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Balerno 2: 31 May – 5 June

It’s that time of year again, when spring turns to summer (or autumn, depending on its mood), and Edinburgh loses its students who fly away like migrating birds – the student flat across the road is vacant once more, while we have an anxious wait to see if it will be occupied by another crop of young ladies who haven’t worked out that if you want privacy it’s best to draw your curtains.

Anyway. Here by popular demand are the long-awaited pictures of the recently-completed cardigan, stylishly modelled by Margaret. (Just out of frame is the SWAT team I hired with laser sighted weapons to ensure she turned up for the photo shoot. Only one made it back to base.) It’s already getting a fair bit of wear – I don’t think either of us expected it still to be gansey weather in June, even in Edinburgh!

Meanwhile work continues on my uncle’s gansey, which we’ve christened “Balerno” after the part of Edinburgh where he lives. I’ve finished the ribbing, all three inches of it, and am currently on the band of plain knitting that was traditionally placed between the end of the ribbing and the start of the body pattern. This time I’m also including his initials (“J” and “R” either side of a seam stitch). I use the letters which are graphed out in Rae Compton’s book, which are 14 rows high; so with 2 plain rows before and another 2 after, that makes 18 rows in all, or 1.5 inches.

I cast on 364 stitches for the ribbing last week. At the end of the ribbing I increased by 40 stitches to 404, remembering to increase as evenly as possible, so that meant 20 stitches per side. (Note the “high tech” stitch markers to delineate the seam stitches between front and back, cut from an old frayed length of cream gansey yarn to contrast with the navy blue. While they’re not strictly necessary, I use them till I get settled because I’m more than capable of “sleep-knitting” my way through an entire row without noticing the seam…)

Now all I have to do is finalise the pattern. Brace yourselves people for the Big Reveal next week.

Congratulations to Lynne on finishing her rather stunning gansey, illustrated here. I’ve floated on a number of occasions that I’d like to devote a section of the website to ganseys knitted by other people – or any knitting inspired by ganseys, or using gansey patterns – so if any of you have any pictures you’d like to share, please send them through.

Meanwhile I’m writing again, another semi-fantasy novel while I send out my previous novel to literary agents (“on the chance, you know, just on the chance!”, as Otter says in the Wind in the Willows). I’ve set myself to write 2,000 words a day, 5 days a week. After 3 weeks I’ve reached 30,000 words, or about a third of my estimated total. (As Terry Pratchett says, writing is the most fun anyone can have by themselves.) So far it’s quantity rather than quality, but you can’t win ’em all. (As for the publishing industry, I’m a great believer in the old Welsh proverb, “many drops wear away the stone”; or even the other one, “even the blind pig sometimes finds an acorn”. Sooner or later persistence will pay off, gobeithio – I hope!)

Oh, and if you know any students planning on coming to Edinburgh – please remind them to draw their curtains…


18 comments to Balerno 2: 31 May – 5 June

  • Dave

    Wow, having it modeled makes the pattern really show! It’s a beautiful cardigan. Too bad about the SWAT team, but I understand. The last time I went to a family reunion, it took 72 Federal Marshals to restore order. We don’t discuss it much . . .

    Anxiously awaiting the pattern reveal . . .

  • Lynne

    It looks great on you, Margaret – and thanks for showing us. (I’m with you, I hate posing for the camera!) and the colour is great for those cool summer evenings.

  • Leigh

    I just love the sweater. I see why you made the cuffs so long. I really like that. The pattern is outstanding. It looks very balanced. The color is beautiful on you Margaret. Well done all the way around! Gordon, this is the one I think you should do a class on.

  • Annalies

    Thank you for showing! And your earrings are in the same colour.
    It’s a beautiful cardigan.

  • Gordon

    Hi guys,

    One of the things I’ve learned is that you can’t really appreciate a gansey till you see it being worn. We deliberately decided to make this a “loose fit”, big and baggy, and in any case I prefer the doubled-back cuff effect so the wearer has a bit of flexibility in how long they want the sleeves to be (and also, as I discovered in the icy blasts of last winter, you can roll the cuffs over your hands into sort of fingerless gloves!).

    Oh, and Dave – do you have pictures…?

    Cheers all,

  • Leigh

    Please forgive the repetition, I just wanted to make sure that everybody knows about the Gansey workshop so I am reprinting note from previous weeks:

    Hey for all ya’ll who are interested, I understand Moray Firth Gansey Project Autumn Seminar class and reservation info has been posted. See below. Since I have not yet won the lottery, I will not beable to come, but I am seriously considering saving my pennies to come next year if not only to just rifle through Gordon’s closets to examine all of his ganseys.


