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Fife 5: 21 December 2010 – 2 January 2011

Let me start by wishing all of you a Happy New Year. Speaking personally, I’m delighted to see the back of 2010, which turned out to be a pig of a year, all things considered. So, metaphorically, I’ve taken 2010 out to the fields like an old and incontinent sheepdog and put it out of its misery. (It’s currently buried under the topiary in a pauper’s grave, and I can tell 2011 is already a little nervous, wondering what’s in store for it if it doesn’t perform well, especially when it sees me sharpening the kitchen knife and eyeing it thoughtfully.)

Snow and ice put paid to some of our Christmas plans, but we still managed a family post-Christmas in the Midlands with my parents, which was foggy but festive. And Santa didn’t forget us – I got some cds and books, including the Archbishop of Canterbury’s book on the theology underpinning the novels of Dostoevsky. I am open to bets how long this will remain unread despite my best intentions, and how far I’ll get before it’s back to Terry Pratchett…)

We stayed up to welcome in the new year, but learned our lesson after last year and watched the fireworks going off over Calton Hill from our back window. It was spectacular and wonderful, but, again, it was kind of short – less than 4 minutes, start to finish. Still, it’s the thought that counts (though in this case the thought was mostly, “Oh, is that it?”).

As you will see from the photos, I’ve started the pattern for the body of Margaret’s cardigan. We decided on a combination of a couple of Scottish patterns, recorded in Gladys Thompson and Michael Pearson, which caught Margaret’s eye.

One is the half-flag, a triangle which also appears in the splendid Mrs Laidlaw of Whitby’s pattern. This is 13 stitches wide, 11 for the pattern plus 2 plain stitches for the edges. The other is a diamond, and it’s a little unusual, and comes from Mrs Stevens of Cruden Bay (see Pearson, page 63). The diamond is knit in plain stitches, but is surrounded by moss stitches, instead of the other way round as is more common. It makes for a nice effect, though I’ll need to knit more of it to really bring it out, but it is pretty fiddly. (There’s a lot of counting to make sure the purls land on the right spot, and let’s be honest here, rows of knit-purl-knit-purl do rather slow you down. But then, to paraphrase a wise man talking about Wagner’s Parsifal, people in a hurry shouldn’t be knitting ganseys in the first place.) The diamond panels are 27 stitches wide, including a plain knit border stitch at either side, and the diamond is 9 stitches across at its widest point.

The 2 panels alternate around the body, 5 diamonds and 4 half-flags to each side, so that the centre of the front and back falls on a diamond. The panels are separated by a moss stitch delineator consisting of 3 stitches (purl-purl-purl on odd rows, purl-knit-purl on even rows). This blends in happily with the moss stitch of the diamonds. Oh, and the patterns have been tweaked to ensure that they each finish on the same row, to make it easier to keep track of repeats up the body.

The overall effect of the gansey will be like the Hebridean patterns, one set of patterns for the body, a central band of trellis or chevrons, and a third pattern set for the yoke. (The other patterns have yet to be finalised, but will probably consist of some combination of trees and cables.)

Finally, as we were home for Christmas Day, I thought it would be nice to bake some fresh bread and offer it to our neighbours for their Christmas lunches (there are 3 other flats below us on our stairwell). So I made “baguettes normal”, the easiest and quickest bread recipe I know, about 4 hours start to finish, but resulting in an authentic French crusty baguette. Wrapped steaming hot in a linen cloth we gave them 3 or 4 of these each. And given that the little girl downstairs gave us a bunch of cookies for Santa, it seemed a fair exchange. (Well, Santa didn’t seem to want them, and waste not want not.) The one on the right bears an uncanny resemblance to the spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which makes a pleasant change, given that they more often resemble the black monolith…

16 comments to Fife 5: 21 December 2010 – 2 January 2011

  • Leigh

    Well, let me be the very first to inaugurate your new 2011 Blog! YEAHAHAHA!! Now with the celebratory horns put away, I want to ask you what in heaven’s name is “Archbishop of Canterbury’s book on the theology underpinning the novels of Dostoevsky” and why in the world would any sane person want to cogitate such a subject much less write or read about it. Personally, I think we give too much credit to Mr. D. As with James Joyce, I never had a high enough IQ to get to the end of his book much less figure out the underlying themes, motives and symbols. You are absolutely right, give me a Pratchett or a Jim Butcher any day.

