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Flamborough, Week 6: 11 June

Middle age affects us all differently. Some people develop a hitherto unexpected interest in radio programmes about gardening; while others, usually of the chappish persuasion, splurge out on sports cars or motorcycles. In my own case, however, I find I am afflicted with braces.

A word on terminology. I’m talking about those elasticky thingies that go over your shoulders and hold your trousers up, not the metal attachments to straighten teeth, nor the lacy bits that enable young ladies (in old films and on websites dedicated to particular tastes, or so I’m told, not that I’d know from personal experience of course, especially during work time after the unpleasantness) to keep their stockings up.

A dull day at John o’Groats

I first started wearing braces a year or so back when my various mental health issues saw my weight fluctuate by over half a stone in a few months. My profile resembled an animation of the phases of the moon, waxing and waning with the pull of the tides. At my heaviest you could have lain me on my stomach, put a magnet in my socks, given me a hearty spin and used me for a compass; at my lightest someone from work, when I refused a piece of cake on the grounds that it was full of calories, glanced at my waistline and said disgustedly, “I’ve seen more fat on a chip!” No belt could stand the strain.

Yellow Flag Iris, Iris pseudacorus

Along the way I discovered that braces used to be considered underwear, and were discreetly hidden under the waistcoat; only when waistcoats went out of fashion was it acceptable for braces to be visible (a sensible development, I feel, given the alternative was the potentially more shocking sight of men shuffling about with their trousers round their ankles). The belt didn’t really take over until World War Two, when it was used in army uniforms, and then in the low-slung jeans look of the 1950s and 60s.

Great Hall, National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

All other considerations aside, I prefer to model my style on that of the Soggy Bottom Boys in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The height of sartorial perfection, one feels.

Now, every now and again, when knitting a gansey, the gansey fairies (another web search I don’t recommend you to make at work) smile on you and things just click. I decided when I started this gansey that I wouldn’t try to calculate the number of diamonds I could exactly fit on a side: I’ve tried this before and it never works out. This time I thought I’d take it as it comes, and if that meant I was left with a half- or quarter-diamond, then so be it. But lo! Imagine my pleasure when I reached the top of the back and found that, give or take a quarter of an inch or so, I have exactly eight diamonds. So my heartfelt thanks to the gansey fairies (Cable, Purl and Gusset, good names for cats now I think of it) and it’s on to the front.

Finally this week, the phrase “belt and braces” of course refers to a safety-first approach, leaving nothing to chance. Leaving aside the fact that, in braces etiquette (who knew?), one should never wear a belt with braces, the last word on this was surely said by Henry Ford: “How can you trust a man that wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.”

14 comments to Flamborough, Week 6: 11 June

  • meg

    beautiful knitting !

  • Lynne

    So – how do you wear braces when wearing a gansey? Do you tuck the jumper into the jeans?
    Regarding the vertical diamond rows, I’m also at the place where I wonder which row of the diamond I will reach my specific measurement so I’m hoping the gansey fairies will be kind and aesthetically pleasing.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, shirt tucked into jeans, braces over shirt, gansey over both. They have another advantage, which is you don’t get the lump of a belt buckle to interfere with the smooth lines of a cable running bottom to top. (These things are important if you have the profile of Humpty Dumpty to start with and prefer not to look like a chicken is hatching from a rather tough egg somewhere in the vicinity of your midriff…)

      I’ve seen enough old photos to know that the old knitters didn’t worry too much about perfect pattern repeats. I reckon a gansey is running enough as it is, no one—and I mean no one—is going to quibble about a half or quarter diamond!

  • Eve

    Gansey fairies and George Clooney honestly one of my favourite posts

    • Gordon

      Hi Eve, and thank you. Though expert opinion is divided on whether I really ought to be encouraged more than is absolutely necessary…

  • =Tamar

    I had trousers like that in college for a while. Ah, the seventies. Now I’m (just barely) in my own seventies, fluctuating weight and all.
    I think you ought to be encouraged more than is necessary.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, there was a time in the 70s when dungarees were all the rage, usually with very colourful striped socks. I remember it from Doctor Who’s assistants and Top of the Pops. My late father, who lived through rationing and austerity, loved the seventies for the exuberance and the colour and the sense of people having fun. Funnily enough i never got his opinion on dungarees. Such is life.

  • Lois

    Ah, the seventies – that was indeed a good time. I met my dear husband-to-be then. And my mother was absolutely appalled at my miniskirts, which I was wearing as short as decency allowed.

    And the music!!

    I must be getting old …………

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, getting old is nature’s way of sorting out which music is any good: as a rule of thumb, music you grew up with is great, whereas the so-called music kids listen to nowadays hasn’t got any decent tunes, and why do all the lyrics have to carry an explicit content warning…?

      Yup, it’s happened—I’ve turned into my Dad!

  • Bridget

    I know I’m late to the party, but I had to share my own experience with braces. And, yes!, I expected the teeth kind.
    I’m a bit + over the century mark, and I play golf with a team during our ‘team-play’. The requirement was wearing white pants – something of which I DO NOT approve. (Imagine women with see-through white pants – I can’t even imagine.) I finally wore some white jeans which wouldn’t stay up. I borrowed the hubby’s red suspenders (braces). Unfortunately they were so stretched out, and he is about a foot taller than I, well, hopefully you can see the (ugly) picture. Needless to say, I spent the whole time hiking them up!

    • Gordon

      Hi Bridget, fantastic! (I tried researching women playing golf in see-through white pants but ran up against our internet family settings!)

      At least modern elasticated braces have buckles to adjust the height. My only problem is that modern trousers seem to be cut to sit low on the waist, rather than high as they were when braces were in fashion, and every pair I own is different, so I have to keep adjusting the length or else I get a nasty surprise when I sit down…

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Ahh suspenders!! All our firemen wear them – special RED ones, they are sooo sexy. Mind you, the fire proof pants must weigh a ton so they HAVE to wear them. Many of my truck driving pals wear them too – nice wide ones or they wear the Engineer overalls, the ones with fine stripes & a bib in front. You might thing about some of those if you’re having problems with plain suspenders . . . oh, nice sweater by the way.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, yes, suspenders are de rigour for firemen or farmers or anyone who uses heavy-duty workwear. Archivists don’t really count, though I could fashion a utility belt with a pencil sharpener and a pocket for document request slips…

      As I get older, and become a messier eater, suspenders with a bib in front sound awfully tempting!

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