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Balerno 18: 19 – 25 September

And so, here it is, the Finished Article. As ever, you can’t really see how a gansey’s going to come out until it’s been washed and blocked, and this one, if I say so myself, came out rather well. You can see it in the pictures, pinned out like Lemuel Gulliver being captured by the Lilliputians. Though – as ever – I won’t be able to relax until I see if it actually fits the intended recipient. All that’s left now is to add it to the gallery and move on to the next project or, if it doesn’t fit, to change my name and move to Latin America in disgrace.

Speaking of my next project, my intended target still hasn’t given me his measurements – I’m seeing him tomorrow, and my current plan is to summon a couple of policemen, accuse him of stealing my wallet, and then, while his arms are pinned, whip out a tape measure and stealthily measure his chest and arms. Then run like blazes. It should work, right?

We spent part of last week with my parents in the gentle rolling fields of Northamptonshire, a last visit before we vanish into the Frozen North. As I think I’ve mentioned before, they live in an old ex-pub beside the Grand Union Canal (see picture). The house is getting a bit too large for my parents now – too many stairs – but so much of my life is tied up with it, it’ll be hard to see it go; I can probably still match the various indentations in my forehead to the low wooden beams that cross the ceilings, from the many occasions when I nearly knocked myself out by forgetting to duck (‘But shouldn’t he be breathing, doctor?’).

Suddenly, it’s all go. We’re off back to Wick later this week to try to find me somewhere to rent in the short term, and maybe start scoping out houses to buy. Bizarrely, it’s almost impossible to find somewhere to stay in Wick for more than one night at a time, and if you try to book less than a week ahead all the rooms are full. What’s going on? Don’t get me wrong, I love Caithness and its coast, but this is rather puzzling. What can they all be doing up there? (I’d like to think they’re visiting the archives, but maybe not.) My current theory is that a James Bond supervillain is setting up a secret base in the wilds near Dunnet Head, and that the mists and low clouds are really produced by a screening device to hide it from view; and all these people are his new henchmen and technicians, who have answered advertisements in the Caithness Bugle. I shall of course make it my business to investigate, but if I disappear suddenly, or meet with a mysterious “accident”, make sure the authorities are alerted – and avenge me.

Are any of you going to the Ganseyfest in Inverness this weekend, part of the Moray Firth Gansey Project? If so, you’ll see 5 of my ganseys there, in the exhibition and maybe even in the fashion show (their latest flyer for the fashion show even shows one of mine being modelled by a suitably rugged-looking chap). We’re hoping to look in on the Sunday, but it’s come at the wrong time for us as we scoot from one end of the country to the other. (Inverness is about halfway between Edinburgh and Wick, a 2.5 hour drive for us.) If you do attend, and want to know how to recognise me, I’ll be the bloke.

Coming back to the blocked gansey, I’m thinking of treating myself to a wooly board, or jumper board, one of those frames that you can stretch pullovers on to dry them. Jamieson & Smith do a decent-looking one for about £80. Has anyone any experience of these? We used to own one, but it was plastic and eventually cracked and broke. Do they spoil the welt? How easy are they to use? Any observations gratefully received.

23 comments to Balerno 18: 19 – 25 September

  • Annalies

    Hi Gordon,
    What a lovely house,really nice.
    Gansey is beautiful.
    Wish you goodluck in the north for searching a house.

  • Gordon

    Hi Annalies,

    For a time my parents owned a little boat, and my brother and I would putter up and down the canal – though I preferred walking. And of course, just to the right of the picture you get the main London to Glasgow rail line, so it’s not as quiet as it could be!


  • Lynne

    The Gansey !! It’s my favorite of all and your uncle will be very proud to wear it. Great job!
    The photo of the Northamptonshire home looks like it came right out of “Our England”; it must have been an idealic area to grow up in. I wish you luck in finding a residence in Wick, all of this change must be as stressful as unemployment.

  • Debra

    Very, very beautiful. I was watching your progress on this one with great expectation and wasn’t disappointed. I’m a knitter who has a long list of items to knit before I can try my very first gansey (for my husband).

    I really enjoy your blog a lot.


  • Annalies

    it is still a nice place. Born and grown up in Amsterdam i know a lot of noise.:-0

  • Gordon


    Unemployment was stressful in an abstract, impending doomish sort of way – this is stressful in an “Oh my God so much to do so little time” sense! (Of the two, unemployment has much to recommend it…)


    Thank you, and thank you for getting in touch. Little and often is the secret with ganseys! I hope you continue to keep dropping by, and keep finding the blog of interest. And when you do start your own project, you’ll find the online community here is very supportive, and knows the right terms for things and everything.


    Yes, for me a noisy countryside beats a noisy city – yes, I’m looking at you, Edinburgh – every time.

    And thanks to all for the positive comments!


  • It sounds patronizing to say that I’m amazed at the gansey, like it’s a surprise you do amazing work, but it’s incredibly nice! I love the way the stitch patterns just pop off the sweater. Have you made any for yourself?

    I can’t wait to see your next one.

