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Thurso: 28 June

ThTh150628-1According to the BBC’s weather presenters Britain is experiencing a heatwave just now. Standing in front of a map alarmingly coloured orange and red, they flash their unnaturally white teeth and warn of dehydration, sunstroke and death.

And it’s true. Here in the far north of Scotland the temperature has touched the giddy height of 15ºC, and in the fields hecatombs of sheep and cows lie panting on the parched earth; and lambs, instead of frolicking gaily through the meadows, drag themselves wearily along on their bellies, as though swimming the breaststroke through grass.

Truly no one can survive such temperatures for long, and I fear the worst: soon clothing will be shed, and then where will we be? Only yesterday I saw a Scotsman in shorts walking his dog, and the motion of his bare knees reminded me so strongly of someone juggling a pair of potatoes I had to go and lie down in a darkened room until my pulse returned to normal.

ThTh150628-1-2Ha! It’s unfair, isn’t it? England gets a heatwave; we get 15º and the rain stops for a few hours. Not that I’m complaining—not really. I remember one summer in Somerset when it was in the 30s and actually too warm to sit and knit with a gansey in your lap.

Well, there’s no danger of that up here, and so I’ve been knitting away like billy-o. I’ve almost finished the back, just an inch to go and then it’s onto the shoulder straps. The pattern stands out clearly, the chevrons so well defined you could practically grate cheese on them—if it was a hard cheese like parmesan, say.



I started the pattern a little before the gussets because I wanted to give it room to breathe. If you recall the chart I posted a couple of weeks ago, the gansey is split vertically into two equal halves: 14 inches from the very bottom to the garter ridge, and the same to the top of the shoulders, making 28 inches in length. (That’s the plan, anyway!)


Marsh Orchid. Probably.

In parish notices, Den has sent me some more baby pictures of her Filey gansey, which is coming on apace. I must admit, I’m a big fan of incorporating moss stitch into designs, it gives a jumper a really three-dimensional, tactile quality.

Finally this week, the neighbours are back so their cats no longer need us to serve as mobile back-scratchers. Now they stare at me with an aloof, cold distain and, if I ever get too close, strop their claws on the stone wall in a meaningful sort of way, like a movie gangster playing idly with a flick knife; I half expect to wake up with a severed hamster’s head in the bed next to me, as a warning. (Until, of course, the next time the neighbours go away.)

We’ll be taking a break next week while Margaret is off enjoying herself in France. Gansey Nation will return on Monday 13 July, no doubt laden with joie de vivre and a dash of sophistication, if Margaret can manage to smuggle them through customs…

Thurso: 21 June

ThTh150622-1The neighbours are away just now, and Margaret is dropping by to cat-sit. But it’s clearly not enough for the two bored and lonely moggies in question, so they’ve set up a sort of Black Ops operation in the front yard to watch for whenever we open the front door so they can demand attention.

ThTh150622-2One of them is permanently on guard, alerted by the scrunch of gravel, and gives the cat-signal so that the other suddenly materialises as if beamed down from the starship Enterprise—on the wall, or on the front step, or even, one memorable time, apparently inside my trouser leg roughly halfway between the ankle and knee.

ThTh150615-4Once when I thought the coast was clear I heard the urgent whisper: “Bravo-Niner-Zero: Smoky, are you reading? The goose is in the nest, repeat, the goose is in the nest, over”—and when I looked round, there Smoky was, lying on her back on the gravel, waving her legs invitingly in the air as though practicing feline synchronised swimming, and mewing like someone trying to tune in to Radio Teheran on an old dial-up radio.

I can tell they’re desperate for attention because they let you pat them without stripping your fingers to the bone—usually they act more like piranha fish that’ve learned to negotiate a cat flap. All the same, there’s a look in their eyes that tells you this is just temporary—like a Christmas truce in the trenches—and that once the neighbours are back I’d better invest in some oven gloves if I plan to indulge in any more of this tummy-tickling nonsense.

