Gingko is coming home tonight for a weekend visit! I haven't seen her for nearly 2 months, so I'm quite excited. I have orders to fix my special macaroni & cheese, to have The Daily Show: Indecision 2004 DVDs in house (the funniest and scariest take on the last national election; Jon Stewart might just be enough to get me to order cable) ready for family movie night, and to be ready to choose yarn for warm socks and a hat. A sigh of happiness...
I've spent the last few days sitting on the sofa and finger teasing locks of absolutely lovely chocolate brown Polwarth and then spinning away while listening to the entire extended Lord of the Rings trilogy. Because I haven't had much meaty talk about Fair Isle-type knitting in the last few months, I'll reprint here a little article I wrote for the Seattle Knitters' Guild two years ago:
Yarn for Color Work and Play
After my presentation last month, a number of people asked me about the yarn that I use for my color work.
Shetland jumper-weight yarn is the traditional choice for Fair Isle-type color work. This yarn is a 2-ply fingering weight 100% Shetland wool that is now put up in 25-gram/125 yard balls. Two Scottish mills provide the yarn I use: Jamieson’s Spinnery and Jamieson & Smith (J&S)—it is very easy to confuse the two, but they are totally separate companies, so stay alert! Shetland yarn is somewhat hairy, which makes it hold together very well in stranded color work (it differs from the Scandinavian yarns in this respect). It is usually knit between 6-8 stitches per inch. The fabric softens after washing and has a nice drape.
Why Use Shetland Yarn?
I chose this yarn for several reasons:
Weight: This weight is perfect for our Northwest weather. I want to be able to wear my sweaters indoors as well as outdoors!
Lots of colors: If you want to play with colors, well, you need a lot of colors to play with! The two Scottish mills provide more than 300 shades between them. In general, J&S colors tend to be more muted and heathery; Jamieson’s are more jewel-like and saturated.
Stable production: I wanted yarns that would be around in a few years so the experiments I do today will still be valuable in 5 years.
Reasonable cost: Unlike fashion yarns, Shetland wool does not cost the earth.
Versatile stash: Unused yarn just becomes part of my crayon box of colors. Because dye lots don’t matter in stranded color work, I can use even the smallest leftovers in future projects.
Bonus: I didn’t anticipate this, but because Shetland yarn is so fine, a considerable stash will hide nicely under your bed!
Where to Find Shetland Yarn
[2005 Note: this is definitely NOT a comprehensive list--PLEASE patronize your local shop if possible!]
It is quite a commitment for a shop to carry the entire range of Shetland colors. Check with your local shops to see what they stock—many carry a few colors if not the entire range.
Two Swans Yarns, a local mail-order shop [in Redmond, Washington] stocks the full range of Jamieson’s yarns. They can be contacted at www.twoswansyarns.com, phone 888-830-8269.
J&S yarns are sold directly from the mill: www.shetland-wool-brokers.zetnet.co.uk, phone +44-(0)1595-693579, fax +44-(0)1595-695009. Delivery is amazingly quick. Schoolhouse Press carries the full range of J&S yarns, although at a higher price due to import duties charged to shops: www.schoolhousepress.com, phone 1-800-YOUKNIT. They are also quick to ship.
Harrisville Yarns in New Hampshire spins Shetland-style yarns, as does Bartlett Yarns in Maine. I have not used these yarns (yet!) because they do not come in the wide color range I look for.
Building a Crayon Box
I built my crayon box of yarns slowly, starting with the leftovers from a few projects, and then I began to purchase 3 or 4 hanks of yarn every time I went to my local yarn shop. (I keep a list of the yarns I have already in my purse so I can avoid duplication.) I still add to my collection every month!
One way to build your crayon box of colors quickly is by ordering a manufacturer’s entire range and splitting the skeins among four or five people. Purchasing one each of every J&S color (157 of them!) directly from the mill would cost approximately $380 plus shipping; Jamieson’s yarns (148 of them!) cost more, so you would spend between $577-680, depending on your source. (Please note that Jamieson’s has announced a price increase set for this fall, and J&S prices are tied to the value of the dollar overseas.) Each person could be responsible for splitting some of the skeins into equal little skeins, and voila!, you would have a full range of colors at a reasonable cost.
I look on my considerable number of balls of Shetland yarn as an artist’s resource. Even un-knit, they give me hours of pleasure as I dream new patterns and plot new garments. And the knitting itself is a joy—fine yarns at a tight gauge might seem daunting at first, but they are surprisingly easy to knit with, easy on your hands and wrists as well. There’s no need to hurry at all, just enjoy making something that reflects your innermost ideas of beauty and comfort. You get a lot of hours of knitting enjoyment from your investment.