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Denim 1: 31 March – 6 April

WK140405bThe neighbours have a new dog, a big, boisterous, friendly pointer, and their cats are not amused. One of them coolly dealt with the situation in much the same way my brother handled my arrival as the newest member of the Reid family, by swatting it on the nose and then slamming its head repeatedly in the fridge door until it accepted who was boss.

The other feline, however, obviously abhors violence and prefers simply to keep out of the way. In other words, it haunts us much like the three spirits haunted Scrooge. It lurks in the bushes for you to open the front door and then all you see is a grey streak, like the starship Enterprise going into warp, as it shoots past you and whizzes up the stairs, and you have to go find it—as if life was one long game of hide-and-seek.

0402b Or else it rolls around on its back on the warm gravel, waving its legs in the air like antennae, as though the other cat had stuck a rude notice on its back, and it was trying to get it off. It knows a soft touch when it sees one, and it’s obviously seen one in me; it collapses as soon as it sees me now, like one of those bendy toys held up by elastic, and waits.

I have to be careful though: I got the two cats mixed up once, and tried to pat the bully in an absent-minded moment. It wrapped itself around my fist like the creature from Alien attaching itself to John Hurt’s face and began to flay my hand like someone going for the world record parmesan-grating championship. I shook it off eventually—my last sight of it was a flying ball of spitting teeth and claws sailing over the neighbours’ hedge with a long-drawn-out r-r-r-o-o-o-w-w-w-l-l-l, like an ambulance siren vanishing in the distance—and ever since then I’ve carried an oven glove, just in case.

D140406aMeanwhile, I realise I’ve become a sort of chain-smoking gansey knitter: I start a new one from the embers of the old. (Am I addicted? Could I really, as I tell myself and my counsellor, give it up any time I liked? Of course I can—I just don’t choose to, that’s all.)

So, yes, I’ve already started the next one. It’s in Frangipani denim-coloured yarn, but we won’t fall out if you call it sky blue. It’s going to be for me, and will hopefully be ready for the autumn, where I have a feeling I’m going to need it. I’ve cast on 388 stitches for the welt, and have just increased by 32 stitches to 420 for the body. I’ll reveal the pattern next week.

And it’s really spring! Or nearly. Yesterday I almost loosened my scarf, which is as good a sign as hearing the first cuckoo. Before you know it I’ll be down to just the one pair of long johns…

23 comments to Denim 1: 31 March – 6 April

  • Lynne

    Great looking gansey (and model). Do you get calluses on your fingers, Gordon? like the gansey knitter in Sherlock Holmes? My right index finger is in a constant state of peeling.
    That cat is gorgeous and I’ve always been partial to the solid gray shorthair. It could have a home with me, canine free!

    • Gordon

      Hello Lynne,

      I used to run the risk of splitting my right index finger because of my lousy technique – it had a sort of crater like something Galileo would have seen on the moon through a telescope. But that hasn’t been the case for a few years now. I do, though, have a pretty good callus on the ring finger of my right hand—the kind of callus that karate black belts would develop if they could only figure out how to smash blocks of wood with the inside of a finger…

      I could kidnap the cat and mail it, but I fear the consequences of the Post Office franking machine…

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon! Thanks for modeling the dark blue, it is a really effective pattern. I know you’ll be choosing something more “twisted” for yourself, so, looking forward to the great reveal.
    Cats will choose whom they will- you could offer to adopt. I had a friend once whose cat just ran away when a dog was introduced to the household. I’ve had a number of “parmesan-grating” experiences- such a vivid description. Has anyone ever told you you’re good with words?? Your blog is a treasure to savor, indeed.
    P.S. to Lynne- I have a callus on top of my right ring finger from gripping the needle- It puzzled me when I first noticed; where did that come from? Marks of our passion, wear them proudly.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn,

      The pattern is very effective, isn’t it, for all is has no cables. There’s another pattern from Wick I’ve seen that I rather like the look of—I might give it a go one day, though I have others on my to-do list first.

      I find it slightly worrying that the cat knows (a) the way into our bedroom and (b) onto the blanket nest on the bed, without being told. Once there it “assumes the position”, goes boneless and limp, and hangs on to every shred of fabric in range with its claws. All it needs is acid for blood and its role as an invulnerable bed-seeking predator is complete…

  • Laura

    I enjoy reading your short stories from Gansey Nation. I stop everything when your posts arrive in my mail box. Here in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, spring has arrived. The earliest bulbs are up, raining very hard, and the Robins are out. I purchased a new hummingbird feeder (glass this time), as I await for the rain to stop long enough for me to find the right spot to hang the feeder for optimum photographs.

    I am knitting a gansey patterned hat. I love it. It is an excellent way to play with stitches and patterns before you get to the gansey itself. I have found that knitting on shorter length needles (and many many of them) gives me more control, and I am faster. Usually I put one pattern repeat for each needle, not unlike stitch markers. If I end at the ‘wrong’ stitch at the end of one of these repeats, I know exactly where to look. I keep a ‘steno pad’ and old term I find, as I used them in high school, with the advent of computers, steno pads have gone the way of the doo doo bird. I find steno pads very handy, one each for the big projects. You can test the pattern, tension, and read your joy with each passing round.

    Always a joy to read Gansey Nation


    • Hi Laura,

      Thank you! It rained on me all the way to and from work today, so it must be spring. Or summer. One of those seasons.

      I can’t cope with lots of short needles—my fingers are the wrong shape, I think. But I’m with you all the way on steno pads, or notepads in general. I’ve accumulated many down the years, so even in an electronic age I’m assured of plenty of paper for jotting or doodling (good quality stuff, too, not the modern pads we have at work that seem to be made out of recycled paper towels…)

      Good luck with the hat!


