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Filey IV, Week 2: 27 February

I was chatting to God the other day over afternoon tea, and I happened to ask Him about our Caithness weather: to wit, why it was so unpredictable. He smiled in an ineffable sort of way and brushed away a few crumbs from his beard—angel cakes with pink icing—and by way of answer pulled out a pack of greasy cards from inside his robe. When I turned them over I saw that each depicted a particular type of weather. Most showed heavy clouds, or rain, or gale force winds; a few showed all three. But some—perhaps one in a dozen—showed blue, cloudless skies and more or less unbroken sunshine.

Well, on Monday He shuffled the deck again and dealt us one of these. It was a bright, clear day, not much wind—for Caithness—and you could see for miles. Much too nice to stay indoors. So we jumped in the car and drove to Bay of Sannick, on the far northeast tip between John O’Groats and Duncansby Head. The bay sweeps round between those two points, all rocks and sand and sheep-cropped grass, and is as secluded as you could wish, with the land at your back and nothing before you but the open sea and the islands of Stroma and Orkney.

It was high tide, and the waves came rolling in, as regular as the grooves in a long-playing record, breaking on the rocks and exploding in a chorus line of spray all along the curve of the bay. Apparently seals sometimes come up onto the beach to laze about and bask in the sun, but there were none today; only flocks of seabirds riding the heaving swell. We’re pretty used to the sounds of the sea, the suck and sigh of the tide, but here another sound underlay it: the clatter of stones being rolled to and fro as the tide withdrew, rocks being ground down over time to tiny pebbles.

As you’ll see from the photos, I’ve now reached the yoke in the current gansey. The gussets are almost finished (at my standard rate of an increase of two stitches every fourth row), and in half an inch or so I’ll divide for front and back. But I’ve started the pattern, which will slow me down (all those purl stitches). This is a pattern I’ve always wanted to knit up. It comes from Gladys Thompson, page 33, and is her “Filey Pattern X”. She calls it “one of the best Filey patterns”—and I rather agree. It seems perfectly suited to the colour, too. (I’ll have more to say about the pattern next week, and will post a chart.)

Meanwhile in parish news, we have not one but two new ganseys to celebrate. The first is from Julie, in denim colour, and is a combination of patterns of her own devising. The second is from Judit, in cream, and realises the Filey lifeboatman’s pattern as a full-body design. They are quite different and each is splendid, and again go to show the infinite variety of ganseys and their patterns. Congratulations to Julie and Judit!

And outside the sun is still shining; but the wind has got up, and there are suggestions of some angry clouds on the far horizon. If I listen very carefully I fancy I can detect, just on the very edge of hearing, the faintest sound of a deck of cards being shuffled…

27 comments to Filey IV, Week 2: 27 February

  • Inge

    Such a lovely color, and again a stunning gansey on your needles. Thank you for the story, it is almost a fairytale.

    • Gordon

      Hello Inge,

      Einstein famously said, “God does not play dice”. Well, maybe not when organising the universe, but on a wet Sunday afternoon in Wick He can sometimes be found enjoying a friendly game of backgammon in Miller Avenue; and now and then we play a foursome of Monopoly with the Archangel Raziel, the Keeper of Secrets, and Cassiel, the archangel of Solitude and Tears. The games are fun, but always end with Cassiel running off on his own sobbing for some reason, and when we ask Raziel he refuses to tell us…

  • Julie

    Please explain how to navigate to Judit’s most recent project.
    Thank you.

    • Gordon

      Hi Julie, click on the link in the text above (or click here) and that takes you to Judit’s page. She’s knit rather a lot, so there are lots of examples of her work to view! But the most recent pictures are the two at the top left if viewed on a desktop, or the top two in the column format on a mobile device.

      We’re exploring ways of making these pages more navigable but it’s rather complicated so please bear with us.

  • Dave

    Love the photo of the crashing waves – great colours.

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Dave—the spray was turning into fragmentary evanescent transitory rainbows in the sunlight, as though elves were enjoying a morning’s surfing, but it’s hard to capture that on film!

  • Lois

    What a beautiful colour and that pattern does it full justice. I keep wondering, every time I see the latest creation, “how on earth is he going to surpass that one?” And every time you do!

    I keep saying to myself –

    I will not start another gansey.
    I will not start another gansey.
    I will finish some of the projects I have started.
    I will not start another …………………

    • Julie

      Hi Lois,
      I am on a “finish-up and clear out” campaign. It began with the new year. So far, I’ve completed the denim gansey and countless pairs of socks. And it feels so good! I plan on finishing 3 large quilts before the year is out.
      There. It is in writing. I can’t back out now, can I? Or …?

      • Lois

        Maybe we should form a mutual support team. Lol I have to finish a king size quilt in a very complicated pattern in time for my grandson’s wedding.

        • Julie

          I’m in!
          Ask Gordon for my email addy and together we will add to the “completed” side of the ledger.

          • Gordon

            Hi all, I suppose I’m in an unusual position of not having lots of unfinished projects because ganseys are all I knit, and it’s hard to imagine starting several and then abandoning them—one, definitely, but several, not so much!

