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Denim 15: 14-20 July


The Ravelled Sleeve of Care


Bertie Wooster once complained of Jeeves that “Round about the beginning of July each year he downs tools, the slacker, and goes off to Bognor Regis for the shrimping.”

It’s exactly like that with Margaret, only instead of Bognor she heads for the south of France, and rather than shrimping she lazes around the pool with other members of the beau monde, sipping cocktails and eyeing up the bar staff before hazarding the mortgage at the roulette tables. (Possibly. Or, on the other hand, possibly not.)Sleeve

The biggest challenge when this happens is remembering that I’m cooking for one. So I unconsciously put twice as much coffee as I need in the cafetiere, and am left with eyes as wide as Bugs Bunny’s and a tendency to finish other people’s sentences; I also seriously underestimate pasta, with its remarkable capacity to expand like an inflatable life raft, and I end up so full I find myself bouncing down the stairs like a beach ball, or a very happy elephant seal who’s found a canister of helium washed up on the beach.

Anyway, Margaret’s absence explains the sudden drop in quality of the photographs—my technique is not so much point-and-click as point-an-iPhone-and-hope.

My daily commute

The daily commute

I’m about 12 inches down re-knitting the first sleeve, and so making good progress, though it does feel a bit like being kept in for detention after school; or the modern equivalent of forcing prisoners to pick oakum. I’m decreasing this time at 2 stitches every 4th row, a far more realistic rate than before. (I may take a short break after this sleeve is finished and start laying the foundations of my next project, just for a change; diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but trust me, after knitting so many, they do rather lose some of their lustre.)

Oh, and come January, when I’m snapping icicles out of my beard and using orphan street children to stop the wind whistling through the cracks round the windows, and the eternal hyperborean darkness means that the sun pops out and vanishes again like a cuckoo in a clock, remind me of this week: for the south of England’s been suffering a heatwave, temperatures a sticky and enervating 30+ºC; while here in Wick it’s been breezy, damp and cool, just 16ºC or so, with only a spot of sea fog (or “haar”), rain and a funfair to worry about. Grey skies have never been so welcome…

Wick Marina on an overcast Sunday

An overcast Wick Marina


Judit’s Gansey

Finally this week, Judit has sent a picture of the recipient of the green gansey we featured the other week modelling the garment, the orthopaedic surgeon who operated on her foot. (Finland, the country where even the surgeons look like models. And you thought rugged, blue-eyed Dr House was just fiction.) What makes Judit’s work even more impressive is that she sizes her ganseys by eye—no measuring involved. Remarkable.

20 comments to Denim 15: 14-20 July

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Hi Gordon,
    I was happy to read that you use the same method I do for decreasing a sleeve .
    Many thanks for showing Dr. House Redhead Blueyed wearing the green gansey, he was very happy about it. And so was I :).

  • =Tamar

    Now I am wondering about sleeves. Historically, ganseys were fairly tight, if only because wool shrinks and in some cases because the women knitting them stretched the wool to get as much out of it as possible. So I’m used to the idea that a historic gansey would fit the body like a glove. But how tight were the sleeves? The shoulder end has the underarm gusset to allow motion, but the elbows have to be able to bend. Modern sweaters are not much use as a guideline, as I ordinarily wear a sweater over a shirt. My father’s old wool pullovers from his Navy service in the 1940s were tight on my brother and his friends as teenage boys in the 1950s. The sleeves were tight but not constricting. Would it be wrong to have the sleeves comfortably loose, able to be pushed up or even turned up a bit?

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar,

      Well, I’ve found that old photos, like statistics, can prove just about any position you want to take. So, I’ve seen skin-tight ganseys that fit the wearer like a modern rugby shirt, i.e. with no loose flaps that an opponent can grab hold of (or which can get snagged in machinery like a winch). But I’ve also seen plenty of examples of loose, baggy ganseys that hung slackly (in body and sleeves), and which wouldn’t have been out of place on Bing Crosby sitting in an armchair singing Christmas carols on tv.

      (The arms were quite often short, too, coming mid-way down the forearm; and yet there are plenty of examples of full, wrist-length sleeves.)

      Or maybe styles just changed over the years? So many pictures of fashionable Fair Isle jumpers from the 1930s show them as also being pretty close-fitting, but also short in the body, often about as long as a waistcoat. (See the famous 1930s picture of the Prince of Wales—who look unnervingly like Buster Keaton—for an example of a snug fit under the arms, though it’s long enough.) But the traditional Fair Isle look is definitely a longer, slightly looser one nowadays.

      So I guess the answer is, there’s no right or wrong, just personal preference, as I imagine was the case in the old, black and white days too! I could pretty much guarantee that for every style you can think of, there’s an old photo somewhere showing someone wearing a gansey just like it…

      • Sue Mansfield

        I also wonder whether in the past ganseys were also passed down and so what was a close fit in the original recipient could have been a looser fit on the inheritor? Or vice versa? My brother has always favoured a fairly loose fit but if his youngest daughter ever gets her hands on it – she has dropped enough hints – it will be downright baggy on her but this hasn’t stopped her telling her Dad that it would look much better on her than him!

        • Gordon

          Evening, Sue, I thought that too. In fact I know they were handed down from father to son, so not all would have been made-to measure. Or maybe some of the knitters were as accurate in the sleeve department as I just proved to be!

          I prefer a looser fit myself, but then when one’s torso is more Stay Puft Marshmallow Man than [insert ripplingly be-biceped actor de jour], baggy is the way to go, and “sagging” is the adjective of choice!

