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Denim 11: 16 – 22 June

D140622aI’ve got a new gansey.  Or rather, not a new one, exactly: an old one I’d forgotten I had. You see, we’re still slowly sorting out our stuff and unpacking, and Margaret found it buried in a suitcase (and in the process inventing the science of gansey archaeology). I must have knit it back in the eighties or nineties, in the innocent days before blood pressure, hip-hop, or reality TV had been invented.

D140622eLord, I feel old: can you imagine, I’m approaching the end of my third decade knitting ganseys? This jumper is probably older than most of the England cricket team. It’s like finding a photograph album in the attic, all the ghosts of your past waiting behind the door of memory to jump out waving party streamers, clutching a bottle of Theakston’s Old Peculier and shouting “Surprise!”

D140622fThe “I” who knit it—bless me, so tightly it could probably stand upright on its own—is trapped in the aspic of time along with the gansey itself, long ago. But one thing I do know: it’s not my size, and could never have fitted me, unless I planned to use it as a corset. (Although, now I come to think of it—gansey lingerie; could it catch on, do you think? Possible marketing slogan: “The Rough With The Smooth…” Really, it sells itself.)


The Icehouse, John o’Groats

Ahem. Turning our attention away from transvestite fishermen for a moment, my current, present-day, loosely knit gansey for the chap with the comfortable figure, is finally entering the end-game. I’ve finished the first sleeve and have embarked on the second. I ended up with 108 stitches just before the cuff which I decreased down to 100 stitches, comprising 25 ribs. (I like to be able to push my sleeves up, and that number of stitches with the turned-over cuff keeps a nice grip on my wrists without being too tight.)


Harbour entrance, Wick

In other news, we’ve just passed the summer solstice, the longest day. (Time to start thinking about that Christmas list now the nights are drawing in…) Caithness has largely escaped the mini heat-wave the rest of Britain is basking in just now—we’ve got grey skies, cool winds and that sort of persistent mizzle that makes your windscreen wipers howl like a wookie who’s just hit his thumb with a hammer.

And I’ve got to decide what to do with this new/old gansey. I feel a bit like Viktor Frankenstein if he opened a chest and found a cadaver he’d been working on decades ago—do I put it back in its suitcase? Unravel it and knit something else with the yarn? Start dieting? Or else bury it in the garden in the dead of night with a 2.25mm needle through its heart…?

27 comments to Denim 11: 16 – 22 June

  • Marilyn

    Hi Gordon, what a find! If you don’t want to donate it to a body it will fit, you could remove the sleeves, sew up the neck and bottom and turn it into a pillow. Ravel the sleeves for a cap. Alternatively, it can be worn over your back with the sleeves tied in front- a very preppy, anyone for tennis look. Choices….
    In local news, a professional kayaker went over a 52 foot waterfall- Deliberately! so it is really true it takes all kinds.
    Happy knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn,

      The only reservation I have with the pillow idea is that I’d wake up each morning with my face deeply imprinted with cables and seed stitch, as though I was the victim of a burning accident, like Ronald Lacey in Raiders of the Lost Ark when he picked up the red-hot amulet!

      I’ve never kayaked, but if you get to go down waterfalls I’m definitely interested now!

  • =Tamar

    Ripping it would be a crime. It’s a historical item in itself. I’m sure that you will find someone it will fit (perhaps one of your many fans), or you could donate it to a display. There’s also the option of etsy or ebay. It’s a designer garment (you’re the designer). Offered as the winter winds howl, with really good photographs and a properly written blurb, – “authentic handknitted wool gansey, one of a kind, never to be repeated offer” – it could pay for at least twice its weight in new yarn.

  • Sue Mansfield

    Or perhaps the Reaper crew includes a small person who casts envious glances at whoever got lucky and wears the gansey you knitted specially for the Reaper Trust?

  • Gordon

    Dear Tamar and Sue,

    The only problem is, I knitted it when I was young and reckless, going through my “blue” or experimental phase. The sleeves do not have the pattern all the way round, there’s a band of plain knitting either side of the seam that disappears in all the decreases down the arm.

    I know this going to seem nit-picky in the extreme, but in my twilight years I feel this was a mistake, and if I’m selling or giving away garments they should meet my rigorous quality standards. So, like God wiping out previous unsatisfactory creations like the dinosaurs, I fear it may be best to terminate it with extreme regret. I’ll see. (Of course, waiting for a meteorite strike may take a while, so there’s no rush…)

  • Sue Mansfield

    Not nit-picky at all, Gordon, I am equally fussy these days about anything that is going to have my name attached to it.

    Re the pillow idea, I suspect that Marilyn is from across the pond and hence is suggesting that you turn it into what we would call a cushion? Of course if you use it to rest your head on for an afternoon nap you could still end up looking like a Klingon!

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue,

      I like the idea of people being branded by pillow designs, so you can tell which village a drowned fisherman came from by the pattern imprinted on his forehead… (But then, I also like to imagine Kilngon warriors knitting on their evenings off, using ceremonial battle needles dyed red with the blood of their enemies!)

  • Jane

    A true blast from the past and a fine looking gansey, if I might say so. A bit like the master re-visiting his grasshopper years, Kung Fu style. Seriously though, it is something on which a great deal of time and effort were spent with high intent, and so it must be treated with respect.

    You may well have been fortunate to miss the heat wave the South is basking in. It’s all getting a bit much, the cats move from one patch of shade to the next very slowly in their fur coats. However the garden has finally dried out!