  • Gordon

    Thanks for the reminder, Leigh. I’ve just emailed the project to see if they want to borrow any of my ganseys to display in their event in October, thus potentially laying myself open to the snub of a lifetime.

    We keep open house here, so if anyone is interested to drop by for a chat and see the ganseys we’ve got in the house (fewer than you might think, since I mostly knit to give away, but at least 5 or 6 at any one time) you’re more than welcome to drop in. Just remember that there’s the small matter of 54 steps to climb to reach our eyrie…


  • Suzanne

    Thank you! The proof of the gansey is always in the wearing, and this one is doing a great job. Many thanks to Margaret for being a sport and submitting to a photo shoot (with, or without, the influence of a SWAT team).

    Since you both complied with my request, I must go find somebody else to nag. 🙂

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    Poor Margaret wasn’t helped by the fact that it was a bright, sunny day down in the Botanic Gardens (what a difference a week makes – there was quite a lot of storm damage, leaves everywhere, ripped off branches and some rather shell-shocked-looking ducklings looking traumatised and swimming in circles) so she was having to work hard not to squint!

    Anything else we can do for you, just let us know…!


  • Ruth

    Wow! Very impressive, wasn’t sure about the zip but Margaret has done a fantastic job, looks so, so good.

  • Gordon

    As Shakespeare’s Henry V (almost) says, “There’s witchcraft in your zips, Kate…”

    I’ll get me coat.

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Nice job to you both – for knitting, steeking (no not streaking…!), and modelling. I’m glad I’m not the only one whose brain shuts off while knitting. I’ve had my sahre of tinking…

  • =Tamar

    Beautiful! And further proof that if you want something specific, making it yourself is best.

  • Eva

    Beautiful! I hope to make one for each of my family eventually…since there are six in this house and MANY extended member elsewhere in the country, I should get started! Well, maybe just one for myself first…


  • Veronica

    Wow. And I mean that with all seriousness. The sweater looked lovely when it was flat, but, it really does come alive when worn. Margaret, you look wonderful and I’m thoroughly jealous. 🙂

    The idea for the extra long cuffs is brilliant. When you were knitting, I had’t realized how stylish it would look when worn. Also your comments about using them as fingerless gloves would never have occurred to me. I think I just might have to knit 6″ cuffs on all sweaters. Hmm, maybe not all of them — I’m currently knitting for an infant.

    Gordon, I have a question for you that I can’t find the answer to online:
    Why is there a plain strip above the waist and cuff ribbing? I read that the bottom half of arms on working ganseys were plain so they could be quickly reknit when worn out but that doesn’t explain an inch or two. It also doesn’t explain the waist. Does a working gansey wear out at the waist as well? The inch or two makes sense if you’re lengthening a sweater for a growing child, but not for an adult. I really can’t figure this one out. Help. (And sorry if you explained this before. I’ve not finished the blog archive yet. Looking forward to it though.)

  • Gordon

    Hi Veronica,

    And thanks for the nice comments again! (it helps to have a model on hand, of course.)

    I can’t recall offhand what the books say about the plain knitting after the welt and before the cuffs. But I’m going to be in Edinburgh this weekend and reunited with my library so I’ll have a look. (it might be something to do with letting the knitting settle down for an inch after increasing for the body before you start the pattern, or giving you a clear run before decreasing on the cuff. I don’t think it’s so much connected with re-knitting; the ones that are only patterned on the yoke were probably left plain on the body because the fishermen wore oilskins up to the waist, so any pattern would be invisible and a wasted effort (and I assumed the forearm sleeves were left plain because it was quicker to knit, and because a fully patterned sleeve on a half-patterned gansey looks a bit funny; Michael Pearson has a picture of Mrs Laidler of Whitby’s gansey like that and it definitely looks odd! Great pattern though).

    Anyway, I’ll check it out and get back to you.


  • Gordon


    Here’s what Rae Compton has to say on page 103 of her Traditional Guernsey and Jersey Knitting:

    “Starting a pattern immediately after the rib can give you problems in placing the seam stitch and knowing just where to increase so that the pattern is not in conflict with a ribbed welt. This gives no problem if you work a plain section immediately above the welt before beginning the pattern. Originally worked so that a thread could be pulled and loops picked up for working a new welt if the old one became worn, it serves as a very good division between one area and the next…”

    Hope this helps!

  • Veronica

    Thanks for the information and taking the time to look it up, Gordon. Much appreciated. It’s a reason I never would have thought of myself. There is so much to learn about knitting and knitting history! Wonderful to know that there will always be something new around every corner. 🙂