            Also, I’m aware these days that my knitting life is very much in the public domain—there’s nowhere to hide! Also, whereas a few years ago I might have put aside the knitting for a few weeks or month, nowadays I try to do something every week, at least. (Of course, what with one thing and another, I’ve been knitting rather more than usual—this won’t last!) But I can imagine a time when I decide, right, that’s it, I’m done, it’s time to take up stamp collecting…

  • Jane

    Beautiful work Gordon. That colour is just outstanding and the pattern really suits it. I do like Gladys Thompson’s patterns, all very nice. Some good news about Gladys, I have found it, no need for search parties or demolition of book towers, such relief. It was in a safe place, naturally, tucked away neatly under the knitting basket.

    I so enjoyed your post and the photos are wonderful. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, and thank you. I shall pass on your compliments to the photographer! And I’m glad to hear that Gladys is once more restored to her place in your bookshelves; she’s still the “original and best” when all is said and done.

  • =Tamar

    I’m swooning over the color, and I like the design. I am about halfway through a short white scarf in plain stockinette. Maybe if I knitted every day instead of only during social events…

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, the colour is gorgeous, isn’t it? Ever since I saw it I knew it needed a Yorkshire pattern to partner it with, and this one’s a doozy.

      Living in Caithness gives me a special advantage, of course—I don’t have any social events!

  • Jane Callaghan

    I’m so pleased to see that Filey X is getting the recognition it deserves. I’ve got nearly to the top of the neck of mine, in Wendy navy on 2.25 needles, and I’m finding it really hard – arthritis gallops on while the needles dawdle. It’s a handsome pattern though, and it has that harsh, understated, self-contained effect that the best working ganseys seem to have.Love it!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, I can definitely see this pattern in navy, all that seed stitch would glow if you went out in the sunshine. (Mind you, at the same time it’s a fiddly wee pattern, all that “knit one, purl one”—so I’m in no danger of knitting a navy one any time soon!) Best of luck with the gansey, and the arthritis.

  • Ruby

    I truly enjoyed reading your blog and your descriptions – elegant! I like the gansey too!

    • Gordon

      Thank you, Ruby! It’s always nice to know all that slaving over a hot word processor (and camera) is appreciated.

  • Nicky

    Thank you for such an enjoyable and informative blog. I’m in awe of the number of ganseys you’ve knitted; they all look fabulous. It’s been at least 15 years, probably closer to 20, since I last knitted one (lots of socks and blankets knitted in those years though) and coming across your blog after watching the Country File programme has done the trick. I have Frangipani in pewter and have cast on and am about 4 inches in after a split welt.

    • Gordon

      Hi Nicky, and thanks for the kind words!

      As for the number of ganseys, well, you have to remember that (apart from 2 lopi pullovers) I haven’t knitted anything else for about 30 years! In fact, when I look back, if only I’d listened to my gansey tutor in my Fifth Year of Miss Havisham’s School for Dull Boys, I would probably be approaching my half century by now… But every time i think of trying something else I find another gansey pattern I want to knit, and so it goes.

      Frangipani pewter is a great colour, isn’t it? I like it particularly because it already looks weathered, the way pre-washed jeans do, thus enabling one to pose as an old sea dog from day one, without all that tiresome sailing round the Horn that used to be de rigeur. What pattern do you have in mind?

      Best of luck anyway, and let us know how you get on this time.
      Kind regards, Gordon

      • Nicky

        I think it might become a Staithes I pattern as in Gladys Thompson. I’ve about 2 inches to go before I need decide. My last gansey was a Flamborough so I’m rather enjoying the miles of plain on this one.

        • Gordon

          Hi Nicky, Staithes is a great pattern, one of the all-time classics. (And easy to keep track of.) Some knitters complain that all the plain body knitting is boring, but I love it—you really fly along and can let your mind roam free. And like you it’s fun to knit half a gansey and still have total freedom over which yoke pattern to choose!

  • Jane

    Gordon, I have noticed something!

    Finding my copy of Gladys’ Thompson superb book, caused me also to revisit Rae Compton’s wonderful book. Rae Compton’s book now sells for enormous amounts of money, the start is about £55. I bought my treasured copy for £12 or £14 about a year ago and that was a typical price.

    If ever a book deserved a reprint…. Gordon, I know you are very busy, but have you ever considered just slightly becoming a book publisher as well….! Take care!

    • Gordon

      Well spotted, Jane. I agree: it deserves to be in print, it’s such a good book and the written-out patterns at the back are excellent.

      But now you’ve given me an even better idea—hang on too my own until the price reaches astronomical levels and I can afford to retire on the proceeds!

      • Jane

        Well yes, there was one for about a thousand pounds. I was shocked. So many good folk just don’t get to enjoy it. It all seems a bit odd!

        • Gordon

          Hi Jane, yes, I see those ridiculous prices now and then and I always wonder if anyone can really be so desperate as to pay them. Maybe there’s a Texas billionaire out there, or a Russian oligarch, with a passion for gansey knitting?

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