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Hebrides II (Revisited): Week 10 – 20 April

The historian Max Hastings relates an anecdote about Winston Churchill. There was once a game shoot at Blenheim Palace, where Churchill attempted an absurdly long shot at an apparently oblivious hare, and duly missed. A youth asked him why he’d wasted a cartridge on it. “Young man,” replied Churchill blithely, “I wished that hare to understand it was taking part in these proceedings.” Well, I imagine that hare’s feelings pretty closely match mine as I read the news on the pandemic—so far I seem to be out of range, but I definitely feel part of the proceedings.

The Old Lifeboat House

It’s week four of the lockdown, and I’m delighted to say that I’ve finished the gansey. As I’ve said before, you have to wait till it’s washed and blocked to really see it in all its glory; and very glorious it looks. I do love the Hebridean patterns. Yorkshire has my heart, Caithness my loyalty, but as Lady Macbeth once eulogised her own Hebrides gansey: “Others abide our question, thou art free”. I plan to knit a few more of them before I hang up my needles (to quote the great Bob Dylan, “Mama take these needles off of me/ I can’t see too good any more/ it’s getting dark, too dark to knit/ feel like I’m dropping’ stitches galore…”).

Tower of St Fergus’ through the hawthorns

It’s a double-header this week, two for the price of one: Judit has come up trumps again with a very impressive variant on the pattern from The Lizard in Cornwall. This has always been one of my favourites, ever since I first saw it in Mary Wright’s book, so simple and yet so richly textured. Congratulations again to Judit!

Now here’s a thing. I was reading a book about Henry VIII, and it said he had someone executed for treason—well, of course he had loads of people executed for treason; you had to make your own entertainment in those days. But in this particular case, several courtiers attended the execution “disguised as Scotsmen”. And I thought: you what?


I’d always thought of executions as rather sombre affairs, and not so much as fancy-dress parties (“Going to the execution tomorrow?” “Yes, thought I’d go as a pirate. You?” Oh, as a Scotsman.” “Good show!”). But just how would you go about disguising yourself as a Scotsman back then? Leaving aside the jimmy hats so beloved of Edinburgh’s souvenir shops, and passing hastily over Mel Gibson in Braveheart (in which he wears blue woad face paint, which went out of fashion several hundred years earlier, and a kilt, which came into fashion several hundred years later), 16th century Highlanders wore the belted plaid that would later evolve into the kilt—though it’s not exactly what you’d call a disguise, and was hardly national.

Oh well, a mystery it must remain, I suppose. But it’s got me wondering: if I were ever to be executed for treason—the contingency appears remote, but you never know—how would I like the crowd to be dressed? I’m currently going with clowns, preferably copiously provided with buckets of whitewash and ladders; on the grounds that if I’m going to meet my maker, laughing seems as good a way as any.

13 comments to Hebrides II (Revisited): Week 10 – 20 April

  • Laura Kinnane-Brew

    Hi Gordon, it just looks amazing, the pattern is so intricate, I can’t begin to understand how you can knit something so complicated. I am so pleased. I understand it may be some time before you can post it because of the awful pandemic. I was hoping to go to sea in my gansey, like a proper sailor, but I expect my cruise to be cancelled. Not to worry I can always wear it on the Windermere Ferry when lockdown is eventually over, although I suspect that maybe far off in the future.
    If you are executed for treason we could all wear your gansey.

  • Laura Kinnane-Brew

    that should have read ganseys !

    • Dave

      Perhaps your miscreant courtiers put on shaggy ginger wigs and beards – I’m thinking life of Brian stoning here…

      • Gordon

        Hi Dave, in the Lord of the Rings movie when the Riders of Rohan are about to ride with Eowyn hidden among them, I always want the king to turn round and ask, “Are there any women here today!?”

  • =Tamar

    The loose end of the great kilt was used as a hood. That would have covered half their faces, and revealing knobby knees would do the rest.

    Modern clowns generally wear wigs and makeup, along with the stereotypical baggy clothing and big shoes. Good disguise choice for summer, but ganseys would be de rigueur for winter. I’d need sufficient advance notice to whip one up in honor of the occasion. What color, though? I’m partial to red, but heather green is nice too.

    • =Tamar

      The red of the completed Hebrides Revisited, for instance, would be perfect. It’s beautiful, and that design is inspired.

      • Laura Kinnane-Brew

        I picked the red and the design, I was going to go for a bright pillar box red at first, but then changed my mind and decided on this red. It looks fabulous doesn’t it?

      • Gordon

        Hi Tamar, you’re right, I’m sure. Though I think the great kilt only became widespread in the course of the 16th century. So perhaps these courtiers were on the very cusp of fashion!

  • Lois

    My heavens, that’s a beautiful design! But my brain cringes at trying to keep track of all those pattern rows.

    I must confess that I haven’t accomplished much, though there is a project that is still waiting to be blocked. At present I’m sewing masks, suddenly people who sew are in demand.

    Keep safe everyone!

  • Lynne Brock

    Stunning gansey, Gordon – and lucky Laura! The Hebridean gansey designs are my favorite and you sure did yourself proud on this one! The color is fantastic for showing stitch definition.

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