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Balerno 13: 15 – 21 August

Sometimes we all must face up to the realisation, as PG Wodehouse said, that life is stern, and life is earnest. In my case, this usually happens every time I have to pick up stitches around the armhole for a sleeve. But there’s nothing for it but to take a deep breath, play some calm, relaxing music – Bach, perhaps, or The Pixies – and, after entering a zen-like trance, the mind free of illusion and distraction, grasp the needle, and the nettle.

The armhole for this gansey measures 8.5 inches from the gusset to the shoulder join, or 17 inches in the round. At a stitch gauge of around 9 stitches per inch, that gives me 159 stitches. It fought me every step of the way, for some reason – I would normally expect to pick up those stitches in 45 minutes to an hour, this time it took me an hour and a half – but they all came up cleanly and of course once the pick-up row is out of the way you’re off and running.

159 stitches gives me a central chevron panel flanked by two diamonds per side, each of 19 stitches, interspersed with cables. I’ve decreased the gusset at the same rate as it was increased, 2 stitches every fourth row. After that, the decreases happen on the cable, i.e., every 8th row. Now it’s just a question of actually knitting the sleeve and as you can see, I’ve made pretty good progress.

Other than knitting, I’ve been tweaking some writing around. Some years ago, I wrote a Victorian detective story, set during the building of the Elan Valley dams in mid Wales to provide fresh water for Birmingham. It’s a bleak little tale, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it; the story was quite good, but the writing was truly awful – dreadful – as lifeless and bloated as last month’s beached whale. So while I take a break from life in general, I’ve been rewriting this story, and drastically editing it down to just over 75,000 words. The funny thing is, I even tried to give it a happier ending, but it just didn’t work – so finally I admitted defeat and restored the original nihilistic one (Thomas Hardy frequently had the same problem, I understand).

Finally, after much experimentation, I’d like to share my basic bread recipe with you.

1 kg flour, 10g powdered dried yeast, 20g salt, 680ml warm water, 1 tbsp olive oil. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, leave for 20 minutes to let the flour absorb the liquid. Tip out on counter and knead for 10 minutes or so. Clean the bowl, oil it and put in the dough. Cover with plastic and leave overnight in the fridge. Next morning, take it out of the fridge, do a stretch and fold and leave for an hour in the bowl to warm up. After that, tip it out and shape the loaves (I usually make 4 8-inch baguettes and 6 rolls), leave to rise for 75 minutes or so, then score the tops if desired and bake in a pre-warmed hot oven for 15-20 minutes.

You can add a splash of sourdough to the basic mix, or leave out the oil, or add a spoon of honey or sugar without making much difference. Angels eat this bread for breakfast, with a sort of ambrosia pate in place of marmalade. Fallen angels are cut off from the divine bakeries, and it’s well known that this is their greatest torment, being forced to eat supermarket sliced bread for all eternity, forever tortured with the memory of a crackling crusty baguette.

29 comments to Balerno 13: 15 – 21 August

  • Nigel

    Gordon, isn’t 9×17 153? Does it matter?

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel, my secret fear has always been that someone who can do maths will one day read this blog…

    Of course you’re right. But (a) my stitch gauge is more of a probability curve than a definite number these days, and (b) I needed the extra stitches to make the pattern fit. 6 stitches over 17 inches isn’t really that significant, and a little tweaking is nearly always required to get the pattern to match the stitches available – either adding more stitches or changing the pattern (that’s one reason why the centre chevron panel on the body is 25 stitches wide, rather than the 19 stitches of all the other panels – I had 4 stitches left over when I calculated the body pattern, and rather than just put them either side of the seam stitches – which I do sometimes – this time I thought I’d make the centre chevron panel more of a feature).

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Nigel

    Thanks Gordon, sorry to be so pedantic. I know knitting a gansey isn’t exact science.

  • Gordon

    Not at all, Nigel – I should have been more accurate in my description. I must admit, I find the adjusting of patterns to the stitches required to be one of the most satisfying parts of knitting jumpers. Do you add an extra cable here, or shrink a panel there, or insert a border panel along each edge? These are the sorts of decisions that I think result in a gansey being an individual creation, rather than just a reproduction.

    Gordon

  • Dave

    May I use “pattern adjustment” as a rationale for the stitches that mysteriously disappear and reappear at random in my work?

  • Deborah Purgavie

    Dear Gordon,

    I have been dipping in and out of your website for some time now with much enjoyment and have just started knitting my own first gansey. I have chosen frangipani seaspray, though I should prefer navy, (more useful) but thought it might be easier for a first attempt (now the nights draw in) if I used a colour not so hard on the eye. I have just knitted an icelandic yoke for my eldest son in a dark blue (lovely colour ‘winter blue’) and need a change from navy.

    I am used to knitting in the round as I am an avid sock knitter, but the guernsey worsted is very fine so I think it will take me some time to complete.

    I fully appreciate your comments regarding picking up of stitches, not my favourite pastime either, though I have finally got the hang of it with socks and usually knit a little garter stitch panel either side of the heel flap and think I will do the same for the yoke on the jumper.

