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Denim 16: 21-28 July

Body ShotIt’s been a lovely few days in Caithness, blue skies, light winds and temperatures up into the high teens. The town is full of tourists, easy to spot both by their cameras and the looks of slowly dawning horror on their faces as they realise the bars don’t open for another six hours, and every time they turn around there’s another dozen seagulls perched on the wall behind them, flipping coins and sneering.


The funfair. Not tacky in the slightest.

Summer also means the funfair’s back in town, down by the river. Each evening the peace is shattered by flashing lights and loud music, as though the mother ship from Close Encounters had arrived—always assuming that the aliens, instead of abducting people, just wanted to put them in centrifuges decorated with pictures of skinny women wearing only bikinis, Stetsons and cowboy boots.

With a whoop and a holler, embracing my inner cowgirl, I’ve finished re-knitting the first sleeve, so that now the gansey has two different sized arms; when I try it on I look like Quasimodo’s stuntman. The new sleeve hasn’t been blocked yet, so the crinkly reused yarn makes the stitches look a bit uneven—though I know this will all come out in the wash, so to speak, and even up.

Sleeve DetailI didn’t like the way the pattern continued right the way down to the very cuff before—with such a busy pattern I felt it was a kind of overkill—so I stopped a few inches short this time and had a stretch of plain knitting before the cuff, an effect I’ve always liked. Plus it’ll be handy if I ever start wearing gauntlets.

Our copy of the Fall issue of Knitscene magazine arrived this week, the one in which our blog is featured on the back page. Thanks to everyone who flagged this up last week, and a warm welcome to anyone who’s visiting for the first time. Because ganseys take a while to knit, it’s probably best to think of the blog’s archives as a sort of time-lapse snapshot of a gansey nursery.

Knitscene Article

Fame at last! (Or, if not fame, slightly less obscurity at last!)

And of course many thanks to Linda and her team for such a splendid feature, and for sportingly agreeing to use the archive picture of me taken while I still had a waist.

Wick Harbour. The sign reads: "No HGV Parking"

Wick Harbour. The sign reads: “No HGV Parking”

In parish notices, Gansey Nation will now be taking a short summer break. We’ll be back on Monday 11 August—by which time I might even be feeling strong enough to tackle the other sleeve…

26 comments to Denim 16: 21-28 July

  • Nicki

    Have a nice holiday, Gordon and Margaret.

    I like what you’ve done to the sleeve, too, Gordon. You are making it hard for me to resist starting a gansey for very much longer. Once I finish the current project, one is going to fly onto the needles. 🙂

    Cheers from Virginia,

  • Gordon

    Hi Nicki,

    And thank you. Margaret’s still away, the lucky dog, and I’ve got an old friend coming to visit next weekend—I mean of course that I’ve known him for a long time, over three decades, rather than that he’s very old—though as it happens he is, too—and I just wouldn’t have time to do the pictures and write the blog.

    Just remember: a gansey may fly onto the needles, but I’d be imperilling my immortal soul with a fib if i said they fly off as easily! But as someone once said about Wagner’s Parsifal, people in a hurry shouldn’t be spending their time on it anyway…

  • Jane

    The back page, gosh, nearly as good as the front page, the final thought at the end of reading. What a lovely article about your blog, you must be so pleased.

    I like the new sleeve very much, particularly the plain part at the cuff end. Very nice. It seems to me that it is going forward very well.

    In the South the intrepid Channel traveller on return to Portsmouth used to be greeted not by the masts of Nelson’s Victory nor the Royal Navy ships in for repair, but the jolly lights of Southsea funfair. Now sadly gone like so much,but fondly remembered by many! Still scorching hot in the South, have acquired seventeen ducks, all in search of a pond with a liner! Have a good holiday.

