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Balerno 12: 8 – 14 August

Hurrah! The front is finished, the shoulders are joined and the collar is done too. After my faux pas of a couple of weeks ago (mutter mumble mutter), we’re back on track, and there are only the sleeves to go.

I decided to shape the neck to a depth of one diamond, or 18 rows (1.5 inches). As I prefer a fairly steep curve around the neckline, I set the rate of decrease to be 1 stitch every 2 rows. With a bit of elementary maths (a slide rule, strong coffee and a wet towel), I calculated that over 18 rows I would make 9 decreases, so I moved 9 stitches from each side of the centre needle and placed them on each shoulder needles, and heigh ho, off we go, decreasing every other row. (H’m. Were there ever knitting shanties…?) The actual decreases were made on the 2nd and 3rd stitches of each row to give me clear stitches to pick up for the collar.

The shoulder strap is the traditional “rig ‘n’ fur” and is one of the neatest features of a gansey. As you all know already, each half of the shoulder consists of 12 rows, alternating 2 rows purl with 2 rows plain to give 3 ridges and 3 furrows. By using a 3-needle bind-off, the actual join of the centre furrows creates, as if by magic, a central ridge. I never grow tired of this effect.

The collar is just over an inch of knit 2/ purl 2 ribbing. The shoulder strap and front indent measure about 4.5 inches, which at my current stitch gauge equates to 40 stitches to be picked up. It’s cast off in pattern, with knit cast-off stitches and purl cast-off stitches, so ensure the collar concertinas properly at the top.

So there we are. All I have to do now is screw up my courage, and/or get blind drunk, and – gulp – pick up the stitches around the sleeve.

I was approached by my optician the other week, to see if I wouldn’t mind being a test subject at an optician’s seminar he’s organising in Edinburgh at the end of the month (my eyes are so weird and fragile they could be the full page centrefold in What Retinal Detachment Monthly). At first I agreed, until I found out that this would involve sitting in a darkened room, having those horrible drops in my eyes (the ones that infect you with Bush Baby Eye Syndrome), and staring into Star Wars laser beams while various opticians peer at me on and off through the day. Reader, I chickened out (buk-buk ba-kaark!).

The weather’s a bit bipolar these days, but on one of the “up” days we went out to the botanic gardens at Dawyck, about an hour’s drive south of Edinburgh last week. There was hardly anyone there, and this was my kind of garden – trees and hills, a river and, overhead, a handful of buzzards circling like vultures just in case the incline proved too much for us. Most gardens are just too manicured for me – this felt more like managed countryside. Recommended.

This week’s bread is a 50% wholemeal, a loaf and some pseudo-ciabatta rolls, softened with olive oil, and with added honey because there’s something about a sweet honey wholemeal bread that just feels right. And it’s possibly the most comforting kind of toast you can make (that doesn’t contain cinnamon, anyway!).

Right. Am off to compose a few knitting shanties.

Heigh ho, here we go,
Decreasing every other row,
Weigh oh, knit it slow,
At least I’m knitting a gansey so I don’t have to learn to sew.

OK, needs some work, I admit…

16 comments to Balerno 12: 8 – 14 August

  • Eva

    When it comes to the working thread
    I never pick I always throw
    Even though it means my W.I.P.
    Is very slow to grow

    I enjoy watching the creation of your Ganseys! I do have a request, though. Could you possibly make a video of the neck portion of the process? Shaping the neck, joining the shoulders and maybe a few of the dreaded neckline stitches being picked up? If not in video, then maybe a few photos?

    Thank you,

  • Gordon

    Hi Eva,

    It was my intention over time to develop a complete “how to” of video tutorials and photos for everything from casting on to casting off, and all stops in between. The fact that I haven’t tells you all you need to know about my application! It’s partly a question of fear of showing up my inadequate technique – that when you see how I actually do stuff my name will become a hissing and a byword in the streets, or at least on Ravelry. And partly a question of Margaret being around with her camera at key moments.

    It’s still on my “to do” list. Next gansey I do in a light shade – probably the one after this – I promise I shall comply.


  • Lynne

    Gordon, I don’t think any of your techniques are inadequate when they get the job done as beautifully as you do. There are several ‘right’ ways to do many different things and I’ve learned from your tutorial even though I’ve got several books and years of experience. Put some sound to your video and entertain as you go. lol

  • Dave

    As much as I enjoy Ravelry, there are way too many posts asking what is the “best” way to do this, what is the “best” tool to do that . . . If your technique is inadequate, it has been enough to instruct and inspire me in the art of knitting ganseys, and for that I am grateful!!

  • Nigel

    I echo Dave.

  • Nigel

    I echo Dave. Or should that be “Ditto” Dave. Anyway, I agree with you Dave.

  • Gordon

    Ah, but you don’t know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night after a disturbing dream in which you are sure that someone has been inside your house, in your very bedroom, watching you while you slept. And you turn on the bedside light, only to see – oh, horror! – lying on the duvet, over your breast, a tiny swatch, some four inches square, of cream gansey wool with a perfect moss-stitch circle picked out in black right in the centre.

