Best Knitting Books: Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting

 Alice Starmore’s Book of Fair Isle Knitting by Alice Starmore

When I bought this book, it had only recently come back into print, so I’ve had it a while.  I remember reading articles that mentioned it and how hard it was to get.

I suspect it was selling for a lot more than its list price for a while.  It was, and is, considered a knitting classic, an essential reference for any knitter who is at all serious about stranded colorwork.

The book starts with a fascinating history of the Shetland Islands. (They may be called the Hebrides now, I’m not sure.)   From there it goes to an encyclopedic collection of traditional Fair Isle charted stitch patterns.  It ends with several designs for traditional Fair Isle garments.

This is a sizable book.  It has over 200 pages and is approximately 8″ x 10.”  It’s also full of color photos, charted patterns & line drawings.  Plenty of eye candy.

This is the first Dover edition, which the publishers claim is only slightly modified from the original 1988 book.

The table of contents is surprisingly simple, only the following 6 chapters:

A Brief History

This chapter contains old and more modern maps & photos of the area where Fair Isle Knitting originated.  The people were and still are, dependent on fishing and farming for their local economy.
Although they are part of the Scotland, that’s a fairly recent development.

Fair Isle knitting played a surprisingly important role in the economy of the island. Shetland sheep produce a particularly soft wool, which the author attributes to the breed and their diet. Shetland wool is well suited to knitting, but not weaving, directly contributing to the success of knitters on the island.


This section contains a lengthy section on the types of charted stranded colorwork patterns, reading the charts, and the origin of traditional Fair Isle colorwork patterns. Some patterns are small, requiring only 4 rows to complete, while others are much larger, requiring over 20 rows.

The pattern library section is further broken down into the types of patterns explained earlier in the chapter:  Peerie, Border, Large Fair Isle, Allover, Norwegian Star, and Seeding patterns.


The author illustrates her technique for choosing colors for her stitch patterns and projects using color photos laid out next to real knitted samples of her stranded color knitting.

Ms. Starmore has been widely recognized for the beauty of her color combinations. The combination of her knitted samples and photos of the natural beauty that inspired her  clearly shows her color choosing techniques.


Like EZ, Ms. Starmore strongly favors circular knitting and all her techniques are for circular knitting.  This section is thorough and starts at the beginning with gauge, then casting on and moves into other useful techniques from there.

My favorite technique is the wound steek. Instead of knitting around and round, with only a marker to show where the steek will be, Ms. Starmore suggests winding several yarnovers.

I like it because it gives long enough yarn ends to easily weave in after the steek is cut and saves time compared to the knitted steek.  I have yet to work up the courage to do a steek, but I am growing more confident that I can do it without ruining all my hard work.

A Wardrobe of Patterns

A collection of basic, traditional Fair Isle garments, including:  vests, cardigans, sweaters, a tammy, mittens & gloves.  The designs are all somewhat dated and have an 80’s feel to them.  Making the vests, sweaters & cardigans a little shorter and closer fitting would probably make them feel more current.  Still, if you made one of each of them, you’d have an enviable cool weather wardrobe!

Creating Your Own Designs

Speaking of updating the designs, Ms. Starmore provides step by step directions on designing your own garment patterns.  Problem solved!

The book finishes with an index, a resource list, bibliography, etc.

Last but not least, it’s still in print!  You can get this book at Knitpicks.

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