Help with yarn for first Fair isle project

So I am finally taking the step to a simple fair isle project and want to go to WEBS this weekend for the yarn. Question is, the pattern calls for a DK weight (it is vintage 1948 sweater vest/cardigan set). Does the yarn have to be "stiff" (like Lopi) or could I use the new Berroco Ultra Alpaca 50% alpaca/50% wool? It's a beautiful yarn but from what I have been reading, might it be too soft for stitch definition? No steaks involved in this pattern (front/back/2 sleeves).
Can any of you accomplished guys help me please?


Celowin's picture

I'm just starting work on my first fair isle project, so definitely wait for more experienced advice before buying your yarn. Still, I've noticed some things already that I may as well share.

I don't think that the softness is going to be a big problem. In fact, given most fair isle designs, you want the colors to appear as if they meld together. What is much more important is how "clingy" the yarn is. You'll have a lot of ends to weave in, and yarn that binds to itself will make that much easier. Further, you want the floats to
lay flat to the back of the work, which will happen automatically with the right yarn. I would think a 50% wool/50% alpaca blend would be fine, but you might want to ask the sales clerk his or her opinion.

Check out kiwiknitter's blog. He does the most fantastic colour work. I haven't done stranded work for a few years, but I never found stitch definition a problem in 'soft' DK wool.

Kerry's picture

I've only ever used Jamieson & Smith wool from Lerwick in Scotland, and I know what you mean by 'stiff', but it does soften somewhat with washing.....but never as soft as alpaca/wool. J&S are pleasant people to deal with and orders are sent promptly, taking only a week from there to me in Australia.

Try not to knit too tightly as this can pull the loops of yarns tighter on the wrong side and the result is a jumper that doesn't fit. I speak from experience ;-)

Good luck.

ronhuber's picture

I have used only Jamieson and Smith as well. It is, of course, the real stuff that the original Fair Isle sweaters were made from. The wool has a wonderful earthy quality and steeks can be cut without anything being done to them. The floats lie flat and because the wool clings to itself, the colour work is something that can not be matched by other wool. The wool softens up with washing and I use a good hair conditioner in the rinse. Their phone number is on their website and they are wonderful to deal with. Fair Isle should be done in the round so that you can see what is going on and so that your stranding is standard. Rather difficult to achieve when knitting and purling. Perhaps you could adapt your pattern.

kiwiknitter's picture

Everyone has given you good advice. I think the difference is that the DK will not give the stitch definition that the 2-ply/4-ply will but that has to do with the size of the stitches.

I find it difficult to knit FI flat because when purling back I can't read the pattern from the reverse side of the work. I weave instead of doing the floats since I can't get the floats to work right for me. But, that's a matter of preference and practice.

I love the J&S knitting wools and as Kerry says, they are lovely to deal with. The wools seem to have some flexibility so the garment can be blocked larger or left the size it is. It does feel a bit rough until it's washed but it is comfortable to wear. It is not alpaca so don't expect it to be super soft.

The one piece of advice I would give to you (and this is very rarely mentioned in knitting books) is to keep the design colour strand next to the work and the background colour strand over it *all* the time. If you don't the pattern stitches will not be well-defined; if you vary it you will achieve variations in shading that you wished you hadn't done. I always carry the pattern strand in my left hand and the background strand in my right (you can do it as you please) but then I know which strand must always be next to the knitting and which runs over the top of it.

Best wishes with your first project! I am so happy that I took the plunge and gave FI a go. I'm now hooked on colour stranded knitting!

Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.  ~Billy Connolly