While we were away, spring finally arrived in Caithness, as tentatively as a nocturnal mammal in a nature documentary poking its whiskery nose out of its burrow—so far so good, but ready to withdraw at the first sign of trouble. Daffodils, tulips and primroses abound, buds are erupting on every branch like arboreal acne and there have even been rumours—hotly disputed—of the sun.
I’ve been immersing myself in Norse mythology recently and I’m glad to report that the arrival of spring means that Fimbulwinter has been averted for another year. This is the great winter that lasts three years and puts an end to life on earth, closely followed by Ragnarök, the downfall of the gods and destruction of the cosmos: altogether a bit of a downer, really. (Mind you, having just survived a Caithness winter, there are times when I can’t help feeling that Fimbulwinter and Ragnarök might not be so bad after all…)
Of all the batshit crazy aspects of the Norse end of days, possibly the most bizarre is the Naglfar, the “Nail Ship”, a boat made entirely out of the finger- and toenails of the dead, piloted by Loki, and carrying the armies of hell to the final battle with the gods. Isn’t that fantastic? People were even encouraged to ensure that dead people had short nails before their funerals, so as to delay Ragnarök for as long as possible. (I wish I’d known about this as a lad—I was forever being told off for biting my nails; what an excuse that would have been.)
Anyway, while we were away in parts south I started my next project, a Hebrides cardigan in Frangipani “aran” yarn. I’ve been working on the body, and am about ten inches to the good. Progress is naturally a little slower as the full body pattern means I have to concentrate—see below for why.
Finally, as has become something of a spring ritual for me, I’d like to quote some lines from one of my favourite poems by Ted Hughes, ‘March Morning Unlike Others’:
The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled
Out into the sun
After the frightful operation
She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun
To be healed…
While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know
She is not going to die.
Cardigans are always a little tricky, as you have to calculate not only the patterns for the gansey itself, but also the steek, and how the patterns will fit around the steek. I’m sure there’s an easier way of doing this—if so, please don’t tell me now! Here goes.
The required body width is 21.5 inches. At 8 stitches to the inch, that translates to 172 stitches from seam to seam, or 344 stitches in the round. The preference is for it not to be too tight around the hips, so I decided to cast on 364 stitches for the welt (comprising 86 ribs of 2 knit and 2 purl stitches each), i.e. more or less the same as the body. For the same reason I opted to make the welt just 2 inches long, enough to show but not enough to really draw it in tightly.
Because it’s going to be a cardigan, it has a steek up the middle of the front. This is a panel 20 stitches wide which will, at the end, be cut right along its length with a pair of scissors and folded back and sewn down on the reverse side of the gansey, so that a zip or some other fastening can be attached, (The 20 stitches consist of 16 central knit stitches, i.e., 2 inches, flanked by a purl stitch on either side and another knit stitch—the purl stitches to serve as hinges enabling the central knit panel when cut to fold back more easily. Will this work? I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.)
The body pattern is simple enough and required almost no modifications. The actual patterns are taken from Rae Compton’s book. There are 5 panels of starfish (@ 19 stitches each), 4 panels of the wave (@13 stitches each) and 8 seed stitch border panels between them (@3 stitches each). Add two plain stitches, one next to each seam, to serve as a border, and you have a total of 173 stitches for the back.
But what, I hear you ask, about the front, with its pernicious steek? And yes, this is where you have to be careful. You see, the idea is that the central starfish should break evenly either side of the steek. But the starfish is 19 stitches across—either you have 10 stitches on one side and 9 on the other, which would make it slightly out of kilter, or you have to have an equal number of stitches on either side—10 on each. I’ve gone with the latter, to keep it symmetrical. So in fact the front has to not 20 stitches wider than the back, but 21.
Well. When I finished the welt and started the body I increased by 5 stitches to 369—i.e., 2 seam stitches, 173 on the back, and 194 on the front to take account of the steek. I’m eight inches into the pattern and so far so good…