ThTh150622-3Meanwhile—while I still have the use of my fingers—I’m getting plenty of knitting in. I’ve been putting in some serious hours on the gansey, and have just divided from front and back after completing half the gusset. You can see the pattern better now, a good, strong, classic design that works really well in what is, after all, a fairly dark colour.


Impromptu sculpture at John o’Groats

One interesting thing is that my row gauge for the pattern seems to be 11 rows to the inch, whereas on the body (plain knitting) it was 10. It can’t be that I am knitting more tightly—if anything, the reverse is true, as I’ve deliberately loosened up a touch to compensate for all those double cables, which inevitably draw in the knitting. Scientists are baffled, and I believe the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is currently working on the problem, but it means that my brilliant calculations of last week are now only fit only for wrapping chips in.

Incidentally, I’m writing this on Sunday, which in the Northern Hemisphere happens to be the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. In Wick the sun rose at 04.04 and set at 22.23 but by 20.30 it was raining and it so dark we had the lights on (also the central heating—our high today was 10ºC, which qualifies as a heat wave since it’s the first time we’ve seen double figures all week). To quote PG Wodehouse, we are, if not actually disgruntled, then far from being gruntled…

Thurso: 14 June

ThTh150615-1When sorrows come, as Shakespeare observed in an idle moment, they come not single spies but in battalions. Well, last week they came not so much in battalions but in divisions, corps and entire blasted armies.

It all came to head on “Black Wednesday” as my biographers will probably term it: the mouth infection and the shattered tooth we knew about. The broken shower we pass over in silence; these things happen. Even the publisher’s rejection letter was not altogether unexpected. But the inattentive cyclist who collided with my car and was sent crashing to the tarmac was, I feel, a little unfair.

It was a classic proof of the principle in physics that only one material object at a time can occupy the same piece of three-dimensional space; in this case, despite the cyclist’s best efforts, my car had the prior claim. It wasn’t my fault—he just made a right turn without looking or signalling and ran smack into me as I was overtaking him; I had witnesses and luckily he was unhurt, though shaken. Even so, it was all very unpleasant, not least the thought of what might have been.

ThTh150615-2Well—I’ve had a quiet word with Fate, and asked him nicely if he wouldn’t mind easing off a shade, and letting some other poor devil cop it for a bit. I mean to say, really.

The gansey continues apace and I’ve started the pattern. From the edge it runs as follows: diamond (19 sts); double cable (18 sts); chevron (27 sts); double cable (18 sts); diamond (19 sts); double cable (18 sts); chevron (27 sts); double cable (18 sts); diamond (19 sts).

It’s going to be 28 inches long. Now for the maths bit: I need to work out when to start the pattern to make sure I get an exact number of diamonds. There are 17 rows per diamond, so 7 diamonds is therefore 7 x 17 = 119 rows. I have to remember to factor in the “rig ’n’ fur” shoulder strap, which is another 12 rows; and a couple of double purl row/knit row ridges as a lower border (8 more stitches).



This gives me 119 + 12 + 8 = 139 rows for the pattern and shoulder. I’m averaging 10 rows per inch, so that’s 13.9 inches (call it 14 inches) for the pattern—so if I start the pattern after 14 inches of welt and body I should end up with something in the region of 28 inches in length. (I hope this makes sense! It almost does to me…)



A warm greeting this week to Sharon and everyone who took part in the World Wide Knit in Public Day event down by the harbour at Brough Bay on Saturday. The aim was to knit a series of gansey-pattern squares, and I took along a selection of ganseys just for fun. It was great to see so many people there, and—given that it was 7ºC and raining—the longest day is just a week away, folks—great to see the wood fire going strong!

Finally this week, in parish notices, Den has sent me some pictures of her gansey, which is currently a work in progress. It’s a Filey pattern, and you can see it emerge in the baby pictures here. It’s an intricate pattern, and should look very well knitted up—but then you can’t go wrong with Filey, can you? In fact, we should all form a conga line at this point and sing “You can’t go wrong with Filey” to the same tune as the Simpsons “You Don’t Win Friends With Salad…”


Thurso: 7 June

ThTh150607-1As regular readers will know, I’ve been working my way through the medical dictionary looking for interesting diseases. Well, this week I’ve reached the letter M, for Mouth Infection, and yes, I’ve got one. It’s an uncomfortable thing to have, because my mouth is full of sores and my tongue feels large and dry, as if I’ve had a transplant from a minke whale, and it’s got a nasty coating which looks as though elves are growing cauliflowers on it while I sleep.