    It is … the Black Spot!

    And you realise that you have been marked out by the League of Perfect Knitters, a shadowy international organisation from whom no sub-standard knitter is safe. I’ve received several warnings just for writing this blog. One time when Margaret was away I awoke to find the severed sleeve of a gansey next to me in bed.

    Their agents are known only by code words – Chevron, Flag, Cable and, of course, the terrifying Betty Martin (who’s reputed to use poison-tipped needles). No one is safe. In fact, I’ll tell you something else, something really important – just a second, there’s someone at the door. I’ll be back in a min

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Nice nod to R.L. Steveson! For those of us who are visual learners having someone like you who has knit a few ganseys show us the “how to” would be a huge help. I’m in a gansey no man’s land out here (no one I know knits ’em) and it would be great to have an actual set of hands showing what’s to be done rather than a book saying “Having picked up stitches for the sleeve proceed to follow the pattern”. There are a lot of assumptions made by pattern writers that good folks like you can help fix. Trust that your fans in the blogisphere will whip out their trusty 18 inch steel gansey needles and take on that nasty Long John and Betty Martin! Take that you! ARRRGH!

  • Gordon

    Hi LIsa,

    Well, that’s another vote for more tutorials. I shall, as they say, take it under advisement.

    It’s not false modesty that holds me back – my fingers have no memory, so one day I can be very competent, but the next day I’m all fingers and thumbs – fingers like a bunch of bananas, as Julian Bream says. Knitting really isn’t a talent I possess, it’s just something I enjoy, in my clumsy way.

    Yesterday I was doing a cable on the sleeve. I put 3 stitches on the cable needle and knit the other 3 – then discovered I’d put 4 stitches on the cable needle, and there were only 2 left. So I had to undo the stitches I just knit. In doing so, I dropped the first stitch of the cable. In trying to pick it up I dropped the same stitch on the row before. After much fumbling about, like a surgeon who’s been blindfolded as a joke, I managed to get both stitches back. I then re-knit the cable stitches. Imagine my hilarity when I realised that I’d forgotten to actually cable the stitches, and had instead knit 6 straight plain stitches. So I had to go back, unpick them, and then re-knit them as a cable.

    This happens a lot!

    There is a great Welsh proverb – even a blind pig sometimes finds an acorn – which sums up my technique perfectly, and explains why I’m reluctant to set myself up as an expert.

    Blind pigs of the world, unite!

  • Nigel

    Maybe ask Margaret to stand-in for you?

  • Lisa Mitchell

    I know the feeling. I’m working on my first lace piece – not very complicated but with all the yarn overs, slip slip knits, etc I can’t even watch tv or talk to anyone while I’m knitting it. Makes me feel like an antisocial knitting troll… Hope the person I’m knitting it for appreciates it!

  • Lynne

    Hey, Lisa, I know exactly how you feel! I’m also doing my first (and only) piece of lace knitting, and it’s the s-l-o-o-w-e-s-t piece of knitting in my life – just so those stitches don’t fall off the needle! My reward at the finish will be starting my winter gansey project.

  • Huh. I love lace and find that it goes really fast!

    And Gordon? Mistakes like that are normal for knitting. I do stuff like that all the time. It’s the sort of thing that’s just … part of the process.

    Do you use a crochet hook to pull up dropped stitches?


  • Gordon

    Nigel, I’m not sure how Margaret feels about being a stunt double!

    Song, it’s not the mistakes so much – everyone does that, as you say – as my Keystone Kops attempts to rectify them! I am pretty maladroit to begin with which, coupled with my eyesight, makes it all rather tricky. I don’t possess a crochet hook – though I daresay Margaret has one lying around somewhere. I use my cabling needle, a 6-inch 2.25mm dpn. I can usually cope if it’s just a couple of rows down – three is like balancing a cup of coffee on a hard-boiled egg. More than that and I throw my head back and bawl for Margaret like a 2 year-old who’s skinned his knee.


  • Ruth

    I have to confess I haven’t visited you in a while, so much to do in my shop before the back-to-school rush. So I am really impressed by how you have progressed your latest masterpiece. I haven’t got to the armhole gussets on my Other Half’s gansey yet! Still, your sterling example will spur me on…

  • Gordon

    Hi Ruth,

    Well, as I’ve said, I’m in a curious kind of limbo just now, so I have some time on my hands. If I’m lucky this will change in a few weeks, so I’m trying to make the most of it while it lasts. And having finished one novel, I need a break before I try anything else. (Besides, there’s only so many hours in the day a man can sleep!)

    Schools have gone back in Edinburgh already, so I’m a bit out of sync with the rest of the world. But then, the football season’s started too, so I don’t know what’s going on any more!

    Good luck with your gansey. We look forward to ics.