The Most Bewilderingly Intricate Fair Isle Pullover

Norma Shearer 1930s

About a year ago I spotted this fantastic photo of one of my style icons, Norma Shearer, wearing a wonderful Fair Isle waistcoat. I instantly fell in love with it, and the whole ensemble, and it set me on a journey to find the perfect piece of Nordic knitwear for my wardrobe.

I’ve always loved Fair Isle knits, they have that feeling of a far off, cold and mysterious land full of rugged men in fisherman’s jumpers drinking amber coloured whisky to keep themselves warm. Fair Isle tank tops, or pullovers as I have been corrected, however, make me think of the 1930s and 40s. Everyone seemed to have one back then because it was a great way to create a new garment using all of those leftover bits of yarn stashed away. And what could be more make do and mend than that?

In my endeavour to find one I liked I went through all of the knitwear rails in charity shops, and I mean all of them, the women’s, men’s and children’s. I even trawled eBay, Etsy and all of those lovely vintage fairs and flea markets I spend so much time at. One was bound to turn up eventually, right? Wrong. I couldn’t find one anywhere that actually fitted or was to my liking. Then, last August during a Twitter chat with Mim at Crinoline Robot she offered to make me one, all I had to do was find a pattern and supply the wool. Well, you can just imagine the squealing!

1930s Fair Isle outfit

And here it is! Isn’t it incredible? The pattern I eventually chose was actually a modern one, the Debbie Bliss Fairisle Tank Top, because I absolutely loved the design on it. A lot of the vintage ones just didn’t excite me the way this one did. And, of course, the styling on the cover image of the lady wearing a white shirt and tie with it was so reminiscent of the Norma Shearer picture.

I actually wanted to photograph this pullover very much in the style of the Norma Shearer photo but good weather days have been few and far between up until now. So in a panic on Good Friday, when the sun was out and my resident photographer (my Mum!) was visiting, I hurriedly put everything on and we made our way to a sunny spot. I now wish I’d put my 1930s white linen skirt on with it, but I rather like that the burgundy of the skirt is picked up in the Fair Isle pattern.

Fair Isle pattern detail

1930s Fair Isle outfit

The yarn that was used was the recommended Debbie Bliss Blue Faced Leicester DK which is a gorgeous 100% wool. No synthetics here and it even smells of sheep! I changed some of the colours to the ones used on the original design because I knew I wanted to highlight burgundy more, rather than the burnt orange, as it’s a colour I wear a lot more. So, we swapped the two colours around to make the burgundy the most prominent colour. The royal blue in the original seemed to be out of stock everywhere, so I opted for a more turquoise blue instead. I actually think the changes work really well and I much prefer the colour combination to the original now.

The only other adjustment we made was the finished length. The original one sits quite low on the hips and I wanted one that was more of a length worn during the 30s and 40s. I did initially decide that a waist length one would be best but, after looking at a lot of photos online, I knew I wanted the patterned section to finish at the waist and the ribbed edge to sit just below. I think it’s ended up the perfect length for me and looks fantastic with both skirts and wide length trousers (the Land Girl look is a must!).

1930s menswear as womenswear

Fair Isle pullover back

Outfit Details

Fair Isle Pullover – Mim, Crinoline Robot
White Shirt – Next
Vintage Olive Green Wool Tie – The Siren Vintage
Burgundy Skirt From 1930s Pattern – Made by Me
Two Tone 1930s Reproduction Shoes – The Swing Dance Store
Sunglasses – eBay
1930s Jade Earrings – Gifted

I am in absolute awe of Mim’s work, I cannot believe how intricate this design is and I actually feel rather guilty not going for a much simpler one! She is amazingly talented and I’m so chuffed I have such a fabulous Fair Isle pullover that will last me for years to come. So, mega, mega big thanks to you Mim! xx

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

28 Comments

    • Thank you Norma! I love that, although it’s a modern pattern, it still looks vintage.

