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Cedar Gansey, Week 4: 6 August

Well, that’s summer over for another year. The Gala’s ended; the fireworks are all snapped, crackled and popped; the funfair’s packed up and departed. All that’s left are the smouldering embers of a bonfire on the little island in the river, as though some rather confused vikings had turned up late, sacked a garden shed just for the look of the thing, and sailed off back into history. (While walking down by the river on Friday I passed three council workmen on the island, standing by the crane they’d used to erect the towering mound of wood. One noticed me and shouted proudly across the water, “Is that a bonfire or is that no’ a bonfire?” Well, I was glad to put an end to his confusion: it was a bonfire.)

It’s funny the way the calendar seems to determine seasons, isn’t it? When I lived in England and Wales summer lasted all the way through August: it only ended with the bank holiday, and with schools going back the first week of September. Now I live in the far north of Scotland and autumn is already flicking the lights on and off in the public bar of Time, urging summer to finish its pint and get off home. There was condensation on the inside of the window the other day. So it begins.

Smoking remains

Still, autumn is perfect weather for wearing, and indeed knitting, ganseys. It’s time to reveal the design: it’s the classic Henry Freeman pattern, identified with Staithes in all the books but actually ubiquitous wherever ganseys were knitted. It’s part of my farewell tour of favourite gansey patterns; this was the first I ever knitted (though sizing was something of a problem back in those days; it might perhaps have fitted John Goodman, or possibly John Goodman and a couple of friends).

Spots of colour at Asda, Woking

I do love these simple, textured patterns; they always make me think of the elegant geometric designs of Islamic art, always supposing the Caliphate had had a flourishing herring industry. Plus, this one has the added attraction that it can double as a cheese grater in times of need. The atonal composer Arnold Schoenberg once famously said that despite all his theories there was still plenty of good music to be written in C Major. That’s how I feel about these patterns: there are still plenty of good ganseys to be knit in moss stitch (or double seed stitch, or whatever the hell it’s called). Besides, if it’s good enough for Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s good enough for me.

240-year-old handbells

Ah, well. Enjoy the rest of your summer, guys. Here the plums are already swelling on the tree and an autumnal dankness suffuses the woods with the piquant fragrance of locker-room socks. I’ll leave you with some of Tennyson’s most beautiful lines which, although not about autumn exactly, always come to my mind with the arrival of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness:

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.

8 comments to Cedar Gansey, Week 4: 6 August

  • =Tamar

    Seed stitch in the fall? Better you than me… I did a baby sweater in seed stitch once, and that was enough. It’s a handsome look and a pleasant texture once it’s done, I admit. I blanch at the thought, but that’s just me. Maybe it will be a pleasure after all the stockinette.
    We don’t do bonfires here. Too many health and safety rules, and with all the wildfires, I do understand. But I grew up with the scent of wood fires and sometimes I miss it.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, it’s a pleasure sometimes to switch off the brain and let the fingers do the counting. Plus I’ve always loved the effect of a textured yoke. (Mind you, I’m already thinking about the next one, and that’s definitely going to be more on the ornate side!)

  • Judit M./Finland

    Hello Gordon
    I was happy reading that you have chosen the Staithes for the pattern of the cedar gansey. This will give your brain a good ”vacation ” from all the counting and measuring. I also knitted this pattern once and though it is simple it looks fine on a bigger surface- as the yolk of a sweater. To change the subject: did the huge white gansey fitted well to the gent who got it ? I was waiting for a photo but did not seen any .
    Happy knitting and enjoy your ”brain holidays”

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, yes I did indeed get a picture of the white Gansey being worn. But the recipient is someone who doesn’t like to have pictures of themselves publicly available, so in this case I am respecting his right to privacy. But I have been promised one with the face obscured – perhaps a little like the Patrington and Withernsea Gansey in Gladys Thompson – and I hope to publish that in due course!

  • Sharon in Surrey

    I made myself a cardi in Moss stitch one year & what a dreadful pain in the ass that was!!! Lucky for it, I was snowed in for almost 10 days & couldn’t go anywhere so I watched British TV & knit! Never again. You can send a little Fall here to the West Coast of B.C. if you don’t mind. It’s so hot here -31C today again -that I’m stuck at home because I can’t breathe out there in the heat, humidity, high pressure & trapped ozone. I think this is one of the worst years we’ve had. Luckily we aren’t short of H2O since we had a very heavy snow pack on the mountains last winter!! The trees are still very green although the lawns are yellow & brown – who needs to cut grass anyway!!!
    Love your new Cedar gansey. Sometimes you just need something simple with a bright color like that. And it will go nicely with your Rudolf horns & red nose at Christmas . . . .

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, it’s like a holiday, having just knit 2/ purl 2 to worry about, no counting, no cabling or (heaven forfend) yarn overs! As for Fall, there’s been a shower almost every day this week, it’s 14ºc outside and I’m wearing a pullover! Now, about those Rudolf horns…

  • Jane Callaghan

    The dreams decay, dreams gone beyond recall,
    No birdsong now, mist smothering the sound,
    The darkness creeps o’er mountain, field and heath, But Tennyson goes on and on and on.

    Chin up, Gordon!

    • Gordon

      “Come into the garden, Maud,
      For the black bat, night, has flown,
      Come into the garden, Maud,
      I’ve an app on my mobile phone;
      And the neighbours next door are drunk on the floor,
      And I’m hoping to lower the tone…”

      “Break, break, break,
      On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
      And I hope that there’ll be lamb chops
      And hot buttered crumpets for tea…”

      [Early drafts, subsequently discarded]

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