  • Nigel

    Very funny. Keep it up. I have decided my bingo wings have to go .. so .. this week .. it’s unravel the arm .. :[

    • Hi Nigel, I guess my solution (see photo above) which involves keeping my hands resolutely stuck in my pockets can only work for so long…! It’s a pain, but it’s probably the right solution—for this one, too, alas. But it’s amazing how quickly it goes. Commiserations and best of luck.

  • Sue

    Wonderful Gansey, Gordon! But re the cats, do I spy a British Blue? In which case are you sure there are actually two of them? Have you seen them both at the same time? I ask because my neighbours were convinced for some time that I had two of them instead of just one with a personality disorder. Cleo was capable of switching from cuddly toy to hissing monster in the block of an eye.


    • Sue, is this a British “Monty Python” Blue, which is not dead, but is pining for the fjords instead…? But yes, there are indeed two cats—slightly different shades, unless they’re a Jekyll and Hyde cat, changing its appearance as the evil personality takes over. If ever see Smokey drinking a vial of suspiciously smoking liquid in a laboratory, disappearing behind the table clutching it throat and making “Arrrggghhh” choking noises, and reappearing as its evil twin sister, I’ll know what’s going on!

  • Jane

    Excellent gansey, you must be very pleased with it, and a good choice of colour for the next one. I am assuming that cables will be involved!
    The cats are rather wonderful, I see as them as quite happily engaged in the steady process of sorting out their humans, mine do it every day!
    I slowly and painfully removed lots of little bits of skin from both index fingers while knitting a patterned scarf in a rather natty blue yarn with a metallic thread, something like miniature barbed wire, definitely a higher calling!

  • Jane

    PS I agree with Sue, your kitties next door are not your common or garden moggy like my refugees. Pedigree claws are at work!

    • Hi Jane,

      Yes, I can promise you that the next one will involve some tastefully placed cables to set off the ensemble!

      Pedigree claws. eh? It is an honour to have my flesh flayed by claws of class and distinction…

      A gansey out of barbed wire…? I like your thinking!

  • Sue

    Gordon, I wouldn’t put it past a British Blue to indeed be capable of a Jekyll and Hyde transformation. One of the most intelligent cats I’ve ever come across, and are they pining for the Fjords? Could be because Cleo could close her ears up and used to go swimming in my bath if a turned my back on her when running it! But for true feline evilness Russian Blues beat them paws down!

    Now in comparison, Norwegian Forest cats who,really must be pining for the fjords and mountains are big softies (literally – they are huge!). Oops! I’ve outed myself as a cat nerd haven’t ? Back on topic, sort of of, I’m about to start an Aran but in navy not the traditional cream, for my brother so lots of lovely cables for me over the next few weeks!


  • brenda

    What is a bleaching ground?.

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Brenda
      Before modern washing machines and bleach were invented, washable clothes (underwear, shirts, sheets, anything made of linen or cotton etc.) were bleached naturally by being spread out in the sun to dry. Sometimes hedges were used too.
      Old maps of Wick note the bleaching ground, I’m not sure if anyone calls it that any more.

  • Nigel

    This is a Maine Coon cat. Imagine it sitting on you! http://bit.ly/1etbyAM

  • Sue

    I know, Nigel, they really are the giants of the domestic feline world. I would love one! Though for them to grow quite that big you need to leave toms, ahem, ‘intact’ shall we say, until they are about 2yrs old. And they are very territorial if you get my meaning until they are ‘done’ – it doesn’t make them the best of house guests!

    I have my name down with the Maine Coon rescue people – I live in hope because I really cannot bring myself to to pay the sort of prices breeders ask for them when the are so many moggs in need of a good home. Hence why I have 2 adorable but mayhem causing 5 month old Heinz 57 kittens at the moment.

  • Good Lord. That’s the first cat I’ve seen that I can picture rescuing climbers in the Alps trapped in the snow with brandy. Or stalking antelope on the savannah. Or just eating me if I was a bit slow with the tin opener one night.

  • =Tamar

    That is a comfortable looking gansey. It shows how even an apparently simple pattern can be elegant.

  • Jane

    The nice man who tunes the kids’ piano has two Maine Coons. They have their own run (half the garden) and their own room and the vet calls – he says it is easier that way! He never argues with them, if their eyes fall on his ham sandwich, he says a graceful retreat is best.

    Many years ago I owned a Russian Blue which is how I knew next door’s were posh cats, he was called Spider due to a certain eating habit. He was quite a character and great fun, I was always very nice to him and he was nice back in a slight imperious way. Partial to egg and bacon, spag blog sauce, really high places, bit nuts really. Now I have the three rehomed mixed biscuits cats, also great fun with a feel good factor.

  • Sue

    By the by, Brenda, I live in Angus (a good way further south on the east coast of Scotland from Gordon and Margaret and in the past there was a very large linen weaving trade here and in next door Perthshire and Forfarshire. There are still large areas referred to as the bleaching fields because the final bleaching stage of the nine fabric was a separate trade to the weaving (which was often literally a cottage industry with hand loom weavers working from home).

    The bleaching works weren’t the nicest of neighbours to live alongside hence why they were often well away from any housing because the linen was soaked in human urine and then spread out in the bleaching fields or greens in the sun to both bleach and soften the fabric. This weathering of the linen was an important part of the finishing process. The smell of the ammonia must have been all pervasive! And of course this meant that there was an ancillary trade in urine collection!

  • Gordon

    Here’s the opening stanza of a poem written in Caithness dialect, “Wick Gala” by Isabel Salmon:

    “Div ye ae Week o’ long ago
    Or no ‘at long id seems
    When ae Gala id took pleyce in style
    Doon on ae bleaching green…”

    Once you’ve realised that up here the definite article is pronounced like the indefinite article, of course, it all falls in to place!

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