Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Sunday, August 28, 2022

All-over Fair Isle Jumpers/Sweaters

Photos by Salt Water New England

For centuries, knitters in the Shetland Islands have been producing distinctively patterned jumpers.  These designs first appeared on one Shetland Island, Fair Isle.  Some say the designs evolved from Spanish patterns (a Spanish vessel was shipwrecked on Fair Isle in 1588).  Others believe, given Fair Isle is just 250 miles west of Norway, the patterns were more Scandinavian in influence. The designs spread across the Shetland Islands, where they have been more widely knit since at least the end of the 19th century

In the early 1920s, Shetland dealer James A Smith gave an (all-over) Fair Isle jumper to then Prince of Wales.  The iconic image of the fashionable Prince, later Edward VIII, wearing it playing golf instantly made all-over Fair Isle jumpers popular.

Fair Isles had many things going for them following WWI, not the last of which being the revolution in the role of women. Woman earning and spending their own money led to the demise of corsets and lace knitting.  Gender-neutral styles, such as Shetland jumpers, were in.

"The original Fair Isle sweaters [had] colors drawn from natural dyes, and the rich patterning used lavishly across the whole sweater." (New York Times, March 13, 1983).  But the all-over approach was painstaking.  To satisfy the growing demand worldwide in the following decades, authentic Shetland styles soon compromised to the significantly easier but still beautiful yoke-only approach design.  

Bosie's new 2022 collection of sweaters has many spectacular examples of yoke-only designs.  But for the purists, Bosie is also offering four fabulous examples of this historic, all-over Fair Isle style (closer to the one worn by The Prince of Wales that launched the style).  

Bosie's sweaters are made in North East Scotland.

Made in Scotland

Craigevar - Nutmeg


  1. Going off on a bit of a Scottish tangent here, I don't know if you and your readers have seen this book, Tartan and Tweed? It's quite a good read with some nice illustrations. It covers the history of both up to the present day. Fair isles, tartan and tweed, I cannae decide which I love the best!

    1. Sounds like a fascinating book. I have a 1960s edition of Robert Bain's Clans and Tartans of Scotland, which is full of lovely color plates of the various patterns and brief histories of each.
      ...At first I thought I saw a typo in your comment, but quickly realized and appreciated your colloquial touch. :)

    2. Nevada, well I am a Brit (living in Virginia) so have long used a few words, here and there, of Scots and Irish slang! Your book sounds very cool, I love looking at the different tartans. Excitingly (for me, ha!), I took one of those DNA tests a while back and began looking into some family history, and discovered I'm quite a bit Scottish with Stirling ancestors. The ancient, dress, weathered and hunting varieties for each clan are interesting to read about. I'm not wild about the Stirling colors, alas, but a wool scarf might be nice to wear to feel a connection with my peeps!

  2. Absolutely love the look. Unfortunately, too warm for my climate. I would love a Fair Isle sweater in cotton, but it's just not the same.

  3. What a beautiful sweater! Truly a classic! Thank you!

  4. Do you know if the Pinesdadow in small fits like a womens large?

  5. These sweaters are beautiful. Your site introduced me to Bosie sweaters, and I've long been meaning to buy one. Thanks for the quite interesting history of the Fair Isle design.

  6. Wonderful.

  7. I have a Fair Isle sweater made every summer by my design by a woman on Fair Isle; which I am now exempt from her waiting list. Word of advice on any Fair Isle - always get one fitting on the generous size as the horizontal weaving tends to constrict along the back and in the arms which I usually wear under my tattered, dried-out, Barbour Beaufort.

  8. Being that you fancy Scottish jumpers - you should feature a selection of pure camelhair jumpers and cardigans knitted in Scotland.


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