Chestnut Fair Isle Cardigan

Hello makers! Today I’m bringing you a post on a beloved finished cardigan that I’ve been wearing throughout this autumn and winter. There’s a set of photos taken on an icy cold day, with layers of frost cloaking the land and mist gracing the tree branches. These sort of images have come to embody the heart of winter here in the past few years, as the more intense, snowy winter avoided our home due to warming temperatures. Of course, this year’s winter showed that it is still possible for winter to go full scenic, most of the time though, the face of winter here is brown and bare. It’s a different, perhaps more melancholic beauty than the bright stillness of a white covered woodland. In recent years I’ve really started to embrace the magic of these bare sort of winter days, and on the day of this bitter cold walk especially it wasn’t hard to see it’s beauty.

The cardigan comes to the blog now, but I knit it in 2020 and together with my Harvest Moon Cardigan it’s my most satisfactory knitting achievement of that year. I started knitting on it in February and finished it somewhere around midsummer. So I worked on it just over 5 months, which is quite a while. Taking a long time often reads as a negative which isn’t necessarily justified. This project took long, but that doesn’t mean it was a slog or a drudge to work at at any point in time. It simply is a factual statement – knitting on this thing took a long time, and that’s true.

The pattern is Chestnut from Marie Wallin‘s book Wildwood, published in 2018. It’s the first book she made for her own yarn, British Breeds, without the support of a bigger yarn brand. It’s an allover colourwork cardigan that uses 8 colours throughout, which for Marie’s standards is on the low side! It features corrugated ribbing and has set in sleeves.

The pattern is written to be knit flat, which I, as usual, modified to be knit in the round. I put steeks at the centre opening, armholes and sleeve caps. The neckline I did knit flat back and forth because it suited the shoulder shaping better. Additionally I took some time to figure out how to centre the colourwork motifs on the cardigan opening, so I wouldn’t end up with half a motif on one side of the button band and a complete one on the other. If I remember correctly, I did this for each band separately.

Because this cardigan only uses 8 colours I though it was the perfect canvas to try and work with colour groups. I picked different shades of two base colours, with an off white balance it out and tie it together. I picked 4 shades of green; a bright spring green, a mid forest green, a slightly darker ivy green and finally a really dark deep pine green. To go along with that selection of greens I picked three yellow-ish shades, a light mustard yellow, a dark ochre and one tangerine/pumpkin orange for a bit more visual interest. I picked colours with a shade card on hand, which makes is easier to see subtle differences between shades.

While I was knitting on it over the spring and summer, the palette kept reminding me of a field of wildflowers in bloom, of the small pockets of greens in full bloom in mid summer along busy highways and farm fields. The mix of yellows and greens kept bringing to mind images of tansy, wild carrot, chamomile, dandelions, poppies, cow parsley and so on. It was nice to work with such a beautiful group of colours while the outside world was transforming and echoing what I was knitting every day. Having just gone through the other side of that seasonal transformation I can also say that the scheme suits the colder months of the year equally well! The brighter greens of early autumn persistence which inevitably change into deep orange and yellows reflecting the changing and falling leaves and the cooler toned greens of evergreens that keep us company all winter until it all starts a new again.

I knitted the body first, and then both sleeves at the same time on dpns. In general I like to knit sleeves at the same time in this manner, provided I have two sets of the correct needle size of course. I do this because I tend to wing the sleeve increases/decreases and I want to make sure I do the same on both sleeves. In honesty, even when I don’t tinker with anything, I still prefer to knit them at the same time to combat second sleeve syndrome. My gauge differs a bit from the pattern so I had to make some adjustments for that. The most obvious is that I knit more horizontal motif bands to get the right length. I think that visually I actually prefer this balance of motifs and colours! Through it, I ended up with more of the pine green colour which is always a win in my book!

I used Rauma Finull PT2 to knit this allover. It’s a Norwegian fingering weight yarn that (I believe) sources all their wool from Norway. I had been looking forward to try this yarn for some time, especially for colourwork, to see how it would compare to some of my favourite fingering yarns for colourwork. It certainly did not disappoint! It’s a lofty woolen spun yarn, which most of my favourite yarns are, and comes in an incredible range of colours; mainly solids but also some undyed options and recently they have added a selection of heathered colourways to the range. It’s often compared to Shetland wool, as they share some key characteristics. Rauma is slightly thicker though, and creates a somewhat denser fabric when knit up. I found this denseness noticeable while knitting, but less so after blocking when the stitches really bloomed. I can say that knitting this cardigan has made me fall in love with this Rauma and there is a good chance it will cement a place among my favourite yarns, alongside the likes of J&S, Jamiesons, Holst and Istex, yarns to which I turn again and again. I think it is a very suitable replacement for Marie’s British Breeds line, so if you are looking for a replacement yarn that has more colours or if affordability is an issue, or if Brexit poses a barrier this yarn might be a good option for you to knit Marie’s projects in!

I used amber coloured shell buttons which reflect lighter gold when the light hits them. I think they match the warm colour selection well. While I was knitting it I was a bit on the fence whether I had maybe gone slightly overboard with the colours and the brightness wouldn’t suit me. After an autumn and winter of regular wear I can confidently say I needn’t have worried. I think the dark pine green grounds it just enough and it pairs really well with lots of things in my wardrobe.

I really love the length and shape of the cardigan. It lets the colourwork take centre stage and really shine. I generally prefer loose fits, which I can layer easily and don’t feel restricting, so this is perfect for me. I’m also really pleased with the how the Rauma yarn withstands wear! It’s hard to play favourites with my knits and I like them all for different reasons but in terms of colour play I think this might be my favourite work as of yet.

We took these photos on one of the coldest winter days we’ve had this year. The hat you can see me wear in some of the photos is my brown Skiff hat that hardly leaves my head it seems when the cold weather sets in. I love how the melancholic moody darkness of the winter days at the time offsets some of the boldness in the colours of the cardigan while at the same time echoing them. The dark greens in the moss and lichen on the tree barks and the evergreens, the rust colour in the orangy brown on the fallen decaying leaves on the ground and the off white in the bark of the trees and the mist in the distance. There is so much beauty and magic in this time of year and I’m loving soaking in it as much as I can while the winter coldness lingers. Spring, I’m ready for you, but while the cold is still here I’m ready to make the most of the colder season a bit longer!

Hope you are well and enjoying whatever weather March is throwing at you (here she is throwing the whole spectrum at us… sometimes in the span of a day or hour even!). See you next time when the grasses have grown a little taller, the tree buds a bit bigger and the birds sing a little louder. Spring is knocking on the door! xxx

2 thoughts on “Chestnut Fair Isle Cardigan

  1. Hello,

    I’ve just read your comments on this cardi and found them very interesting as I’m about to embark on this project myself. Like you, I’m planning to convert the pattern to knitting in the round with steeks. I was a little intrigued to read that you put steeks in for the upper sleeve shaping and wondered how that worked. You have done a lovely job of your cardi by the way!

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for your comment! Yes, for me the sleeve steeks worked out great. You knit the whole sleeve as a tube, put in steek stitches and then continue knitting it in the round all the way up the sleeve cap. You cut the steek at the sleeve cap and then sew in the set in sleeve as normal. It’s something I do occasionally, but not on every allover I make.

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