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How could she do this to me? Just when I thought I was out, Kay pulls me back in.

Seriously, I was doing so well. I was making one triangle-shaped item after another, pounding out the finished objects at a regular pace, glad to have found a way to knit lots of different yarns with no need to aim, or think, or count.

Then Kay dragged out her 1985-era Kaffe Fassett Big Flower Jacket kit, and it was all over. Like a zombie, I stood up from my desk, headed straight for the bathroom where I have kept a 2004-era Starmore sweater kit in a corner like a shrine to incompletion, and I opened the box.

This gift from my beloved in-law sibs has waited patiently for many moons. The perfection of the unstarted project has made this batch of yarns an odd comfort for a long time. This project was not on any list of mine to make. It just was.

But Kay hit me in a weak moment, and the idea of diving in on a giant project was irresistible.

The project is Glenesk, a stranded pullover by Jade Starmore, the daughter of Alice Starmore. If you don’t know who these people are, please dig in. They are geniuses. A visit to their site Virtual Yarns will send you into a fugue state of wonderment at the yarns, the mind-boggling patterns, the existential question of whether life can be complete without trying one of these patterns.

This Hebridean Two Ply yarn has a complexity that defies the camera. I don’t know how she does it, but Alice Starmore makes yarn unlike any other heathered yarn.

It feels like Christmas to be starting this project. I just got my Barbie Dream House.

There are rituals to cranking up an enterprise like this.

The traditional making of the shade card.

The traditional mystification at the color names.

The traditional shuddering at the discovery that Mountain Hare, Crotal, Tormentil, and Red Deer are basically the same color. Yet not.

The traditional curiosity at how these nine shades will play together.

The traditional photocopying of the pattern so as to create the crucial, central tool to making this sweater: the chart. I learned on my first Starmore sweater that you can’t just keep a piece of paper floating around for this sort of knitting. You need to suck it up and buy a chart holder of some kind. Magnets? Sure. Stand-up? Definitely. Lamination? I have been known to do that. A part-time assistant to move the magnet up to the next row? If you’ve got the budget, yes.

The traditional freakout at realizing that the stitch pattern has a 30-stitch by 44-row repeat.

As I wound the nine shades of yarn, I had a lot of thoughts:

I wonder when I will finish this. The last one took five years.

I bet Kay’s project will go faster than this. She’s using size 10 needles; I’m using size 3.

Maybe I need to visit the Isle of Lewis in Scotland to figure out what all these yarn names mean.

The bottom edge is a garter-stitch stranded pattern. In the round, this requires you to purl two colors in one row. The adrenaline rush was so steep that I didn’t even mind this misery.

The exhilaration of starting something too big cannot be overstated. I’d love company with anybody else out there feeling the mighty springtime urge to take on a big and cumbersome knitting challenge. The goal here is not necessarily to finish; it’s to start. C’mon! The journey of a thousand miles begins with . . . winding some yarn.

Proof of Progress, Fair Isle Mania

This Fair Isle is proving to be the closest thing to crack I’ve discovered since Trader Joe’s invented the clear plastic tub of chocolate-covered things.

This is two repeats of the pattern. Finishing a 44-row repeat has an epic feel to it.

Also: what does that stitch marker down at the hem tell me? Nothing. I have no idea why I put that thing there!

I’m sorry you can’t feel the fabric created with Alice Starmore’s Hebridean 2 Ply. It is so light, with a spring to it that is so nice. Two strands of fingering weight yarn equal a DK weight when worked as stranded knitting. It’s not heavy at all. Lofty. Lofty is the word.

The four brownish shades change color completely depending on the time of day. Here they are at pink o’clock.

Mountain Hare, Tormentil, Red Deer, and The One That Is Practically Mountain Hare Except Slightly Less Pale.

I do believe that marination time us upon us, and Glenesk will need a good long wait. Stay tuned.


  • Absolutely beautiful!!. I love Fair Isle. It is my favorite type of knitting. Great job. Enjoy

  • Simply beautiful!! Fair Isle is my favorite type of knitting but most of my projects have been smaller hats. However, I was so very fortunate to have my name drawn at my knitting guild to win a hand-knitted Alice Starmore vest which had been donated to the guild by someone who tired of knitting it. A Fantastic Knitter in the group finished it and it is really a Treasure!!

  • I have knitted several Alice Starmore sweaters. One even had steeks, which nearly killed me. I even knitted her Celtic knot sweaters. I didn’t use her yarn however, because I am poor. But she is a goddess and her books are breathtaking! Once you knit “Alice” you can do anything. I even designed my own fair aisles sweaters. So, Ann, keep going, you will be very proud of yourself when you finish!
    Monica Gottfried, RICHMOND, Va

  • I began knitting at 53, just 1.5 years ago, not ready for this project yet, but it is my goal. Sweaters like that is why I kept try to learn to knit at all. I’m tempted to “start” just for the joy of holding such beautiful yarn and rolling it in to balls. Happy knitting.

  • The colour mix in the top photo is just spectacular. Is it me/my internet connection or are the rest of the photos no longer available? I would love to see the other photos.

  • I was just last night spending time on their website wishing that they were taking orders – I am in awe of Alice and Jade and their patterns. And their sheer genius. Your project is amazing. Truly.

  • Thank you Ann, for your hilarious and brutally honest meditation on Starmore knitting. I bought Celtic Knitting at my local book store in the early 1990s. I innocently pulled it off the shelf, opened it up, and immediately fell in love. I found the designs completely intoxicating and intimidating, kept pulling out the book, staring at the gorgeous photographs year after year. Finally, I took a leap of faith and bought another book, A Collector’s Item, so that I could make the wrap, Persian Tiles. I figured it is just two colors and it is basically a blanket, does not have to fit. I bought the kit, but I hit a snag. Storm Petrel was out of stock. The substitute I chose, Kelpie, is basically Navy. It is a lovely navy, but it lacks the lovely variety of colors of Storm Petrel. So, my project is stalled until the yarn I want is back in circulation. I have waited this long, I guess can wait a bit longer. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Oh yes, I can truly appreciate this project.
    The colours are pure Scottish mysticism and unadultarated magic in a ball of fluff.
    Envision how this yarn was created.
    Carded batt….drops of colour.
    Somehow blended into unspun strips of colour.
    Twist, then spin it more, into two threads and plyed together.
    What a skill.
    Meditation practice.
    Love it.

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