ThTh150603-1I went to the pharmacist and she asked me to stick out my tongue. I did so and she recoiled with an involuntary squeal (“Eurgh!” she cried. “That’s horrible!”—which didn’t go very far to making me feel good about myself.) Whatever the problem is, it hasn’t responded to treatment so it’s a trip to the doctor now and no doubt farewell to the last shreds of my personal dignity.

ThTh150530-1Good progress on the gansey, though: I’m now almost twelve inches up the body, and in another week I might even be in a position to think about—be still my beating heart—gussets. And maybe even the pattern. I keep checking regularly and I’m maintaining a fairly dependable eight stitches to the inch, so I’m as confident as I can be that this one will come out right. I like the colour, too—there’s a sort of iridescent red thread woven among the brownish-purple that gives it an electric shimmer when the sunlight catches it just so.

Finally this week congratulations to Margaret, whose excellent photographs have won her the accolade of Student of the Month at the Photoion Photography School – you can read more, and see more of her photos here – though of course you can keep seeing them here too.

Thurso: 31 May

ThTh150601-1 I’ve been trying to think of which famously resilient historical hero I remind myself of in going back to basics with this new gansey after the relative failure of the last one—King Alfred and the cakes? Robert the Bruce and the spider?

No, after mulling it over I realise that the person I have in mind is Jack Skellington from The Nightmare before Christmas who, you will recall, flirted briefly with being cuddly Santa Claus (with disastrous results) before embracing his real nature as the Pumpkin King, scary master of Halloween.

Who was I kidding? After straying from the path of true wisdom with loose stitch gauges and big, floppy pullovers and other such abominations I have recanted, done my penance, and been readmitted to the congregation (after extra whippings on appeal). So I’m back in the groove with a nice, tight, 8 stitches-to-the-inch piece of knitting, stiff enough to be used as a space marine’s body armour—fisherman’s iron, reinforced with Kevlar. It’s good to be back.

ThTh150601-2I’m using Frangipani damson yarn, a fetching sort of purplish-brown colour. The pattern when I get to it will be Donald Thomson of Thurso’s pattern, as featured in Rae Compton, pages 133-137, suitably adjusted for size. (I’ll chart up the pattern another week, but it’s a good strong pattern, and of course it’s from Caithness.)

I thought I’d share this with you. I come across all sorts of odd little facts in my job, and here’s a factette that caught my fancy this week. We’ve got a photocopy in the archives of a letter from 1801, the time of the Napoleonic Wars (and Jonathan Strange, for lovers of BBC fantasy drama). Britain was fighting most of Continental Europe at the time, and a dozen Dutch fishermen had just been taken prisoner. The question for the Government was, what to do with them?

ThTh150601-3As it happened, the harbour and town to the south of Wick was just being built, to provide employment and to relieve some of the hardships caused by the Highland Clearances. The letter, the original of which is in The National Archives, states:

ThTh150529-4“ … and as the Herring Fishery on the Coast of Caithness is now beginning, I would beg leave to recommend your sending two or three of them to that Country by any vessel that may be about to sail from Leith to Wick or Thurso, consigning them to the care of Major MacLeay the chief residing magistrate of Wick who will take care to provide immediate employment for them.”

Isn’t that great? A rare example of enlighted Government thinking—a sort of 19th century Community Service Order!

Finally this week, Lynne has sent me one of the most charming uses for gansey patterning I think I’ve ever come across. Again, I won’t spoil the surprise, but you can see for yourselves by clicking here.  And, the ever-productive Judit has finished another splendid gansey, this time in claret – just go to the bottom of page 2.