  • Jane

    PS Progress on wedding cardie reasonable, only necessary to omit one pattern repeat, a mere 36 rows, to ensure reasonable fit! Moral, do not be beguiled into snazzy yarn even if the Kid loves it when the knitter, her mother, really, really does know better, but then it is for the younger beloved!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane,

      Congratulations on the cardie. Once or twice I’ve agreed to knit a pullover for someone and they’ve asked for a pattern I really didn’t feel like knitting—although the stitches are, in the end, just a combination of knits and purls, somehow it makes a big difference and so I’ve resolved not to do that any more. Either they get no choice or they get to pick one of three I’ve already selected! But of course the yarn I use is always 5-ply.

      Leaving aside travellers for the moment, I suspect the first sight that greeted the returning tars at Pompey, if my Patrick O’Brian reading is anything to go by, was the sight of assorted barges and skiffs bringing quantities of ladies of “negotiable virtue”, each bent on relieving the sailors of their prize money long before the fair got a chance to fleece them. Happier times…

      I’m wearing a pullover this evening, that’s how cool it is up here! The ducks in the river have a rather self-pitying air about them, as if they’re thinking, we left bloody Siberia for this?!

      • Jane

        Too true about the knitted gifts. I have just been asked to knit a yoda jacket for a large two year old, bless. I will find him something cute but I am not sure about the yoda thing, that’s for tinies! I do have a pattern for a gansey jacket for a child, not very traditional but very tempting. In red, I will have a think!

        My dear old Dad always refers to Southampton and Pompey as “big evil sea ports”! I don’t think he’s far wrong either!

        The heat has been immense here, so cool is definitely cool!

  • Judit/Finland

    Hi Gordon,
    The new sleeve looks much better it was a good idea to knit the sleeves again. I usually knit a plain area between the pattern and the cuff as seen also in the green gansey. I also find that he plain area is tighter as the patterned and thus the sleeve will not be baggy.
    Have a nice time with your friend!

    • Gordon

      Hi Judit, and thanks. Yes, it de-baggifies the lower sleeve as the stitches are a little narrower without all that purling. I don’t have very broad forearms or wrists—I can put my fingers all the way round my wrist, whereas it only goes about 2/3 round my brother’s! (I knew I should never have agreed to arm wrestle him for our inheritance…)

  • =Tamar

    I imagine the plain area will be also easier to clean, should it find its way into something it shouldn’t have.

    • Gordon

      Well, Tamar, this is one time when I’m glad I never became a vet and had to check on the health of cows from the inside!

  • Lisa Mitchell

    What today’s instanteousness doesn’t realize is that all good things are like ganseys – they take time! New sleeves look great! Have a great break, Gordon.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lisa, there’s part of me believes that as you knit something like a gansey—or sew a quilt, or knit a lace garment, or handcraft a piece of furniture—you weave part of yourself into the object you create over time. And it’s incredible that in a world of 7 billion people, who have been part of civilisation for, what, some 5,000 years, it’s still possible to create things, or write combinations of words, that are unique, which have never been done in quite that way before, and which comprise part of the history of the universe. The earth is 4.5 billion years old—suddenly a gansey doesn’t seem so long to knit!

  • Marilyn

    Hi Gordon! That’s what I like about you- other people might have thought Tamar’s comment was perhaps regarding gravy… and you jumped to cows insides. The glory of the space between your ears keeps us coming back. The knitting’s not bad either.
    All the best, looking forward to your return. M.

    • Gordon

      Well, Marilyn, ever since the court order I’ve been prevented from jumping to cows’ insides… But I’ve said too much already…

  • Sarah

    Oooh… I have been away for too long. Of course, that means lots of weeks of blog posts to catch up on. 🙂 I’m resting on the laurels of my first finished gansey, and need to break out the needles for one for me here pretty soon. I could have used one last winter. I tend to like the plainer ganseys vs. the more heavily patterned ones, but this one is rather stunning. It makes me want to knit a cabled gansey, and I rather dislike cabling (the process, not the look).

    • Gordon

      Hi Sarah,

      When I’m knitting a plainer gansey i like them the best, and when I’m knitting a cabled one I like them best too! But what’s the issue with cabling? Compared with yarn overs, or picking up stitches, I find cables rather simple, but I know not everyone feels the same way.