    Will you post pictures of the houses you “audition” for you to move to?

    When you figure out what the Secret Reason is for the lack of rooms in Wick, you’ll let us know, right?


  • Nigel

    Gordon, I was reading about Wagner recently. He said the first eight notes of Rule Britannia, summed up the English psyche exactly.
    Just thought I would pass it on, although I am sure you know it already.

  • Gail

    Stunning! I note the finished color is darker than the unblocked picture, and I see Margaret’s handy-dandy color corrector beside the blocked pic, so think she might have color corrected. Am interested in why, perhaps, you are switching from the foam floor blocks to another method of blocking. I picked up some of the floor squares and found the only thing missing was a grid, so I put a 1 inch grid on and I think it works a charm.
    Good luck with the apartment/house hunting. Looking forward to hearing all news!

  • Ruth

    Stunning work as always! I have just this minute held up my own gansey against the victim and decided it’s time to start the armhole gussets, after 5 months of knitting! Must get faster so it’s done for Christmas…

  • Judit

    Are any of you going to the Ganseyfest in Inverness this weekend, part of the Moray Firth Gansey Project? If so, you’ll see 5 of my ganseys there, in the exhibition and maybe even in the fashion show

    Yes, within a few hours my plane will leave Helsinki. See you in Inverness :))
    Happy to see your ganseys !
    Best regards:

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon!
    Congratulations for your finished Balerno gansey. It looks soooo pretty!
    Great work!
    Again I love the picture you posted, you was very lucky to grow in such a lovely place. And you never fell into the river?

    Ah Inverness. This must be a great event. And you and your Ganseys are there!
    Hope, you are winning a price or a medal for your ganseys!

    Good luck! Waiting for new pictures again!

    And wish you also a nice and save trip into the north to your new home.

  • Gordon

    Goodness me, you turn your back for a few days and look what happens! Thanks for the nice comments.

    Song, about a week after I knit a gansey I usually have no recollection of ever having done so – so nobody more surprised than myself. If I was told that they were actually knitted by the gansey pixies I think I’d accept that as more plausible than that I’d done them. As for houses, look up “property to buy in Wick” on Google and you’ll see some stunners!

    Nigel, I hadn’t come across the Wagner quote – or if I had I’ve forgotten it! Of course he’s right, too. I love the fact that the “ultra-serious” Wagner used to slide down banisters for fun and sometimes stood on his head when he was particularly pleased with a singer. Often when he visited a house he used to climb a tree or mountaineer up the front facade!

    Gail, you’re absolutely right about colour – it’s a proper navy, although as I say it has a nice electric bluebottle-blue sheen in the sunlight – but some of the pictures show it as a sort of royal blue, lighter than it really is. Hence the colour card – I was getting concerned that it would give a misleading impression. And the only reason for maybe switching on blocking is because it takes Margaret about an hour to get all the pins in, and I hate to see a good woman suffer like that!

    Ruth, remember winters last through February into March – there’s plenty of time for it to still be efficacious…

    Judit, hope you have (are having?) a grand time at Ganseyfest. We’ve just got back from 3 days up in Wick house-hunting, and are pretty shattered, so we’re not sure if we’ll make it on Sunday (we drive through Inverness to get to Wick, but it’s 156 miles from Edinburgh to Inverness, with Wick being a further 100 miles north of that) – it will depend if we can wake up on Sunday morning and can face the drive – again!

    Ulrike, No, I never fell in. (They’ve cleaned it up since, but it was so dirty in those days you’d be very careful not to fall in and end up swallowing the water!) Though I did once rescue a drowning sheep and carry it back to the farm – man, it was heavy, with the wet fleece, and it smelled rather pungent as it dried in my arms – I can still smell it with the flinching nostrils of the imagination! (In a parallel universe I see myself as a sort of St Francis of Assisi, but one who wasn’t so keen on kissing lepers.)

    Thanks for all the good wishes, and i’ll tell you how the trip went on Monday – assuming I’m not still asleep, that is…


  • RachelR


    How bizaare..came across your blog looking for gansey patterns after going to the ganseyfest yesterday and giving into 2 cones of frangipani. We moved to caithness 18 month ago, fab news about your move, i hope you love it as much as we have. There is loads of knitterly stuff going on locally, can give you info on knitting and spinning groups if you are interested. Welcome!!

  • Hi Rachel, and thanks.

    We dropped by Ganseyfest yesterday around lunchtime – Liz Lovick said there were a couple of knitters from Caithness attending, but couldn’t spot any at the time; I guess you would have been one!

    I’m a bit of a one trick pony, in that I only knit ganseys, but Margaret is into the whole spinning/knitting thing and yes, we’d love to know more. I start work in Wick on the 17th, so it’s all a bit frantic just now. Why don’t you drop me a line via gordonr@ganseys.com and we can take it from there?

    Oh, and I walked out with 5 cones of Frangipani!


  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon!

    I like your adventure, when you rescued the drowning sheep from the river.
    In my imagination I can see the scene; a little boy carrying the heavy wet sheep.
    Very brave done!