    I have not yet decided which pattern to knit but will muse on this while I complete the stocking stitch as far as the gusset. I have most of the books you mention, (except Beth Brown-Reinsel) and I also have Sabine Dominck’s very helpful book (“Cables, Diamonds, Herringbone Secrets of Knitting Traditional Fishermen’s Sweaters). This has nice colour pictures and clear instructions of various methods of knitting gussets etc. I have mostly come by these second hand from Amazon, though some were hard to find and some the inevitable, but regrettably abridged facsimile editions.

    I have started with a double moss welt from Alice Starmore’s Scarborough. (Very similar to the Weldon 1880 pattern in Michael Pearson, though I think that it probably chicken’s eye.)

    I am a very slow knitter and think it will take me about half an hour to knit 3 rows or stocking st, probably longer to knit the patterns.

    Your current project is lovely and you have knitted it so quickly. I only really knit in the evening so my progress will be slow! I am a ‘promiscuous’ knitter and usually have two or three projects on the go at once which does not help. I have a small project in the car (socks or gloves). I spend a lot of dead time waiting for my sons, especially in term time. I use a head torch if it is dark. I like to have a scarf or shawl on the go as well, but am resisting this at the moment.

    I love to see your bread. I used to make all my bread years ago when a student, but I did make some nice baps the other day. I should make it more; it is a little disheartening as when I do it never even makes it into the bread crock.

    Anyway I have waffled on long enough, but before I go, as a fellow knitter, I should like to commend the late Elizabeth Zimmerman to you if you do not already know of her. She writes very eloquently on knitting, but also on life and was largely responsible for getting me back knitting after a 30 year gap and also for teaching me to knit in the round and through her I have learnt to be in charge of my knitting, (it is about the only thing of which I can boast that distinction).

    Best wishes,
    Deborah
    Hove, E. Sussex
    I hope you have better Summer weather up there than down here. It has been grey and damp for days.

  • Gordon

    Dave,

    “Pattern adjustment” sounds dangerously like some US military slang for coordinating an air strike against the Viet Cong. Personally I just blame the knitting elves, small creatures who live beneath my sofa cushions and who, when the mood takes them, brew up a narcotic infusion based on marijuana and toenail clippings to cause my mind to wander and then muck my knitting about for a laugh.

    Cats are their natural enemies, which is why I think it’s got worse lately, ever since our cat died.

    Gordon

  • Gordon

    Hi Deborah,

    How splendid to hear from you, and thanks for getting touch. (I just googled your name and up came a Facebook page in which the great Richard Thompson is mentioned – is this you?)

    As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, the only reason I’m making such progress at the moment is unemployment – well, that and hiding from the crowds who come to Edinburgh for the Festival! But I am a monogamous knitter – a one-gansey-at-a-time sort of chap – so I’m not easily distracted. I flirt with the idea of being unfaithful from time to time – when Arans or Fair Isles bat their eyelashes at me, the little minxes – but deep down I know I’m too settled to risk it all for a highland fling, as it were… Usually I average about half an hour per row knitting in the round, or 6 hours to the inch up the body.

    Best wishes for your gansey project, and let me know which pattern you eventually settle on. If you ever have any queries please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’m happy to answer questions – or more accurately Margaret is, since in these matters she tends to speak through me like a spirit guide through a medium (one rap for yes) – but the people who post below the line on these blogs are very knowledgeable and/or supportive and I’m sure would be happy to offer suggestions and advice.

    As for the weather, well, April was nice and hot and sunny…

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Lynne

    The bread recipe looks very tempting – but I’m still in the land of “not entirely metric”, so, how many cups is 2kg of flour??

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    I’m not exactly sure! I tried looking it up on Google but came up with various answers from 7-10 cups. (Remember, though, it’s 1 kg flour.)

    This recipe makes for a slightly wet dough, so you have to remember not to add more flour during kneading. It will feel rather sticky at first, but as you knead, it will come together. Then, when it rises in the oven, you get those nice little ciabatta-y air holes.

    Gordon

  • Lynne

    Right. . 1kg – so, do you weigh it each time you do this? or are you at the expertise of guesstimating?

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    I see that one of my bread books equates 500g bread flour to 3.25 cups. I suppose it is therefore possible – and I say with this all due trepidation, ‘cos I usually use a spreadsheet to calculate this sort of thing – that 1 kg would equal 6.5 cups.

    I have a nifty little automatic scale that does all the hard stuff for me – except it’s so small I have to weigh my flour in smaller bowls and then add them to the big bowl (so 1 kg equals 2 bowls of 300g and one of 400g…)!

    Gordon

  • Nigel

    I never understand recipes that trade in CUPS. I mean, what size is a cup meant to be? 34b? As for the metric/imperial mix-up …

  • Deborah Purgavie

    Dear Gordon,

    Thank you for your reply. Yes that is me. I always try and see Richard Thompson whenever he plays at “The Dome”. He never disappoints! My sons come with me now as well’ which is so nice.

    I have always wanted to visit the Festival and hope one day to make it. The son of a friend of mine was doing a play this year. But yes I sympathise with the sensation of being overrun. Brighton is like that for much of the year now.

