three sweaters


I thought I’d show you my three new sweaters! First up is this lovely Fairisle yoke (bought for £16 on eBay).


This is a garment of a kind that is still being made in Shetland, and that you can find in Lerwick today in shops like The Spider’s Web. I think its a lovely example. The body has been knitted by machine, and the yoke inserted afterward by hand.


The blending of the colours on the yoke is beautiful, and the hand-finishing is exemplary, particularly around the steeked opening for the back neck.


The garment is in great condition and shows no signs of wear at all. I fully intend to wear it!

Next up is a sweater that – shock horror – I just knitted for myself.


This garment is knitted in some wonderful yarn that I hand-dyed myself at a workshop at Lilith‘s studio four years ago – Bowmont Braf 4 ply. Words cannot express how much I love this yarn – it is springy and sheepy and robust . . . it has a deeply matt, slightly felted appearance, but retains a bouncy hand. Dyed up on it, colours appear soft and muted, as if already worn for a long time. Plus, the yardage is incredible. What’s not to like? Well, only the fact that its long-discontinued. (If anyone knows of a supplier of bowmont fibre please do let me know!). Lilith was very taken with the yarn as well, and our dyeing workshop was the beginning of our collaboration on the Fugue design, which she dyed up as a kit in her glorious Dreich and Lon Dubh colourways. Coincidentally, I know that Lilith is currently knitting an Ursula with her secret Bowmont Braf stash, and I can’t wait to see it.

Anyway, back to the knitting.

As a designer, I think its important to get one’s head around different garment-construction methods – I learned to design yoked sweaters by knitting yoked sweaters – and though I’m familiar with many different top-down sleeve constructions, I’d never tried Susie Myers’ contiguous method, which (essentially) allows you to produce a seamless, top-down, set-in sleeve without the need for picking up stitches around the armscye (which is my usual method). I read the contiguous ‘recipe’, browsed the contiguous threads on Ravelry, purchased a couple of Ankestrik‘s excellent patterns for informed reading, and decided to attempt the method by knitting a sleeve which was a combination of saddle and set-in. The idea was to familiarise myself with the contiguous method’s basic principles, while turning my precious stash of Bowmont Braf into a simple, loose fitting sweater that I could enjoy wearing everyday.


I’m happy with the sleeve shaping . . .


. . .and indeed with the sweater (though this photograph, snatched between rain showers probably doesn’t suggest it). As my stash of Bowmont Braf was limited, I weighed the remaining yarn and divided it in two before starting the sleeves. This is a pottering-about, dog-walking sweater that makes good use of my lovely Bowmont Braf, and has taught me a bit about a different way of constructing a sleeve top-down! I really like it.

Finally, this amazing find came into my possession for a mere £1.04 via eBay.


It’s a beautiful hand-knit vintage Fairisle gansey in natural Shetland-sheep shades. From the way the yarn is spun, I’d say it was probably knitted post-war. The eBay listing described the garment as having been purchased many years ago in an ‘exclusive Edinburgh boutique’. I would speculate that this ’boutique’ was a shop that once stood in Morningside, whose owner sourced garments directly from Shetland knitters, and who has donated several items to the Shetland Museum. This is a really well-made sweater.

Like many such garments I’ve seen, inside the ends have simply been knotted and left to felt


The gansey has clearly been worn a lot, but is still in great condition. The only area that needs repair is this one cuff.


And as Mel said to me when taking these photos yesterday, “it fits like it was made for you.”


I’ll take good care of it.

63 thoughts on “three sweaters

  1. Those are all so beautiful! I am working on Ursula now – though I’ve put it down for a moment so I can get some work done for a change – and this just makes me want to knit again all the more. So happy.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Treasures! I could use one of these this morning. I’m back in the U.S., getting ready to teach a workshop by the Maryland shore, and it’s chilly. Chillier (although not wetter) than Shetland, Orkney, and mainland Scotland have been over the past few weeks.

  3. Beautiful jumpers – I love the vintage hand knit and am thinking of all the care that went into it’s creation. How lucky that you found it and will continue to care for it, I’m sure the original knitter would be so pleased to know her work was still being enjoyed after so many years.

  4. ..envy you your tiddly dimensions….I think easing my rather more generous chesty proportions into vintage sweaters would definitely be a bad thing – for my appearance and the longevity of said woolies. Like the plain sweater – much as I like patterns, I don’t love the idea of wearing them on my body!

  5. Well, how about that… the fair isle jumper really does look as though it were made for you. Even better it has been settled in already. I am so pleased that all these great finds are in your care – I cannot think of anyone better for them to find a home with. I hope you have some happy times wearing them.

  6. My chin more or less hit the desk when I read the price of that beautiful natural colour jumper!!! It’s stunning, I don’t suppose there are any more photos around we could look at? Showing the construction and that?

    I love those yoked sweaters too, have a feeling I shall be making myself one at some point in my near future.

