Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Review: Alice Starmore's Book of Fairisle Knitting

(Reclaimed from Blogjob: Alice StarmoreFair Isle knittinghand knitted sweaters for womenhand knittinghistory of knittingJade Starmorenew book,stitch patterns for knitting design.)

Not a Fair Trade Book...this one's been reprinted, so it qualifies as a New Book. Buy it as a New Book to encourage this author--if you can--here:
(However, since Walmart.com doesn't seem to be working today, I'm going to go ahead and post the Amazon link tooI don't want to send anybody to a web site that's "unresponsive" for 40 minutes, the way Walmart.com seems to be.)
Title: Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting 
Author: Alice Starmore
Date: 2009
Publisher: Dover
ISBN: 0486272183
Illustrations: full-color photos on almost every page
Between 1981 and 2000, Alice Starmore was a superstar knitter/designer/writer. Reviewer Carol LaBranche asked, "When does Alice Starmore sleep?" Apparently this Scottish sister of one of Vogue Knitting's editors had done a lot of advance preparation, because when her books started selling in the U.S., each year seemed to bring out a new book filled with historical research and travel pictures and knitted masterpieces that seemed likely to take a year, apiece, just to knit. Then Alice Starmore retired, handing down the knitting business to her daughter Jade. Or did she? They still have a web site:
Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting was perhaps her most popular book, the first to go into reprints. There are several reasons:
  • It's a beautiful book, full of historical models, landscapes, and examples of lovely multicolor knitting. This was one of the first examples of the knitting book that was designed not to be carried around in a purse or overcoat pocket, but to sit on the coffee table and be admired by knitters and non-knitters alike, as a work of art. And it was one of the best in that genre.
  • The full-length sweater patterns in this book are not "classic Fair Isle" work, nor is Alice Starmore a "real" Fair Islander (her home is on a different island off the Scottish coast)...but who cares? They're part of a living, growing tradition. They're all knitted in fairisle stitch patterns, mostly knitted in real Shetland wool, even if the colors reflect 1980's fashions rather than the tradition of using naturally dyed and undyed wool from naturally multicolored sheep. Most of them have the classic fairisle sweater shapes. Only a purist could grumble. Most readers' only complaint about the sweater patterns in Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting was that there aren't more of them. Well...after knitting even three of these wonderful things, a knitter might want to design fresh variations...
  • The book includes an easily scanned/copied collection of classic fairisle stitch patterns. Knitters can tuck copies into their knitting bags, literally cut them up and paste them together to lay out new combinations on paper, or scan them into a computer and play with them on the screen. Not all of the classic patterns are here, but most of them are, and you can figure out how to add the others--even the swastikas, if you're willing to readmit them to your list of classic patterns.
  • There's lots of history, color theory, and technical tips to help you play with the patterns in your own way. If you want to design new tote bags and afghans that use fairisle stitch with chunky acrylic yarns, this book explains how that can be done.
  • And, frankly, for this amount of information in a Dover paperback, these days $18 is a bargain...considering that, if you knit even one of the sweaters in real Shetland wool, you should be able to sell it for $180 or more.
I'm not planning to part with my original hardcover copy. Frankly, Gentle Readers, the suggestion for this review came from Prosperent, when they invited readers to play with "mix" ad-generating software. Well, generating ads is their job and does not overlap in any way with my talent, but I had to try it. I threw in a picture of the original edition of this book from Amazon. Prosperent doesn't work with Amazon. Prosperent works with Walmart.com. The new Dover edition is available at Walmart.com. Walmart.com is not a functional web site, at least not today. Nevertheless, a new edition of Alice Starmore's Book of Fair Isle Knitting is good news and I'd like to encourage any knitter who doesn't already own this book to buy it.
You can buy the yarn you'll need to knit the sweaters, too, or to knit other traditional lightweight pieces the way Fair Islanders traditionally did--very light knitting, seven or eight stitches to the inch:
If you browse, you'll find plenty of the heavier yarns of which U.S. discount department stores and hobby stores are full, too, but a full range of colors in lightweight yarn can be hard to find in the United States.