  • Nicki

    Hi Gordon,

    I haven’t seen anything in your posts about the terrific article about your blog that you received from KNITSCENE magazine in the Fall 2014 issue! You can imagine my surprise seeing it as a full page spread on the back page. Congratulations! It’s a well-deserved tribute and I hope it boosts readership for you!

    All the best from Virginia,

    • Gordon

      Hello Nicki, just caught your comment on the way to bed, and thank you.

      The truth is, I’m getting a free copy, so I was giving in to my inner Scotsman and holding off buying it in the hopes that one would arrive in the post! Alas, it hasn’t, though to be fair the post to Wick from the USA takes a while, so I haven’t seen it yet—mind you, even if I tried to buy a copy, the chances of Tesco’s in Wick selling them are slim to non-existent. So I may be out of luck.

      But I’m glad you liked it. Fame at last! (Apparently.) Now, where’s that boy with my latte…?

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Good Morning Gordon! Congrats to Knitscene. The magazine is easily available, I have sent the detals to you via e-mail.
    Happy knitting!

  • Marilyn

    Yay! off to Barnes and Noble for Knitscene. Thanks for the heads up. We can say we knew him when.
    Judit, stunning work. Do you use Elizabeth Zimmerman’s percentage system? or is it really totally on the wing?
    Quite fast progress on the new sleeve, Gordon. You’ll have that finished quite quickly, I think. Happy Knitting.

    • Judit M./ Finland

      Hello Marilyn and many thanks for your kind comment. I do not use the percentage system, my “ganslings” are measured by looking on the person who gets the sweater usually as a birthday present surprise. The only thing I try to figure out is about the colour they like and this is easy while I know these people. You will see in Readers Gallery that those who got a sweater from me, Riitta and Dr. House Redhead have both normal figures, no body index above 30 or something like that. I would never try to knit to somebody with a lot of overweight without taking measures.
      Best regards and happy knitting !

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn, of course I shan’t let success go to my head. You’re welcome to visit my mansion anytime, so long as you make an appointment with the butler and the under-footman first. But, to show how unspoiled I am by fame, there’s no need to check with the boy who cleans the knives and spoons…

  • Jane

    Gosh, literary fame and very well deserved if I might say so. How very nice. And if I might add congratulations to Judit, a lovely gansey and such a beautiful colour. I think her surgeons are very lucky!

    I also think the new sleeve is going well, there will always be a feeling of retracing the path, and I think you have got it totally under control.

    The wedding cardie has now settled down or maybe the knitter, me, has adapted to its little vintage ways! Only a little bit of going backwards so far! A mere 38 degrees centigrade in the South this afternoon, at least in my front garden, toasty, too toasty.

    • Judit M./ Finland

      Hello Jane, many thanks for mentioning my surgeons. The other, who loves violet will get his sweater at the end of August and I will send the picture to You on him later. Until that I wait for the result – I measured him only by eyes and he had the white coat on !
      We here in Finland had + 31.2 C degrees today on the 22nd of July 2014. This was in Rovaniemi, city on the Arctic circle, home city of Santa- and this is not a joke !

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      And thank you. 38ºC is too hot—I’d die. And as for poor old Santa having to endure even 31.2º, well, it looks like there’ll be no toys from the elves this year; I’m pretty sure they have health and safety regulations—note how I didn’t make the obvious “elf and safety” joke, something for which I think I deserve much credit—about working in such unbearable conditions.

      Yours from a cool and cloudy Caithness (about 14ºC today. Heaven!).

      • Judit M./ Finland

        Don´t worry Gordon,
        In Santa`s house there is heating wintertime and air conditioning summertime. This is Finland :).

        • Gordon

          I always thought Santa was a smart lad, and lived somewhere sensible. Just so long as he can watch the cricket on tv, it sounds like paradise!

          • Judit M./ Finland

            Yes Gordon, Santa is a smart but Finnish lad, he is a fan of ice-hockey .

  • Lynne

    That was a nice one page recognition article in Knitscene, Gordon – I hope the next article we see will be longer and cover your knitting talents in more detail and also include that you’ve authored several books. The one page will certainly increase the blog readership. I still use your gansey tutorial every time I do a sweater.
    By the way, how many stitches did you decrease in the pick up when you started the new sleeve?

    • Gordon

      Morning, Lynne, and thank you.

      I think each issue has a feature on a blog that relates to the theme of the rest of the issue, and it’s very flattering to be selected. The questions are the same each time, and i found that slightly frustrating, as they’re obviously designed for a slightly different type of blog than ours, or a different type of knitter than I! (But how to define our blog? Tricky.) Plus i was aware that it’d be read mostly by people who’ve never visited the site, and I didn’t want to put anyone off—though I needn’t have worried, as Margaret’s photos sell the site better than the text in the article anyway.

      The sleeve was ripped back to the end of the gusset, i.e. about 3 inches from the shoulder, so I didn’t have to worry about picking up stitches (you can imagine my relief!). The problem wasn’t the depth of the armhole – it’s about 8.75 inches, maybe a little deep for the body width but not too bad – it was just that I hadn’t decreased sharply enough down the sleeve. So I’m happily going at a rate of 2 every 4 rows, instead of 2 every 7 rows, and will end up with a cuff of just under 5 inches in cross section, or 10 inches in the round, about 80 stitches at my new, looser stitch gauge.

      Live and learn!

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