Meg Swanson's Fairisle Slipover

Back in the day before YouTube instructional videos, I wanted to learn stranded knitting and steeking. As strange as it might sound today, almost no one knew what steeking was and Fairisle knitting was definitely out of fashion. I can remember numerous discussions here on MWK about these two subjects. At that time there were only two available videos (VHS, of course!): one from Philosopher's Wool and the other from Meg Swanson. I bought both and through them began my colour kntting history.

Meg Swanson's video came with a pattern for a slipover. I'd forgotten all about it until a while ago and I contacted her to see if I could get a copy and the yarns to make it. What you see here is that garment she makes in the instructional video.

The pattern is an exceptionally traditional Fair Isle OXO pattern with smallish peeries between the wide pattern bands. The 6 colours are muted but warm and beautiful. The challenge of this garment is the exceptionally long patterning of 32 stitches which my demented brain was severally challenged to remember. Each band has the exact same colourway repeat but each band has a completely different pattern! The muted colours plus the variety of different OXO patterns makes for an intriguing looking garment. The basque is corrugated ribbing as are the arm and neck bands.

The knitting wools are Jamieson Spindrift. The gauge is 28 stitches/10cm, obtained on 4 mm needle. Trying to force this 2 ply wool to make a decent fabric at this gauge is difficult at best. My chief complaint with the pattern is the flimsy knitted fabric I was able to eek out. This knitting wool does best (for me) at a 32 stitches/10cm gauge on 3.25 mm needles. It would have been much better to have used a DK weight Spindrift wool.

It took me 4 weeks of casual knitting to complete this which really isn't much of an accomplishment since there are no sleeves. As usual, it is knitted in the round with steeks and the shoulders are Kitchenered. I decided to vary my steeks in this garment. I reduced them from 12 stitches to 8 stitches so the selvage was narrower. I also gave the crocheted steek reinforcement a try because I wanted to improve the look of the edge selvage band. I usually just do a whip stitching which is very quickly done; the crocheted edging was time-consuming. Even single crochet is a challenge for me but I persevered and I like the finished edge. In the future, I'll have to pay more attention to how carefully I knit the steek so I can do a cleaner cut up the centre. I've included a photos before and after cutting. It really is an improvement over whip stitching.

Another change I made was the stitch markers. I find the easiest way to do a pattern is to mark off each repeat (in this case, every 32 stitches). In the past I used thin plastic markers but I thought that they always left a tell-tale “line” even after washing and dressing the garment. This time, I made markers from a plied embroidery thread (not the multiple stranded DMC kind) and there are no “lines” evident. I am pleased with this improvement.

There are errors in the pattern and it wasn't written in a user-friendly style. In fairness to Meg Swanson, I am certain that she never intended for it to be marketed in this format; it is not available on the Schoolhouse Press website. I will let her know my findings. Without wanting to overstate my own abilities, I want to advise that this pattern is not for beginners of stranded knitting. It was challenging for me and I do only Fairisle garments and socks.

I am happy to share this with you. I hope it will inspire others to take up colour stranding knitting in the round. Also, if there are any other New Zealanders active on this site, please contact me. I would enjoy knowing other knitters here in Middle Earth.


HuskerChub's picture

Great job! This is something that I learned a few years agofrom Rick Mondragon in a steeking class. Knit the steek alternating colors, which it appears you did. As you knit the first and last stitch column of the steek, twist the stitches i.e. knit into the back of them and lastly do a crocheted chain up thru the centers of the twisted columns (which it appears you did). The key to this is the twisted stitches. Because of the way a twisted stitch "huggs in" on itself when pulled instead of pulling open like a regular stitch, it makes the crocheted chain even more stable. Just my $.02.

kiwiknitter's picture

This is most interesting! I'm not certain I follow the technique completely but I do agree that the twisted stitch would most likely be more secure; I have to do a test swatch! When you talk about the first and last stitch column, do you mean the entire steek or the two parts? I will send you a message to discuss this further.

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

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Absolutely astounding.

Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

ronhuber's picture

The vest is gorgeous. Have you ever tried just cutting open the steek without reinforcement. I gave up sewing and crocheting the steek years ago and find the steek lies better without the extra edging. It is also much more flexible when blocking.

kiwiknitter's picture

I sewed the first steek I ever did on the sewing machine (never again!) and then went to hand stitching them. If I used Shetland knitting wools I could leave it unreinforced since they are so "sticky" and bond immediately. Currently, I'm working with wool/cotton/silk/synthetic blends yarns right now and I wouldn't cut this steek without reinforcing it. In addition, I think the number of stitches in the steek would influence if I would reinforce or not. I like the narrower selvage band on this garment so I won't go back to a wider steek. I suppose "better safe than sorry" is always lurking in the back of my mind!

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

Bill's picture

Very beautiful, Jesse!

A most impressive piece of work, Jesse. Congratulations.

Thinman's picture

Wow, what a lovely piece of work. It looks great on you too!

Bill's picture

Great to see you here again, Bill!

kiwiknitter's picture

Thanks, Bill. Nice to see you again!

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

CLABBERS's picture

Fairisle always impresses me. You did a beautiful job with an enormous amount of precision.