It’s hot and humid out, and I have a brand new fair isle cowl to show you. Just what you would expect in June, right?
What can I say, I knit for the wooly months all year around!
If you’re a knitter, you may have heard that vintage knitwear designer Susan Crawford has recently released a new yarn! It’s called Fenella, and it’s a 2-ply yarn that Susan designed to fill in a gap for vintage knitters. There are many patterns that call for 3-ply yarn, which can be rather difficult to try and recreate with modern yarns, and Fenella can now fit the bill!
Susan spent ages meticulously looking at vintage garments to try and recreate an authentic color palette for Fenella, and came up with 16 gorgeous colors. You can read all about the process on her blog; it’s fascinating!
With evocative names like Myrtle, Jonquil, Roman Plaster, Chalk, Forget-Me-Not, and Baked Cherry, these colors are wonderful.
Fenella, like Susan’s Excelana 4-ply/fingering weight yarn (that I used in my Victory beret pattern), is a 70% Exmoor Blueface, 30% Blueface Leicester blend that’s 100% British in origin. It kind of looks like Excelana’s lighterweight, looser spun cousin, and just like Excelana, feels divine.
I thought it might be helpful to see a comparison of Fenella with a few other yarns.
Below I’ve shown it with two other light fingering weight yarns (Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift and Jamieson & Smith Jumper Weight) and Excelana, which is fingering weight.
As you can see, Fenella is spun fairly similarly to the two Shetland yarns. It’s not tightly spun, but it’s also not fragile, and very easy to knit with. And similar to Excelana, is has a lovely little halo and is quite soft and comfortable against the skin.
Is it any wonder, looking at the gorgeous palette of colors that Susan came up with, that my first thought would go straight to fair isle?
Source: Fenella skein photos copyright © Susan Crawford
Susan kindly sent me several skeins of Fenella to try out for myself and to knit into a luxurious little something. So I whipped up a cozy neck cowl with tidy facings on the top and bottom edges.
(I’m using white to sew it shut, as the row I’m sewing it to on the front side is white)
One of the beauties of this yarn is its versatility. You can knit it at a looser gauge (like in Susan’s new lace cowl that uses Fenella, Cresta Dell’Onda) or knit it at a tighter gauge, and in both cases the resulting knitted fabric is wonderful and lightweight. I swatched a few different gauges and liked them all.
I knit my fair isle cowl at a gauge of 33 stitches over 4 inches (so 8.25 spi), which would normally produce a pretty firm fabric with fingering weight yarns. Yet it’s light as a feather, drapey and airy! If I used one of my other favorite fingering weights, I know I’d end up with a denser fabric. And don’t get me wrong, I love that too of course. But a featherweight stranded knit is truly a delight!
The finished cowl is dreamy. Light as a feather but warm, and feels soft and cozy against my neck.
When I was talking with Susan about Fenella and trying to come up with what I wanted to knit it up into, I had a little spark of an idea to design a relatively low-contrast fair isle cowl with a few motifs that stuck to a loose theme. I knew I’d knit it up for myself, but wasn’t sure if I was going to actually want to turn it into a published pattern. But once all was said and done, I was very pleased with the results, so a pattern is in the works. You’ll be seeing more of this cowl later on in the year!
If you’d like to try out Fenella yourself, you can purchase it directly from Susan Crawford’s shop. I can’t recommend this yarn enough! I’m already brainstorming other projects for Fenella. I’ve been dreaming of a couple of two-color stranded cardigans in my wardrobe for ages now, but haven’t had the time to start one. Knitting a lightweight, warm and airy fair isle cardigan in Fenella? I’m definitely going to have to make that happen!
This is so gorgeous! I can’t believe you’re wearing wool as it’s crazy hot, but what a beautiful cowl!
Thanks, Sonja! But yes, dressing up in all that wool took some doing. Fortunately I was in the shade and we sped through it. But at least now I know what coat I’ll be wearing it with in Fall. 😉
Do you have an acrylic yarn that you like? Or cotton? I’m allergic to wool so I always struggle with knowing what other yarns are actually good. Thanks!
I generally don’t knit with acrylic or cotton because I don’t like the feel of it. However that being said, I did knit a pullover out of KnitPicks Comfy fingering weight a few years ago. It’s a pima cotton and acrylic blend and is quite lovely and soft! I believe it comes in heavier weights, too.
Rochelle New says
This is beautiful!!! I love that you included a comparison picture of the Fenella next to some other similar yarns. As a newbie, a photo like that is invaluable for me since I don’t always understand the descriptions I read about the ply and weight of yarns. You think of everything 🙂
I’m dying over those gorgeous colors and I’m so excited to hear you’re making your cowl into a pattern!! Yay!!! …omg I need to learn Fair Isle right quick!
Gorgeous! Gorgeous! Gorgeous! :0
Do you think Fenella is suitable for a close-fitting, single color sweater knit in a pattern stitch? Is it soft enough to wear next to the skin?
Well, I’m wearing it around my neck against my skin with no problem. 🙂 Softness is in the eye of the beholder– I find Fenella extremely soft, but some people can’t tolerate anything but merino.
Tasha, thank you. Your cowl is beautiful. I was a little nervous, because the yarn comes in 25 gr. balls, obviously for colorwork, and was used for the , which is meant to be worn over a shirt. I’m thinking about the Myrtle green color for a vintage look. I do wish the yarn were available in cones too.
Dang, I think I forgot to close that href tag, sorry.
Carol, actually Susan used her Excelana yarn for that (well the other version uses Shetland yarn, and if you’re concerned about yarn close to your skin, Shetland can be a bit scratchy). Excelana comes in 50g balls! 🙂 And there’s a Land Girl green that’s similar to Myrtle, a limited color.
Oh! Thx for pointing that out – someone told me the vest used Fenella, and I just took her word for it. Now, I see that the blog post was from 2012, so doh! I need a thinner yarn than Excelana, and something that’s not too scratchy.
Jessica Cangiano says
That truly is a gorgeous, yesteryear looking colour palette of wools. The paper crafter in me wishes she would (though I’m sure it’s highly unlikely) release papers and/or inks in the exact same set of beautiful hues.
Jessica Cangiano says
Though I should add, come to think of it, that these could certainly be used for paper crafting, too, so one could avail of them for such projects anyhow, which is great!
Very true! I’ve seen paper crafting including yarn, it can be quite lovely!
bonita vear says
So delightful! Every time I see your beautiful Fair Isle knit it makes me want to learn, but I’m not up to it quite yet. Still; one day! And I might start with this cowl. It looks simple enough… ; D ♡
bonita of Lavender & Twill
Thanks, Bonita! You’ll get there, I promise! 😀
Miss Crayola Creepy says
That yarn looks so soft! I bet that cowl is a dream to wear.
The Cowl looks so lovely. I love to read your blog. 🙂
Love the cowl! Your color sense is super awesome! But even more importantly, thank you so much for showing a side-by-side comparison of those four yarns. They’re so popular for vintage-style patterns, but I’ve never seen the different twists and halos next to each other like that. That’s sooooooo helpful for understanding each yarn’s best application, thank you!