    You are a canny shopper (as well as good knitter)

  7. Wow, lovely, I’m off to e-bay right now (tho’ I suppose we shall be in competition!). Yes, tiddly dimensions do help (so we won’t be in competition, because you could fit two of you into a sweater for me… sigh). Love the patterns on these, and the button up back.

  8. Such lovely sweaters!! Thanks so much for sharing. I do not know Bowmont Braf but Lesley Prior at Devon Fine Fibers has Bowmont Merino sheep, wool, and yarn.

  9. Beautiful jumpers. I admit to liking the Bowmont Braf one most of all, mostly for the shaping and the semi-solidness of the dye. I have been considering working up one in that shape myself (top-up – I was badly burned with a topdown and haven’t yet got my nerve back!).

  10. Yes, Lesley at Devon Fine Fibres has Bowmont Merino sheep that originated from Scotland, so it might be worth getting in touch re yarn. Love your work and blog by the way; so inspirational…..

  11. I love the color of the sweater you made. I too have been thinking that in order to increase my knitting knowledge I should be trying different techniques. Funny how that is. Finally your eBay finds are great.

  12. Thank you so much for showing us those wonderful sweaters.Each one is so different from the other. And to think you purchased two of them on e-bay. Your dyeing techniques are wonderful on the second sweater, the yarn looks great. I love the third one, the time and talent that went into making it and to get it for such a small sum. It was a joy to see them

  13. What great finds on eBay! I absolutely love the dog walking sweater. Is there any chance you could write up the pattern? I would love to have a sweater like this to wear when walking Fergus. :-)

  14. When I was growing up, people always put the button side of fair isle yolked sweaters in front. Does this mean we were wearing them backwards?!?!

  15. What fantastic finds. They suit you perfectly. I would love to see a pattern for your set in sleeve Bruce walking sweater as everyone needs a perfect pootling jumper for walking the dog and trundling about.

  16. Wonderful sweaters! When I was in high school and college I had an endless supply of Fair Isle sweaters as I worked in a shop that sold them. Over the years they have been given away . . . now that I am a knitter I can certainly knit one for myself. I do love how Fair Isle sweaters have stood the test of time. Your “kick around” sweater is perfect. The other day, I was thinking, I really need a very basic sweater—you got me thinking on that one.

    One last comment I love your picture between rain storms—-as I enjoy seeing your part of the world as we all picture it wet!

  17. Beautiful!. Thank you so much for alerting me to the contiguous sleeve design. I MUST try it myself. My bottom-up Petrova sweater was an attempt to understand Elizabeth Zimmermann’s seamless saddle shoulder technique, but I really prefer top-down knitting because it is so much easier to get a good fit and, as you have shown, it is possible to take advantage of yarns with limited yardage.

  18. I love these sweaters! Recently I was lucky enough to find a Shetland sweater in perfect condition myself, and I can understand the joy of stumbling on such finds. I love the colours in the first jumper, recently I bought some Jamieson & Smith wool to make one of these typical Shetland yoke sweaters. I really can’t wait!

  19. The Edinburgh boutique? Was that the lovely shop on the corner in Church Hill? Remember one of my lovely Shetland flat mates from University days having a jumper just like that one…

  20. Really, they all seem meant for you – even the two that came to you via eBay. I’m glad to know that the right person won the auctions there.

  21. Love both jumpers – excellent ebay find! I was lucky enough to get quite a bit of the last of the Bowmont Braf yarn (dk) from Wales a couple of years ago, also I contacted Ce at TheUncommonThread and she purchased the last of it, dyed it up and I
    splurged on some of that also! As those above have said, Lesley of Devon Fine Fibres has the only remaining Bowmont sheep and she sells most of the yarn to Finisterre – however I contacted her and she sold me some of the yarn for personal use. I’m sure she’d be happy to do the same for you. Wow, what a woolly collaboration that would be! Lesley is so passionate about her sheep and their fleece/yarn, you’d have so much to talk about! The Devon bowmont is, I think, finer than the bowmont braf – anyhow, if you get hold of some you can compare yourself and share your findings with us :)

  22. Such a well-timed post! I’ve just begun to make myself a sweater very similar to your yoked one, except that it’s all hand-knit (and will be deep claret for the main colour). The pattern is probably 1960s, judging by the models’ hair, Templeton’s H&O s136, but I’m making some mods because the fit as-written is bulkier than I like. I’m also going to make some swatches of leftovers from my stash for the yoke, and have some perfect inspiration now from the stunning colours in yours – also, there’s no buttoned opening on my pattern but I may decide to add one…. it reminds me of Penny Straker’s MacAuslan pullover too.

    A friend from Lerwick informs me that these sweaters were all the rage about thirty years ago but have been making a come-back of late; I was inspired originally by the lovely claret-coloured one worn by the wee dark-haired girl in this picture of the Whalsay school knitters visiting Jamieson & Smith:

  23. Love, love the sweater knit in natural shades! And just last week I was going to post for the first time asking if you would ever consider designing a sweater in only natural Shetland shades, like the one pictured in the history section of Anne Feitelson’s book. So…how about it ;-) I’ve got some Shetland Supreme jumper weight waiting to go!