    And as for this year, my mantra will be continued from Jan 1, 2010, “This will be a better year than last year, this will be a better year than last year, etc., ad infinitum.


  • Leigh

    P.S. Forget to say the most important thing…Love the sweater, love the color. Margaret is one lucky lady!

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    Happy New Year to you. Good use of horns there!

    I think one of the reasons I like Dostoevsky so much is that the issues he wrestles with in his fiction – what is the source of morality if a society isn’t founded on religious beliefs, is there a God and if so what does that really mean, what does it mean to be good, and how can you square the teachings of Jesus with (a) organised religion or (b) the often base aspects of human nature? – are the kind of issues which interest me. (And the reason I love Woody Allen’s “Love and Death” is that he makes fun of just that sort of thing…)

    Anyway, since I’ve always been fascinated by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s eyebrows (look up images of Rowan Williams on Google and you’ll see what I mean) I thought it would be interesting to see what his thoughts on all this were. I’ll let you know how I get on!

    All the best,

  • Gordon

    Oh, by the way, I’ve just noticed, if you Google “Rowan Williams eyebrows” you’ll see an image someone has posted of him next to a picture of Mr Spock, highlighting their common eyebrows and use of logic…


  • Leigh

    Errr, Gordon, you wouldnt be one of those high-flutin’ Eng-Lit/World Religions-Philosophy-type university professors or anything, would you?

    Hmmm…Woody Allen, Archbishop’s eyebrows, 2001 Space Odyssey-shaped bread, yeppers you are way above my learning.

    In my best Monty-Python-announcer voice, “And Now for something completely different..”, knit 1, purl 2.

    P.S. Yeah, I had to google. You’re right, I do see a hint of Spock in the Archbishop.

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    No, I just have too much time on my hands! And yes, knitting is great because it’s a practical skill, like making bread, or lacemaking, or carpentry, or cooking, everything you make is unique and (usually) special, one way or another. No matter what goes on in your head, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as making something with your own hands, is there?

    Well, other than England beating Australia at cricket, of course!


  • =Tamar

    You might be surprised at what a high-falutin’ English Lit. type can do with a Pratchett book…

    That’s an interesting choice of patterns. I think I read that the half-flag triangles tend to create vertical pleats, which might pull in gently, almost like ribbing, for a snug fit.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    There is a book of essays by Eng Lit types on Terry Pratchett, but I gave up on it after reading a couple. (The modern style of literary criticism seems to be to take something from another source, then compare the work you’re discussing against it – so one of the authors found a definition of a witch from somewhere else and then used their essay to see how Pratchett’s witches compared with that definition. I mean, who cares!?)

    Part of the idea of the pattern is to give us some flexibility in sizing – it’s a while since I knitted with Frangipani yarn, which usually knits up quite tight, around 9.5 to the inch. But my recent ganseys have been closer to 9.0. So, I’ve included a number of purl rows which we may end up using as pleats just in case the gansey ends up too big.

    Best wishes

  • Lynne

    Happy New Year, Gordon – and all.
    Gordon, your gauge of 9.5 to the inch (I’m assuming on your usual 2.25 mm needles) – is that gauge done on stockinette st.? or your pattern ? You usually don’t do a swatch, do you?
    When you finally do the steek, do you fold those knit stitches to the wrong side like a facing? and then, is the binding a ‘pick-up-and-knit’?
    I love the pattern.

  • Gordon

    Hi there, Lynne, happy new year!

    To answer your questions in order:
    1. Yes, the gauge is on standard 2.25mm needles.
    2. I base my gauge on the average number of stitches per inch of the last gansey I knitted, once it’s been finished, washed and blocked. So it’s an average of 400+ stitches. (There’s no doubt that having a pattern makes my stitches bigger – but then cables draw them in again so it kind of balances out… I think?) By now I’ve got a pretty good idea of my gauge, though.
    3. I don’t usually do a swatch because I’m (a) lazy, (b) not convinced that a swatch on dpns is an accurate reflection of my actual knitting on circular needles and (c) did I mention I’m lazy?
    4. I’ve never done a cardigan before so some of this will have to be a ‘wait and see’, since I don’t know myself yet! But yes, the plan is to cut the steek up the middle, then fold the ends over on themselves on the inside and fix them down somehow – Margaret hinted she could do something in the sewing line since that’s not really my thing… (My initial suggestions of masking tape or superglue were rejected, I thought, a trifle hastily, but no doubt she knows best.)