  1. Fab fairisle – the length is perfect for you – love the skirt too – great colour

    • Thank you Emma! I’m actually going to feature the skirt in a later post which is why I’ve barely said anything about it here.

  2. You look so lovely in that fabulous knit! Super photos that really let us see a close-up of all that hard work, and I love the laughing shot of you, and the last shot as I can look at your shoes!

    Knitting baffles me completely, so I too am in awe of the needle skills of Mim. What a lady.

    xx

    • I always forget to photograph my shoes close-up. I must remember that next time! Yes, knitting baffles me too and I have absolutely no idea how Mim did this, it’s just so amazing, even inside! xx

      • I did it SLOWLY!

        I don’t knit for many people as I always worry they’ll get fed up of waiting or go off the design by the time I’ve finished, but as you’re a dressmaker I knew you’d understand the work involved and be prepared to wait.

        I love the way you’ve styled it, it looks so lovely on you. You have no idea how worried I was that the fit might be off! That’s the thing I find hardest, getting the sizing spot-on.

        • Yes, but you did it so beautifully, so it was worth waiting for! Thank you so much, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. xx

    • I’m utterly useless at knitting so I’m in awe of anyone who can do it. Blimey, that sheep pullover is absolutely amazing! I can’t believe she made the yarn from scratch, now that is a skill to have.

  3. Oooohh, it’s so swoon worthily incredible (seriously, my knees buckled at the mere sight!). What an immensely thoughtful thing of Mim to do. The end result is breathtaking and looks so fantastic on you, sweet Cate. I want a Fair Isle sweater or pullover of my own all the more now.

    ♥ Jessica

    • Isn’t it? I couldn’t believe how incredibly it was once I finally got my hands on it. Mim is an absolute star and I’ll be forever grateful to her. xx

  4. What a wonderful pullover. I’m absolutely in awe of Mim’s skills, and you look stunning in it. xxx

    • Aw, thank you Ann! Yes, I’m still baffled by how anyone could actually knit such a complicated design. Knitting is a complete mystery to me!

  5. Mim is an absolute star, I love your colour choices and the length is just right.

    • Isn’t she just? Yes, every time I look at the photos I so glad I went with the burgundy colour. It looks so much better than the original.

  6. Gorgeous!! What a fantastic Pullover, I really love the colours you have chosen so pretty and Mim has done a smashing job knitting it, hats off to her, all that colour work is quite an achievement! I am actually am surprised to learn that it is knitted from a modern pattern as it looks so perfectly 30’s, I love the way you have styled it and that woolen tie is pretty special too! xx

    • Thank you Wendy! She really is a very talented lady, isn’t she? Yes, I absolutely love this tie and knew I had to buy it the most I saw it. I have a few wool ties as I hate the shiny modern ones, but I’m on the hunt for black one. They seem to be really hard to find. I also really want a tweed bow tie but it has to be one I can tie myself, not a pre-bowed one. xx

  7. SUCH a beautiful pullover. I am enamored. Also, those shoes! I’ve been looking at them for so long to wear to swing dancing, are they comfortable? They look lovely on you!

    • Yes, they are very comfortable and are actually designed specifically for swing dancing. They have a velvety type fabric on the soles for dancing but I just fell in love with them and wanted to wear them for every day wear. I will need to get them resoled properly at some point but so far they’ve held up well. xx

      • Right, that suede sole is the best for dancing! I’ve heard they hold up pretty well even without resoling for daily wear!

  8. Beautiful! I’m attracted to fair isle too but I haven’t got the patience!

    • I haven’t got the know-how, let alone the patience! Although if I did knit I probably would want to do things that were quick and easy so I could finish them off and wear them straight away.

  9. Mim is such a fantastic knitter and this is a beautiful example of her work. It must have taken her hours! It looks lovely on you. I can see that it will be a very versatile piece to have in your wardrobe.

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