    Cheers, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    It sounds like the sort of thing you’d read in the early life of one of the saints, doesn’t it? St Francis of Assissi, maybe. And yet, I regretted it almost immediately, what with the weight of the great heavy wet thing and the overpowering reek of lanolin that almost made me sick. Still, I hope it counts in my favour when weighed against my many sins on the Final Day. (actually, it s probably the first of a new race of super-athletic sheep and I ruined it’s chances of escaping and starting a new life in the forest – instead it was caught and turned to sheep prison, ultimately to end up as someone’s dinner. The Steve Mqueen of sheep…)


  • Claudia

    Hello and good afternoon Gordon,
    I share your enthusiasm for guernseys and the culture around them. I have finally been able to buy the Whitby Gansey pattern and wool and I am thrilled to bits to actually getting started..
    I have searched the web high and low but always come back to your wonderful website.
    I wonder if I may ask for some advice.. I want to get the jumper ‘just-so’ and make no mistakes. The pattern asks for a 1/1 rib and c/o of 278 sts. that does not work if I have a side sts on either side coming straight out of the welt, which you say in your article should be aimed for… ?! Would you recommend a 2/2 rib instead or fudging it?
    On the other hand, as fishermen were so superstitious in their daily business when going out to sea, were there any superstitions about mistakes or mismatched patterns in their jumpers?
    I am sorry if I have upset the previous message thread with this question!!

  • Hi Claudia

    Margaret here, Gordon’s knitting & blog tech support.

    If I have my maths right, the simplest thing to do is to add two stitches (or subtract two). That way you will have an even number of stitches for both front and back.

    However, if the pattern calls for increasing above the ribbing, you can add/subtract any necessary stitches there to end up with an even number for each side.

    The only mistakes you can make are in the stitch pattern (a cable cross in the wrong place, a purl instead of a knit) or the sizing (too big or small) – and even then a sweater on the smallish side can be vigorously blocked to make it larger. The design elements are totally up to you and can be whatever you want. So if the ‘seam’ stitch doesn’t come straight out of the welt or you’d rather have 2/2 rib, if it’s what you want, go for it.


  • Gordon

    Hi Claudia,

    and thanks for the nice comments! As you’ll see, I asked Margaret to answer the technical question since she understands these things (and I, ahem, don’t).

    I’ve never heard of any superstitions over patterns on ganseys,though of course that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. If I come across any I’ll let you know. But I wouldn’t worry about it – by the time you’re finished it’ll look so stunning no one will count the stitches or try to compare front and back – they’ll just go “Wow” while their eyes glaze over…


  • Gordon, I’m coming a bit late to this party (hope your visit with the family was perfect in every way). I wanted to comment on your question about the wooly board.

    I have owned one for several years, and I have essentially only good things to say about them. They provide you the ability to dry your ganseys vertically, saving much space. By so doing, they avoid taking on the appearance of a nice cozy cat bed. (On the other hand– though this has never happened with my cats– they might morph into the image of a scratching post, so you might want to put it in an area away from animals or small children running with chocolate).

    Since both front and back are exposed to the open air, the gansey dries much more quickly and evenly.

    It is easy to adjust the positions of the various arms and legs to stretch the gansey to its ideal proportions, though as with flat blocking you cannot make it any smaller.

    The only time I might not use a wooly board is if I am concerned that my gansey might not be long enough. While you can block to width with great facility, there is no method by which you can block a greater length.

    Finally, I would suggest that if you ever knit a cardigan, baste it closed (rather than button it) so that the front bands are not pulled into curly braces. And, if you are concerned that any of the gansey necks are being stretched by the wooly board, baste it as well, as if it were the top of a candy bag that must be cinched shut.

    I hope this helps. I feel that a wooly board is a great investment and you will never regret it.

  • Gordon

    Hi Sheila, that’s really interesting and helpful, thank you. Margaret is currently exercising the presidential veto and isn’t letting me buy one because she argues that (while agreeing that they are excellent for bodies and sleeves) they would stretch the ribbing of the welts of the kinds of jumpers I knit – and when she’s used one before the welt didn’t concertina back up afterwards. I wonder what your experience is in this regard – any thoughts gratefully received!


  • Hmmmm. I think she may be right. I usually like my ribbing, or welt, stretched to the width of the garment. It does spring back a bit, but nothing like the pre-blocked version. It seems like with a little adjustment to the design of a wooly board, though, you could make it accommodate this– to wit, if you could add, near the bottom of the board, a short leg that sticks up then “L’s” out, you could place the welt around the narrower part and the gansey around the upper part. Might be more trouble than it’s worth, though, if you are getting good results blocking with your usual method. I’ll ask my husband, Brian the revered Saint Handyman, if it could be done.

    Maybe you could borrow one from someone and try it as is? Then if your welt was not appropriately accordion-like after drying, you could simply rewash the garment and block in your normal way. I’d lend you mine, but the expense of shipping from Seattle to Scotland might be a bit prohibitive (I think I read somewhere that you are in Scotland, right?)