    By the way, I am aware that the steek is probably unnecessarily wide – 20 stitches – but I wanted a bit of flexibility, not having done this before, as I said, and I had a half-baked sort of idea that it could be used to sneakily make the front a centimetre or so wider if I’d miscalculated wildly! (Listen carefully and you can hear the thin ice of my confidence cracking under the weight of this project…)


  • Lynne

    You are much braver than I am in attempting the steek, but lazy?, yes, I can relate to that as I am not going to waste my time doing the swatch in the round! I have last year’s Frangipani that I can guess and tweak with. I haven’t started the Claret Frangipani yet, hoping a bicepital tendinitis will settle on it’s own, but also knowing I will aggravate it again once I start the project – or – maybe it’s a little procrastination. Having fun with teddy bears in the meantime.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    Fun with teddy bears sounds good, tendinitis less so.

    I’m going to be hors de combat for a few days now as I am (hopefully) going to have my septoplasty operation tomorrow morning. (Apparently bobbing for apples isn’t recommended for the first few days, either.) So apologies if I don’t reply to any posts for the rest of the week.

    See you all on the other side,

  • Ruth

    Good luck with the op, Gordon. Like you, my 2010 wasn’t my best year ever, but I made it through and my business is picking up so I’m cautiously optimistic. So I’ve started cogitating on the christmas 2011 gansey for my other half. When I suggested this, he was keen, so I sent off for a colour card, fully expecting him to choose one of the four shades of blue on offer. After a mammoth 2 weeks thanks to the snow, the card arrived and to my surprise he chose olive. So now I’m scouring pattern books, old photos etc, along with your wonderful website, thanks for that.
    P.S. I too have produced baguettes of the shape on the right, plus one with a funny bulge in the middle. Weird, when they start off evenly!

  • =Tamar

    Hi, Gordon. I hope your operation went well.

    I, too, found that first literary book on Pratchett essentially unreadable. Oddly enough, the second edition of the same title had many completely different essays, many of which I felt were much better. If you should have a chance to find it in the library, it might be worth a second chance.

  • Ian Barnett


    Say you’re a beginner, you want to knit traditional guernseys, you don’t want to knit other stuff. Do you jump in at the deep end (expecting a very slow start and the need for a lot of patience), or do you start with something easy on big needles with fat wool like everyone is telling you to? The benefit of your personal experience here would be appreciated. PS My partner is an experienced knitter albeit not of ganseys so I have her to sort out the mess :o)…


  • Gordon

    Hi Ian,

    I started knitting guernseys as a beginner – I wasn’t interested in the whole “fat needle” thing. And besides, in the old days, traditional knitters just got stuck in,because that’s what they knitted, far as I can tell.

    When I started knitting, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so my wife taught me to knit and asked me what I felt like trying. We looked at a bunch of patterns in a shop, and I found one that I really liked, which turned out to be based on a guernsey pattern, but on a larger scale, fat needles and all. After I’d sort of made a mess of it – it was basically OK but the sizing was all over the place, hardly surprising as it was my first attempt! – Margaret showed me pictures for the real thing, and I was hooked. So I made the transition at once from “ordinary” knitting to gansey knitting, and have never done anything else. (One-trick pony, that’s me.)

    So – for what it’s worth – if it were me, I’d just go for it, and get stuck in with with the guernseys. Whatever you do, you need practice to get good at it, so your first attempt may not be quite as successful as you’d like. But one advantage of ganseys, they’re so fine, whatever you do tends to look impressive!

    So, advice. Get a ball of gansey yarn and some 2.25mm needles or thereabouts; have a go at a swatch or two, and practice some of the simple patterns, just to get the feel of it, and to get an idea of your stitch gauge. Then go for one of the patterns which is plain knitting up to the yoke, such as the Cornwall or Patrington examples in my gallery (I’d recommend this because you can really get into your stride with plain knitting, and as a beginner confidence is important – and it goes much faster than a complicated pattern!).

    I hope it works out – please keep in touch, and let me know how it goes, and if I can be of any help whatsoever – unlikely, but you never know – please don’t hesitate to get back to me. Also, there are some very experienced knitters who drop by on this blog, and if you have a question they may be able to offer advice too.

    Best wishes,