  24. Morningside! That is where Maisie the kitten lives, right? The “exclusive boutique” sounds like somewhere her stuffy downstairs neighbor would have shopped.

    1. My question too!
      I have a Norwegian fairisle cardigan purchased in the early 1960’s which has already had the cuff repaired once, but needs to be done again. Unfortunately I have ‘grown’ in the intervening years, and can no longer wear it, but love this garment and would like to repair it – perhaps one of my grand-daughters will wear it one day.

  25. Gee, such beauties! I love the way that the colourwork in the jumper in natural shades is mostly so clear and crisp but has the odd soft shading in the centre row- it’s like a brushstroke of watercolour.

    I think that, despite the distance between Scotland and Australia, your ears surely must have been burning yesterday… I taught a colourwork class full of wonderful knitters and we discussed at length the fantastic influence your work is having on contemporary hand knitting, in relation to not only clever, smart design and skill building but also on raising awareness of fibre and yarn quality and all that choosing well entails. Thank you for the inspiration that you’ve given so many of us! And happy jumper wearing!

  26. Super finds! And I am a fan of 3/4 length sleeves as I always seem to be pushing sleeves UP!
    Those jumpers and a sight! what luck or perseverance more than likely!

  27. How lucky the two bought sweaters ended up with someone who loves them. And I can’t believe how well they fit.
    Looking forward to more photos of your own knitted sweater.

  28. I’m a amazed of your amazing ebay gems, just fantastic both of them – and I really like it that you have tried the contiguous sleeve method – it’s also on my list ;)

  29. Lovely sweaters all — I had a yoked sweater like that which I wore in my high school graduation picture back in 1979. A lovely deep cornflower blue…

    I’ve been wanting to make an all-over Fair Isle like your second eBay find. May have to resurrect my designing skills and put something together. It’s been a while!

    Enjoy your banging-around sweater. It looks like it’s going to be much loved.

  30. Any chance you could design us a version of the first jumper? Maybe made in Jamieson’s sprindrift? something fine anyway with a yoke like that and the beautiful back fastening? Here’s hoping!

  31. Lovely jumpers. I can remember having a sweater back in the early seventies, with a fairisle inset but it was a strip down the way. I think the jumper had quite a high itchy neck and I really didn’t wear it enough. The other thing I remember was that woollen mill type shops used to sell lengths of tweed for making skirts, and kits for fair-isle jumpers. The problem was they sold the lovely yokes all knitted up, with plain wool for the body – I always wanted one the other way round so I could do the fun part.

  32. The Fair Isle yoke sweater has set-in sleeves, though, doesn’t it? It’s a bit difficult to see in the first photo, but that looks like a potentially interesting construction.

  33. Your finds are amazing, and I’m glad that they’ve fallen in to such good hands. No doubt they will be cared for and worn for many years to come. Such gorgeous work shouldn’t be wasted.

    And I very much love your new sweater. I’m hoping that it will eventually turn into the next Kate Davies design. I’d buy it!!

  34. It was Kismet for you to discover those two sweaters! They are gorgeous and will be treasured. Your hand-dyed yarn is beautiful and the sweater you designed is perfect.

  35. I love the contiguous method and Ankestrick too. I’m using the contiguous method or a version of it in all I make now if I can help it. I have worked out a method to avoid holes in the stacked increase rows (when you have increases in the wrong as well as the right side rows) Maybe you want to explore it. There are links in the shoulder increase thread of the contiguous ravelry group here (for a graphic): and here (for a video): Enjoy.

  36. There is a photo of me wearing my lovely scatness tam which I knitted as a memory of my recent visit to shetland. It’s the best souvenir I have ever thought of bringing home. It’s on my Facebook page.

  37. Oh Thank You Kate! I am so pleased that you ‘admitted’ to purchasing sweaters. Every once in a while, I feel tempted to purchase a sweater myself (especially ones that I find on ebay), but then I always argue myself off, saying: “Oh, Addie, you can make that yourself, you should!”. If ever I do succumb to a woolen purchase, then, oh! there comes the guilt! *laughs. It makes me feel no end more comfortable to know that such an amazing and accomplished knitter as yourself owns sweaters that may once have known a machine (in the biblical sense. ;p). Beautiful finds! Congratulations.

  38. Oh, so it’s YOU I’m bidding against on eBay for these jumpers? ;-)
    I won the most beautiful navy-heathery Shetland wool fairisle hand-knitted tank-top this month. A tad too small but so beautiful, I don’t care. Couldn’t let it drift by on the eBay tide.

  39. Your purchases look fab! I have completed 2 jumpers so far this winter although they are in chunky wool to ward off the Perthshire cold! I am never happy with the set of the sleeves so will need to challenge myself to try a ‘new’ way to get a good fit. Thanks for the inspiration!

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)