The best way to choose a pattern to knit is to get hold of one of the books on traditional ganseys, or browse the Gallery on this website, and just look at the photographs, think about knitting the charts, and pick one you like.
If you’re new to knitting ganseys, you’ll probably want to start with one of the simpler patterns – in which case, go for a half-patterned pullover, where only the yoke (chest) is decorated, and perhaps pick one without cables (such as this one). One of the great things about ganseys, though, is that they all look fantastic, so you don’t have to knit a really fiddly fancy one to create something special. And remember, even the simpler patterns are authentic – it’s not like you’re knitting a simplified “beginner’s version”.
Personally, I love the simpler patterns every bit as much as the really intricate ones with lots of cables.
Now you’ve chosen a pattern, all you have to do is adjust it to fit the number of stitches of your gansey. This sounds complicated, but it’s really not.
People were shorter and thinner in the past – just take a look at Henry VIII’s armour if you have any doubts: it looks like it was designed for a twelve-year-old. This is probably because nowadays we have access to healthier diets, better exercise, and Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream. So the chances are any pattern you choose will have to be adjusted – and probably made bigger – to fit the modern physique.
So, let’s say you know from determining your stitch gauge that your gansey will have to be 402 stitches in the round. Deduct 2 stitches for the seams, and you are left with 400 stitches in total, or 200 stitches per side (200 for the front, and 200 for the back – and remember, the front and back pattern should be identical). Now, you add up the stitches in the pattern you’ve chosen, and let’s say it only comes to 180 stitches. You’re 20 stitches short; what do you do?
Well, there are several ways of dealing with this. If you’ve chosen a simple knit and purl pattern across the chest, for instance, you can just add 20 more pattern stitches on either side. If your pattern consists of panels interspersed with cables, just add more cables and/or panels to fit. (My standard cable is 10 stitches wide – 2 purl stitches, 6 cable stitches, and another 2 purl stitches – so 20 stitches equals another 2 cables.) If you need a few extra stitches, you can make one of the panel designs a few stitches wider; if you need fewer, make them narrower. And so on. If you have 20 stitches more than you can easily fill, why not add a 10-stitch ladder to either side? The possibilities are endless. And if you look at some of the old photos, you’ll see that this is exactly what the old knitters used to do.
The best advice is to be creative, and be flexible, and don’t worry. It’s your gansey, after all.
It’s important to remember the seam stitches in your calculations at all times. (There are only 2 of these, one purl stitch either side of the body, so if you forget it’s really not the end of the world – you can always do a quick increase or two on the first row – but it’s neater to get it right from the beginning.) So, when calculating your pattern and adjusting it to fit, always deduct 2 stitches from the total before the final reckoning, or you may find yourself caught short.