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Authentic? Classic? Does it Matter?

I recognize that the question of authenticity in knitting patterns is a complicated and potentially loaded questions. It is one that this blog will return to (more than once, I suspect). Indeed, there is a longer essay in the making on what "authenticity" means, but for the moment, I want to just look at the pattern that will be first big knit of The SheepSaver Project, Tilghman Island by Ron Schweitzer.

Tilghman Island was part of the first Shetland 2000 pattern collection. Designed to evoke the places and spirt of the Chesapeake Bay I would describe it this way. "A boxy all over-stranded pattern in five natural colors of Shetland wool." Yet, a traditional Shetland knitter, looking at this pattern, might not immediately give a yell of recognition (then again, she might). In The Vintage Shetland Project Susan Crawford tells the story of Doris Hunter and the naturally colored jumper she made for her fiancé', Ralph.

It was a design that "was the height of fashion in the 1920s...a striped corrugated ribbed welt, followed by a tube of varying OXO motifs, interspersed with smaller peerie motifs." (p.71). Looking at the pictures in Susan's book and on her website, both of the original and her re-creation, this is a style of pattern that a Shetlander might recognize as "authentic"

But as Susan makes beautifully clear in this same book, if by authentic we mean knit by Shetlanders in Shetland, then there is no single style of stranded color work that is "authentic."

Mary Jane Mucklestone in Fair Isle Weekend offers some guiding principles for what constitutes classic Fair Isle Design (pp 10-13). Let's consider how Tilghman Island lines up with those those principles.

  1. Knit with Shetland Wool. Yes. These patterns were in fact sold in such a way as to make Shetland Wool the default choice.

  2. Knit in the Round. Yes again. Unlike other so-called Shetland patterns of around the same time, these patterns were written to be worked in the round and were so confident in the technique, that the instruction is merely "set the steeck stiches" and "cut steek".

  3. Geometric Pattern Motifs If curves are geometric then maybe.

  4. Pattern Motifs in Horizontal Bands. Yes.

  5. Many colors. Is five many? This pattern was written to use the five colors that were initially available in Shetland 2000.

  6. Never more than two colors in the same row. Yes

  7. Frequent color changes. Yes, In my next post, I will talk a bit about the charts for these patterns and how they were presented, but a close look at the, shows that no color is used form more than six rows in succession.

  8. Colors arranged symmetrically. A close look at the picture of the sleeve above, shows that both the background and foreground colors are symmetrical.

Additionally, the pattern makes use of large motifs that are almost XOX in style, with peerie motifs, albeit untraditional ones that look more like links in a chain than flowers etc.

Of course, at the end of the day, it may not be important whether the pattern is "authentic." Neither Ron nor Betty ever claimed that it was. Rather, the pattern is an example of classic Fair Isle principles being employed to evoke an island much closer to the designer.

Coming Next: Making a Readable Chart

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