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The Real Fair-Isle Sweater

December 14, 2010

With the resurgence of “classic” and “traditional,” along with the average 20 year cycle for something to come back into fashion, it’s no surprise that Fair Isle knits are in every store this season. And with good reason–they’re colorful and can be worn well after most holiday sweaters are put back into storage with the Christmas lights.

However, pretty much every single sweater you see should truthfully be described as “Fair Isle-inspired.” True Fair Isle sweaters are quite rare and are handknit in Fair Isle, Scotland. According to a recent article from the Economist, only 4 of the 70 people on the isle actually knit. The output is around 30 sweaters, 200 hats, and 30 scarves a year. So chances are that Fair Isle vest you scored at Uniqlo or Ralph Lauren isn’t the real deal.

Now, slightly easier to come by are Shetland Fair Isle knits. The Shetland Islands are a group of islands 25 miles away, and depending on your point-of-view, Fair Isle either does or does not belong to this chain of islands. The website Thistle and Broom sells Shetland Fair Isle knits, made by a few artisans. I think you actually commission a sweater when you order. It ain’t cheap, but it looks pretty warm and has a unique pattern you won’t find on the Made in China sweater at the mall, and should last a lot longer too.

One Comment
  1. December 14, 2010 5:04 am

    Good stuff to know. The real deal usually is hard to come by. The 20 cycle is quite cool, eh?
    I was looking at family pix from the mid 80s last week and there i was in a fair isle sweater.

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