    • Gordon

      Evening Jane,

      What the novice needs from the master is a clip round the earhole, teach him some respect, young whippersnapper. (Actually age is a sensitive subject just now, after I walked up the garden path yesterday to a chorus from the little boys next door trying to attract my attention, shouting, “Hey, old man! Old man!”)

      Beautiful day here today, blue skies, sunshine, just a cool breeze to keep the temperature in the 13-17ºC range. So it was off to John O’Groats for an ice cream after work, standing at the ocean’s edge and watching the seagulls sizing up the tourists like the Artful Dodger, and feeling that maybe on the whole it could be worse…

  • Charles Coull

    Oi Reid!

    As I struggle manfully stitch by blessed stitch with my first Gansey I categorically forbid the destruction of this artefact – humanely or otherwise! If you choose to slink out of a dark night into the wilds of Caithness and do the deed then let that be on your conscience just don’t bring it to the sunny uplands of Gansey Nation! 😉

    • Gordon

      Well, Charles, I see it as a metaphor for existence, unravelling a gansey to make a new one from the yarn, the way we are all formed from atoms forged in the crucible of stars, assembled by gravity across vast, interstellar distances, and then combined briefly into living, breathing human beings—and then, when our span of life is ended, our bodies relapse back into atomic dust, to be blown by the winds of chance into new shapes, new lives, endlessly, until the wheel of time has run its course and the universe ends in the eternal nothing of the endless cosmic night.

      Circle of life, man, circle of life. Beautiful in its own way. Cheaper than buying new yarn, too.

  • Charles

    Those flashbacks are a nightmare aren’t they?

  • =Tamar

    But since it isn’t big enough now, if you rip it you’d have to make something else, since there isn’t enough yarn for a gansey to fit you now.

  • Jane

    ‘Tis merely the old slings and arrows, rise gracefully above it as indeed I always try to!

    I have had a terrible thought, could it be turned into a cardigan and given a second life somehow. Said it was a bit of a heart stopper!

    Rain seems imminent, refreshing breeze and cloud today, a relief really.

  • Charles

    I have it on very good authority indeed that Gordon has plans for a psychedelic tank top. So plenty wool in the condemned Gansey but some dying required.

  • Jane

    Gosh! I suppose there would be ample opportunity for cabling which could be very satisfying.

  • Gordon

    Charles, mon ami, even I am too young to remember Woodstock! No, I’ve already got that one covered—as I’ve said before, I plan to knit my final gansey out of the leftover yarn from all my other ganseys, probably in pattern bands of different colours across the yoke. The effect I’m looking for is “clown after custard pie fight in a paint factory”, something that will show the rest of the world what it feels like to have a migraine.

  • =Tamar

    Good heavens, I had no idea you were younger than I. I was invited by friends in my college to try to gatecrash Woodstock, but decided quite sensibly that I had better things to do. I’m still glad I made that decision.

    • Gordon

      Well, I was a 9 year-old living innocently in New Zealand when Woodstock happened, so it rather passed me by, as did the break-up of the Beatles and the death of Jimi Hendrix! But then, in my case, as they say, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage…

      • Thy chela

        …here about sunset they came across an aged lama sitting cross legged above a mysterious chart held down by stones, which he was explaining to a young man….

  • Jane

    On the lines of psychedelic stripy, my dear old Mum tried to kick the smoking habit just before my eldest, now thirty something, was born. She was a child of the Blitz in Birmingham and it was a wartime habit. Anyway, her answer to restless hands and cravings was the knitting of numerous little stripy jumpers from odds and ends, very economical and, as the longings struck, increasing random! The kid wore them of course, trophies of war after all, and the old treasure won through, but they were quite something.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      I can understand that absolutely. In fact, there are times when I think I’d be a chain-smoking alcoholic if I didn’t have knitting to keep my hands and attention busy! Were they handed down as family heirlooms…?

  • Jane

    I did indeed keep the odd one, but mostly they got horribly stained, lost in house moves and given away. Nonetheless in the end there was an awful lot of various stuff, my gals were clad, in winters entirely, in Mum’s knitting until the ages of six and eight. And they loved it. Just think of it, little knitted suits! It was enormous fun, and I remain very grateful and totally awed by it.

    Without the knitting, where would I be, the phrase “gibbering wreck” comes to mind!

    Good news, the tick army is in retreat.

  • Caz

    I wish I’d found your site 7 weeks ago when I was trying to keep a grip on what little sanity I had left after succumbing to the horrors of work related stress! Going back to my long (15years) neglected knitting hobby has been a major party of the recovery process but your blog posts and readers’ comments would have helped no end – I haven’t stopped chuckling!
    I’m thinking a Guernsey ought to be on my list of projects to attempt having just finished my first ever pair of socks and learnt how to tame the lethal weapon double pointed needle!
    Thanks for cheering up my day 🙂

    • Caz

      missed the auto-corrected error…..Guernsey?? Well, I knew what I meant anyway!

    • Gordon

      Hi there! One of the reasons I ended up in Wick was quitting a great job because of the horrible people I was working for and being unemployed for a year, so job related stress is something I can relate to—not fun at all. Hope things are improving for you.

      I’ve discovered that gansey knitters, and people who like reading about ganseys, are some of the nicest people on the planet—conclusive proof being that no genocidal psycho dictator has ever knit a gansey, let alone a pair of socks. So we’ve created a sort of walled garden-cum-asylum here, having staked our claim to a few modest acres on the great plains of the internet. We’re kind of the Mormons of knitting, only without the wives and underwear thing, though as it happens I have a few proposals I’d like to bring up at the next meeting…

      Where was I? Oh yes, glad you like it, hope you stick around. And please keep in touch!

      Best wishes,

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