      But after this one, my next couple of ganseys will be cable-free zones, so watch this space!


      • Sarah

        I think it’s that I don’t like the break in my knitting rhythm that using a cable needle requires. I don’t mind a simple 1×1 cable because I can do that without a cable needle. I’ve been a lace knitter for several years now, though, and cabling is still pretty foreign. 🙂

        • Gordon

          Ah, that explains it, thanks! Since I don’t have any rhythm in my knitting, but each stitch is a bit like tying my shoelaces while drunk, it probably doesn’t affect me that way! Or maybe it just reminds me of the old-fashioned cricket sweaters of my youth…

  • brenda

    I was absolutely delighted to find YOU in Knitscene. I bought the mag because it mentioned ganseys. Had no idea that i would find an article about you. Hey I have known this guy for at least 6 or 7 ganseys. Nice to see you in the limelight. I have not been to gansey nation for a couple months as my computer crashed while I was visiting Scotland and I have been so busy knitting with my”scottish wool” that I haven’t really missed being online. I am making a “gansey shawl” with local wool that I found in a great little woolshop in Edinburgh. “Kathys Knits”. I came home with a suitcase full of wool, not to mention the wool I had shipped home already. Found some locally spun wool on Skye as well. My next trip will be going further north and staying up in that end of the country and finding more wool of course. Maybe by then I will have my actual gansey finished. It has been sitting idle for at least 6 months because i am out 6 stitches and do not know the best course of action to correct it without having to rip it out which I have done once already. Actually the real reason i have not finished it is because it will not fit me. My goal was to lose weight to fit into the size it is. I am blaming it on the Scottish beer I consumed while away.

    • Gordon

      Afternoon Brenda,

      Yes, doom has struck me at last! Just when I was one day from retirement, too…

      You’re making me homesick for Edinburgh now, by reminding me that it has shops—I’ve lived so long in Wick I’ve forgotten what they’re like! Sorry to hear your gansey travails—whisper it softly, but one of the ganseys I gave to the Reaper in Anstruther Fisheries Museum was one I’ve outgrown—so you are not alone.

      But I’m glad you enjoyed your trip up to the frozen north; when you say you want to come further north, is this the west coast? It’s lovely up there, all the way to Cape Wrath. We folk of the east, of course, just turn our faces to the German Ocean and the bitter north wind, and endure; it’s what we do best. Well, that and drink ourselves into oblivion while fighting off the meaninglessness of an existential existence. Honestly, we might as well be Scandinavian…

  • I have just found your site through Knitscene – can’t believe I didn’t know about it already; it’s fascinating. Though I’m a very experienced knitter and spinner, and even one who hails from the North Yorkshire coast, I’ve never dared to knit a gansey… But I’ve always intended to.. Must have a go….

  • Judit/Finland

    Hello Kate!Perhaps you are too near to the land of ganseys that´s the reason why you did not dare to knit one. I am not so experienced,live about 4000 kms away from the UK and have knitted 12 ganseys already. Gordon´s blog is the best teacher, so spin a wool and just go on :). Happy knitting !

  • June

    Another lucky person who has found you through Knitscene. I’ve knit three ganseys and my husband, an American of British Isles ancestry, looks great in each of them. And now he is asking about the possibility of another. Finding your site has rekindled my enthusiasm; so it may happen fairly soon. Thanks for the wonderful site.

  • Gordon

    Hi Kate and June,

    Sorry not to reply sooner, I’ve been taking a short break, and I’ve just seen your comments. Thank you for the kind words! And I hope you continue to dip and out and find it useful in the time to come.

    With all good wishes,

  • Sue Mansfield

    Welcome back Gordon. Not a day too soon as far I am concerned – I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms!

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Sue, but the image you want to consider right now is me lying on the floor like a zoned-out rock star in his hotel room before the gig, the audience baying and chanting, and the support staff grabbing him by the lapels, shaking him from side to side, slapping his across the face and prepping the syringe, a bead of stimulant solution glistening on the tip like a drop of spider venom, desperately hoping he’ll be ready when the lights go down…

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