I am singing at the Presbytery meeting tonight, which means that I will be out every night this week. There is also work and the daily gym visit. So I will not be doing much knitting this week. Instead, I will be making decisions. I have to decide what yarn to use for the third DNA scarf, and what pattern to use for the fisherman’s Wool-ease hat.

The hat question is complicated by the fact that it is for a guy. #1 son has already told me that he thinks the DNA scarf is feminine. “Guys don’t wear scarves any more,” he said. This surprised me — and perhaps it will not be true, since the intended recipient lives in the frozen North. But this makes it especially important that the hat should be masculine. Manly, even.

So what kind of hats do guys wear? And of that group of hats, which can be made from fisherman’s-colored Wool-ease? And will coordinate with the DNA scarf?

Really, though, I will be thinking about Fair Isle. I have actually been thinking about Fair Isle for weeks. This should be no surprise. I have just finished an essentially cream-colored scarf and am about to start another one. I have been cabling steadily since July. Of course I am thinking about Fair Isle.

Many people use the term “Fair Isle” for all multicolored knitting. Strictly speaking, it refers only to a particular technique developed on Fair Isle in the mid-1800s. I will now be like Leonidas and give you a nice link to learn more about the island itself: http://www.fairisle.org.uk/

Fair Isle knitting involves bands of designs knitted with only two colors at a time, but changing those colors every row. If you begin with a red background and a blue design, for example, then the next row will have a blue background and a white design, and the next row a white background and a green design, and so forth till you run out of colors. Traditionally, a Fair Isle knitter would do the one pattern and then move on to another, and so on up the sweater, without repeating. However, modern Fair Isle knitting is often more planned-out than this.

One old story was that the knitters of Fair Isle copied the patterns from the sweaters of dead Spaniards who washed up on their shores. People like this story because it is gory and romantic, but actually it appears that the inspiration for Fair Isle knitting was a woven shawl worn by a visitor in about 1856. The early examples of this knitting were done in bright colors, but in the ’20s there was a vogue for natural wool colors. Now people use all sorts of colors.

Fair Isle knitters have not stuck to a few old patterns, but have copied designs from other traditions, and from linoleum for that matter. I have a nice book called New Designs in Fair Isle Knitting that has designs of octopi, bumblebees, comets, and rocket ships. The Celtic Collection has knots and creatures reminiscent of the Book of Kells.

Traditional Fair Isle patterns showed stars, trees, anchors, and abstract geometric designs. But it is clear that Fair Isle knitters have always been inventive when it comes to their patterns. Would they not, had they thought of it, have used octopi in their designs?

It is the same question that comes up in music. Wouldn’t Bach have used the new stops on the organ if he had had access to them? Wouldn’t Handel have had legato passages if it had occured to him? We have a little friendly controversy about this in our Messiah, between the organist and the director. So we are going to hide tambourines in our robes and, at our first rehearsal with this organist, pull them out for “His Yoke is Easy.” I am looking forward to this.

I am also looking forward to making a Fair Isle project — I’m leaning toward Alice Starmore’s “Erin”, but I have plenty of time to think about it. Because I have a lot of Christmas presents yet to knit. It will probably be January before I can, with a clear conscience, turn to Fair Isle.