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Hebrides, Weeks 1-2: 3 April

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…)

Gavin likes his new gansey
(Photo courtesy of Davena)

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.)

So in my calculations I have 344 stitches for the ribbing, + 20 stitches for the steek = 364 stitches cast on.

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…

11 comments to Hebrides, Weeks 1-2: 3 April

  • =Tamar

    The garnet gansey looks even better in action.
    Thanks for explaining Naglfar; I had the wrong impression, that it was made out of the clippings, but what you wrote makes more sense. (Ew.)
    I’m impressed with the progress already made on the cardie.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, yes, I’m rather pleased with the way it came out. Especially as it was for someone else!

      I think Naglfar was made out of whatever they could get their hands on—clippings too. But I do like the idea that by keeping your nails short and burning the clippings you’re helping Odin, as the longer it takes them to put Naglfar together the longer it will take for Ragnarok to come!

  • Lois

    I shall never look at fingernails in the same light again.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, also be very wary of any Norse nail care studios you come across, and if you use them always insist on them returning you your nail clippings in a matchbox so you can dispose of them safely later…

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Pretty damn spiffy gansey there Gordon!!! It looks wonderful on Gavin & I really like that color. You sure move fast when you start a new one too – I really like the Starfish & Wave pattern on the cardi. I think I’d like that pattern on something of my own. Glad to see you back & you sound very chipper. Hope your allergies are much better.

    • Gordon

      Hello Sharon, yes, that’s another gansey I’ve knit for someone else recently and then suffered the sin of envy! But it’s good to know it fits (a huge relief actually), so I can’t complain.

      I decided a while back that I’d use this period of being off work to do something positive, and that included knitting a couple of ganseys for friends & family. Turning something that could have been very negative for me around, really.

      Anyway, can’t stand here all day chatting – those gussets won’t knit themselves…

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Yes – Back to work with you Gordon!! And maybe you should plan another gansey for yourself in that lovely color you used for Gavin.

    • Gordon

      Well, Sharon, and I say it as shouldn’t, I have just ordered some more spiffing Frangipani yarn and yes, claret was one of the shades I asked for… Though I’ve about half a dozen ganseys on my to-list before i get to it the way things stand!

  • Jane

    The claret gansey is a total triumph and I love the little dog. If I ever, ever finish Gladys, I shall try wearing it with three rehomed and mildly bonkers cats, definitely the way to go, could take a while to get the little guys in line though.

    The new Aran cardigan is also magnificent, and the maths is awesome. I am assuming that the Aran yarn is effectively the gansey 5 ply double, er or something like that.

    Glad to hear you have acquired some more claret yarn, quite right, take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, I’ve only managed to keep one cat in my arms at a time, usually by cradling it on its back and tickling its tummy. Three would definitely be a challenge—unless you use chloroform.

      Aran is the colour of the Frangipani yarn, that’s all (strictly speaking “Aran (Natural)”. But it’s yer standard guernsey 5-ply, same old same old. The maths is a bit migraine-inducing, I grant you; but if you think that’s bad just wait till we get to the yoke pattern…)

      • Jane

        Sorry about the yarn! I did read the stitch numbers and admired deeply, but the yarn ply did not click in! My only excuse is the recent knitting of Aran ply yoga jackets for youngsters.

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