Halfway between Scotland’s Shetland and Orkney archipelagos, the three-square-mile Fair Isle is the U.K.’s most remote inhabited island. Buttressed by formidable cliffs and reachable only by ferry or small plane, this outpost of around 55 people can feel like the edge of the world, but its name is synonymous with a textile that has been worn everywhere from Parisian catwalks to the polar ice caps.
The Fair Isle knitting technique, a distinctive form of stranded colorwork used to create intricate patterns, was developed by island residents who for centuries survived by bartering their woolen wares for goods from passing ships. Today, demand for these textiles far exceeds supply: Only a few islanders make a living knitting, and there are years-long waiting lists for authentic Fair Isle–made Fair Isle sweaters. Those who are willing to make the journey to the Shetland Islands, however, can now learn the method themselves, with a weeklong course from textile artist Marie Bruhat.
“The course is totally tailored to the knitters’ will and skills,” says Bruhat, a native of France who first learned the technique during a 2015 internship and has lived on the island for the last five years. Limited to just two people at a time, her classes are fully customized, so experience is not necessarily required. “Even if people have never knitted before, they’ll be able to complete something simple like a scarf,” Bruhat adds. More experienced knitters, meanwhile, can try their hands at a more complicated garment, such as a sweater, which will typically take around 12 hours using a flat-bed knitting machine and 10 hours or more to finish by hand.
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned stitcher, the experience is not only about knitting yourself a keepsake. Guests share a traditional croft house with Bruhat and her partner, Thomas Fisher, and the hosts offer tours of the island, with visits to the spectacular coastline—which is renowned for its birdwatching—and the landmark South Lighthouse. Bruhat’s goal, she says, is for guests to take the time to get “immersed in the life of the island.” She sees a knitting holiday as a way to encourage guests to travel slowly, stay longer, and, in a world that is “more conscious of the impact of fast fashion,” make a garment that they can truly “keep forever.”
$2,600 for seven nights, including transportation from Lerwick, lodging, meals, materials, and instruction, fairislewithmarie.com
From the Highlands to the Islands: Daily direct flights to Edinburgh run year-round from New York/Newark.
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