Fair Isle Sweater by Mati Ventrillon

Product Placement in Oil on Canvas

Those with an inclination for British style continually refer back to the choices of the Duke of Windsor, not only because he was the epitome of timeless elegance — and not a single time was he caught in ill-considered habit — but because he had a sartorial sixth sense that meant he was willing to take chances and push the boundaries of the classic wardrobe, introducing new colours and combinations to the canon.

He will be inextricably linked with Fair Isle sweaters thanks to the engagingly flippant pose in the painting above by John St Helier Lander. The act of wearing a Fair Isle sweater on his golfing excursions — and being painted in one — is reputed to have helped the Fair Islanders enormously at a time of severe financial hardship. The Fair Isle sweater became a must have. The Duke was a walking product placement for men's style. He set trends that reverberate today; the Fair Isle sweater resonating with such sweater-wearing devotees as Sir Paul McCartney.

What is a Fair Isle Sweater?

What qualifies as a Fair Isle sweater? For one, it needs to have been made in the Shetland Islands. Accept no other location. A traditional pattern is knitted from Shetland wool in the round with a design of no more than half-a-dozen colours. Accept no other wool or design.

Mati Ventrillon Fair Isle Sweater

Mati Ventrillon scores on all these points, hand making as she does the bespoke genuine article in Fair Isle, Scotland. Originally from Venezuela, Mati moved to Fair Isle with her family in 2007 and spent her first few years there learning local knitwear skills.

The business has became a natural progression of location and interest. Mati is inspired by the history of the sweater and of the island. In 2011, she was commissioned to research Fair Isle garments worn by the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, led by William Speirs Bruce, to the Antarctic in 1902-1904. The research resulted in her design of the Fisherman Style jumper with high neck and shoulder fasteners.

Thus the traditional Fair Isle sweater lives on in the new generation of Fair Islanders.

Kntting the Sweater

To begin the process, measurements are required by Mati, and preferences for the design and colourway need to be agreed. The design is then knitted using a hand-frame knitting machine in the traditional way, with hand finishing. The sweater is washed and dried to finish it on one of the stretching contraptions you see below — a woolie horse.

What you are left with is a unique and certified Fair Isle sweater to love and to cherish and to pass on to your children.

I think you should go for a V-neck with a mixture of small and medium-sized patterns, fitted sleeves, ribbed cuffs and waistband. The ghostly apparition of the Duke of Windsor — immaculately dressed should he appear — would look on and nod approvingly at your choice.

Here's a section of a Fair Isle knit from the V & A that might inspire you:


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