...

Happy Birthday! The cake was cute. Thanks for sharing!

KiltedScott said...

I never liked Fair Isle until I traveled western Scotland in autumn, and then I was struck by the beautiful similarities of the landscape and the more muted designs from the early 20th century. Suddenly I was hooked.

My first project, after the obligatory scarf, was a vest from Pacific Coast Highway. Starmour is such an aspiring designer.

Make sure to check out Ron Schweitzer's designs for Shetland 2000, too; symphonies in colours the sheep grew themselves.

dana said...

since i have been knitting for over twenty years, i have a fair number of alice's books (although my daughter currently has one or two of them.) at the moment, i prefer the cabled sweaters, but that preference can and does vary. i do plan, someday, to knit her oregon cardigan in the autumn colorway. and i want to knit st. brigid too.
i was able to take a class with her on one of her travels across the united states. she is an incredibly generous teacher. and she has great shoes.

Patti said...

Happy birthday (belated) I really enjoy your blog, you are such a good writer, and Knitter of course. Love the colors, can't wait to see the vest. You won't make us wait till it's done will you? We'll let sneak peeks along the way I hope!

Liz said...

If only I'd known, I could have brought Starmore's "Aran Knitting" when we met. And there'd have been all those security guards to witness the tussle.

Looking forward immensely to what you make with that - the colours are beautiful, and Fair Isle is definitely addictive. This is the real stuff, none of that KidSilkCrack rubbish...

Nonna Sue said...

So enjoyed meeting you on Sunday! I look forward to the blog and your wonderful style. Enjoy the fair isle! It's definitely addictive.

Cat Bordhi said...

Franklin, when I taught at Threadbear last year, Matt and Rob brought me to within inches of their front door (lovely river view!) and mentioned that inside they had the complete set of Alice Starmore books and then whisked me off for Thai food before I could pretend I needed to use the toilet and steal the books. Apparently they trust you more than me . . . or did you get away with a book or two? It sounds like you had a grand time and I am so glad.

Julie said...

Good luck with the vest! I know it will be a hit.

Anonymous said...

wow great post. I'm just about to do a tiny bit of fair isle(as a yoke) I bow to your bravery and know that the gnashing of teeth posts which will undoubtably follow will be worth it. Jacqueline X

dsn said...

I rarely remember buying a book, but I remember why I bought Alice Starmore's Fair Isle book. It was shortly after I had missed a buying a used book only to decide I wanted it and it was sold and out of print and in high demand. (I finally got it when it went back into print several years later.) I looked at Alice's book and decided that some day my knitting skill might reach that level and good knitting books were still rare at that time and not in high demand. I finally used it last year after dreaming over it for years.

maxine said...

Perhaps it has been said already, but inter library loan is a thing of beauty. I have seen every Starmore publication in this manner at least once. She is definitely worth the patience. I have even used a few of her charts to make pouch purses just to facilitate soaking in some of her brilliance. Inter. Library. Loan.

Eileen said...

The colorwork bug has been nibbling at me again...I cannot wait to see your swatches & vest.

Last year I made a 20s FI pattern for a skating scarf & hat that have since been lost in a move. :-(

I've got so much to learn about colorwork in general, but FI is first on the list!

Rana said...

Oh! I forgot one useful little trick for planning a Fair Isle colorway - and that's to photograph (or scan) the yarns in a swatch, then convert to black-and-white/greyscale. That allows you to check that you don't have two "contrasting" yarns in the same value, or a bunch of colors that are of the same value. (You want some variation.)

k1tbl said...

I am so excited that you have discovered AS. I started teaching Fair Isle classes in the 80's and her work was such and incredible inspiration. One of the things that is particularlly appealing to me, aside from the amazing color combinations, is that the sweaters work up into a very lightweight garment. I have since moved to San Diego and I can still wear the few that I have. Her cable books are amazing as well. Happy B-Day!

Sue said...

I was very excited to find a 1988 copy of Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting at a used book store in Wellfleet, MA several years ago. I paid $6.00 for it.

Every year I go back to the same store but haven't found any more great buys on knitting books.

I also found 4 Elizabeth Zimmermann books (3 signed), Barbara Walker's 3rd Treasury, and Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns in the used book section of my local library a couple of years ago for the grand total of about $2.59.

Happy belated Birthday!

swtrknttr said...

I have five Starmore books. Not that you would be jealous or anything...

Anonymous said...

Hey Franklin! Some of the "South-Sider" gals who meet at Nana's Knitting and the South Suburban SnB have made Alice's 'Fulmar'. They are presently casting on for her 'St. Brigid'. The patterns are incredible! The end results...breathtaking!
Bethany (yarnorgy on Ravelry)

Paris said...

Well go figure. I had no idea she was a Big Deal, but I borrowed the Art of Fair Isle from the local library the winter I was condemned to the frozen tundra and she inspired me to not just learn fair isle, but to design my own sweater. She's teh awesome, as the kids say.

For $50 I'll tell people which midwestern college town it was...(heh).

Cat said...

Sounds and looks like you had an awesome time. Belated Happy Birthday!!!

Oh I so love A.S' designs. One of these days I will own one of her books LOL.

Isn't Matt wonderful with colors. He put together the colors for my Charlotte's Web Shawl, Blue Bayou.
Charlotte's Web
Hugs!!!

knititch said...

i have to say that i have never read better patterns than alice's. they are immaculate. and her yarn is pretty darn nice too.

in my family we almost have a starmore each.

and her books are also lovely resourcebooks if you want to embark on the designer ship yourself.
there is a lovely childrens book too. if abigail needs a starmore.

Little Knittin' Kitten said...

You know I had a copy of Alice Staremore's Fair Isle knitting with me at the 1000 Knitters shoot on KIPD?! I had just paid someone $100 for it and she had dropped it off to me. Pitty it hadn't somehow come up in conversation; you could have had your eureka moment all the way back in June!

Karin said...

Ach! I feel awful for forgetting it was your birthday. I am sorry.
I really should be able to remember, since mine is on the 30th.

Happy belated Birthday, Franklin.

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