    I like your picture of Lanhydrock, we went there earlier this Summer when we were on holiday in Fowey. It was a beautiful day and the garden was stunning. We had some lovely weather and fabulous cliff walks, the sea was turquoise one day; so rare in this country.

    I shall let you know which pattern I choose in due course.

    Best wishes,
    Deborah

  • *snort*

    Dear Nigel,

    Cup size? Isn’t that just a bit personal a question to be asking Gordon? (Although, Gordon, we all wait with bated (not baited, thank you very much) breath for the answer!)

    Lynne – I advise getting a small kitchen scale. Amazon sells good ones and they make things a lot easier, plus you can use non-US recipes more often! The reason cup volume and weight don’t correspond is the fact that if you pack the flour into the cup it’s a lot heavier than if you sift it into the cup. I usually don’t sift (I’m lazy), but I will sort of scoop the flour around until it’s lighter and less packed before measuring it out.

    And lastly, Gordon! Your bread recipe is very tempting, but it’s HUGE. How do you and Margaret eat all that bread in a week? Cripes. Or, maybe I’m not eating enough bread? *boggle* I think I’ll halve it and see what I get.

    The gansey is, as usual, lovely. I really like the ridges at the shoulder – very snazzy and epaulette-esque.

    Any word on the Ceremonial Archivist Position?

    SongBird

  • Gordon,

    I just re-read the bread recipe and noted the fridge section. What if I let the bread sit in the fridge and only pulled off enough for, say, that night’s dinner. How long will the bread dough last in the fridge?

    Clearly, I must experiment!

    SongBird

  • Gordon

    Ah, the old “storm in a D cup” question. Personally I’m more worried about being arrested on sexual harassment charges if I try to measure a lady’s, ahem, chest, especially if my hands are cold…

    Bread. The recipe does make a fair bit, but the secret is to freeze the baked bread and just take out as much as you want when you get up at breakfast time. It will be defrosted by lunchtime and will taste just like freshly baked bread. Alternatively, heat up the oven and pop the frozen baguettes or rolls in for 10-15 minutes (I sometimes wrap them in tin foil before heating them up to stop them drying out.)

    If I want to make half the amount – enough for, say, 4 x 8-inch baguettes, I follow Dan Leader’s recipe (500g flour, 340g water, 1 tsp instant yeast, 1.5 tsp salt, plus a splash of olive oil if I’m in the mood).

    The dough will stay fresh in the fridge for 3-4 days, and can certainly be baked in batches (I prefer to get it over with all at once, to free up space in the fridge and because I’m inherently lazy). More than 4 days and it loses interest. Another good tip is to tear off a pinch of dough and put it aside, and add it to your next batch of bread dough – it will give your next bread depth and body.

    And since you ask, we tend to split one baguette between us for lunch, a ratio of about 60%-40%. So this recipe provides us with enough bread for a week. If no one is looking I’m quite capable of demolishing a whole baguette like a cartoon beaver demolishing a scots pine tree.

    Gordon

  • Gordon

    Deborah,

    Speaking of Lanhydrock, have you seen the great movie of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with Imogen Stubbs, Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter? It was all filmed in and around there, and I get very nostalgic for the south west when I watch it.

    My Richard Thompson iPod playlist clocks in at 4 hours 10 minutes (and is second only to my Bob Dylan playlist, a modest 6 hours 17 minutes…).

    Best wishes on your gansey,
    Gordon

  • Lynne

    Thanks, Song, I really do have a kitchen scale that weighs in grams, so will weigh a container and then ‘play’ in the flour. I do the same as you and ‘fluff’ it up instead of sifting. There is a difference in Canadian flour as compared to U.S.flour – the Canadian doesn’t pack down as much, I think it’s ground much finer, I can sure tell the difference when baking in WA State.

  • Lynne! I had no idea you were in Canada! Which part? We go to the Vancouver area … sort of regularly (at least once a year?).

    My scale will zero out, so I put the container on top, then zero it and measure from there. I should be better about weighing my cooking so I can write down the recipes.

    SongBird

  • Lynne

    Hi, Song, I’m 7 miles south of Penticton, B.C., so still about 250 miles east of Vancouver. Where is your home?

  • Lisa Mitchell

    So does the fact that I currently have four projects on the go make me a knitting wench?

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Lynne – My husband grew up in Summerland in the 40’s and moved back there to teach in the late 60’s early 70’s.

  • Lynne

    Lisa – what a coicidence, we have family in S’land and we were there for Chinese food just Thursday. I only located here 25 years ago, but my husband’s family has been in the area for decades.

  • Lynne – I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, in Sunny California! (Well, up here it’s often Foggy California, but who am I to argue with the advertising campaign?)

    And Lisa, if you only have four projects going, then that makes me something unprintable. I have, um, an exponential multiple of 4. At least. Heh.

    SongBird

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Lynne – my husband’s father was the Baptist pastor in Summerland back in the 40’s.

  • Lynne

    Lisa – where are you located now?

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Lynne – we’re in Calgary. Do you ever come this far east and north?

  • Veronica

    Regarding this weeks story and comments: guffaw!