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Humber 2: 3 – 9 October

I first came across the term “displacement activity” in Desmond Morris’s bestselling book of popular sociology from the 1970s, Manwatching (along with some rather racy photographs that helped me through adolescence – well, the internet hadn’t been invented yet, we had to make our own entertainment). A displacement activity is anything you do that brings comfort while at the same time puts off some other activity you don’t want to face up to.

So, faced with a mountain of laundry, you might decide to have a cup of tea first, or write a shopping list, or arrange your fish knives in alphabetical order, or (ahem) write a blog – anything that helps you avoid facing up to reality. This week, faced with the logistical nightmare of moving up to Wick, my displacement activity has been knitting – which goes some way to explain how much I’ve got done. (Hey, it’s not like I haven’t done anything – I’ve started a list. That’s got to count for something, right?)

As I said before, I cast on 388 stitches. After 3 inches of basic knit 2/purl 2 ribbing I increased to 432 stitches. My basic stitch gauge is about 9.25 stitches to the inch on 2.25mm needles, so that should give me something in the region of my target width of 46 inches or so. (The yoke pattern will involve cables, which will pull the chest in a bit, and there will be purl columns running the length of the body, so I should have some flexibility when it comes to block it in, oh, about three years’ time.)

I’m going to follow one of the Humber “keel and sloop” gansey patterns from Michael Pearson’s book (the old edition, not the new reprinted one, since when I went to order it from Amazon UK I found it had already sold out, after just 3 days, dammit – so congratulations to Michael on a successful launch). I plan to adapt Mrs Jackson’s pattern from p.102, one of the really elaborate ones.

It’s one of those ganseys with a plain body and a patterned yoke. I’ll post the yoke pattern when I come to it (in other words, when I’ve worked out what it’ll be!) but one of the elements of this pattern that’s a little unusual, and which I wanted to explore, is a narrow patterned panel either side of each seam stitch (see pattern chart). This consists of a section of moss stitch bordered by a 15-stitch chevron panel – the rest of the body is plain. These strips run the whole length of the body, and continue uninterrupted into the yoke, and on up to the shoulder. It’s too early to tell how they’ll look – I’m barely an inch into the body – but already it helps break up some of the endless knit stitches you get with a completely plain body.

We occasionally get asked what Margaret gets up to when she isn’t riding shotgun on my various gansey projects. Being rather more representative of the wider knitting community than I, the answer is, pretty much whatever takes her fancy. Here’s her latest project – I think it’s a modified fishing net for catching moths, but I could be wrong.

After much to-ing and fro-ing, I finally depart for Wick on Thursday 13th, when hopefully I will move into my temporary lodgings (Margaret’s coming up for a few days, but will be returning to Edinburgh until we find somewhere more permanent). So there may be some disruption to the blog over the next few weeks – please bear with us, if so. And I start work on Monday 17th, which gives me a week to try to remember just what it is that archivists do.

Meanwhile I suppose I’d better get started on packing and sorting out what clothes to take – oh, is that the time? Well, maybe after lunch. Oh, and I’ve got to post that letter. Well. Perhaps I could just squeeze in another couple of rows first…

18 comments to Humber 2: 3 – 9 October

  • Lynne

    Compliments to Margaret! That is a beautiful lace project. I also love the way the Conifer is showing off the pattern. Best of luck with your move and the orientation of the new job, location, weather, etc.

  • Suzanne

    Oh, dear! Like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, the scales have been lifted… my entire body of work in the craft realm for the past 20 years was displacement activity. The greater the avoidance, the more inspired the output. Do I regret it? Let me go start another project while I think about that.

    Congratulations to Margaret on the lovely lace shawl. As for Humber: displacement activity or no, it is going to be very handsome.

    Good luck with the move! We’re all rooting for you.

  • Deborah

    Dear Gordon,

    Good luck with the move. I remain very awed by the speed at which you knit and Margaret’s lace is stunning. I have only knitted a couple of inches of mine. Ex au pair (single mum) staying for two weeks with 5 week old baby, large dinner party for 10 on Friday, various sons unexpectedly home and First Aid courses are really no excuse. I will be more focused this week.

    Michael Pearson’s reprint is available from Waterstones online, free delivery if you can’t wait for Amazon to re stock. I shall go and have a look at p102. All my gansey books, curently stacked up by my bedside, provide the perfect displacement activity to sleeping!

    Best wishes and bon voyage

  • Dear Lynne, Suzanne and Deborah,

    Thank you for your good wishes! It’s much appreciated. And yes, Margaret makes astonishing stuff, but she’s not as verbose as I, so she doesn’t brag about it – just rolls up her sleeve and gets on with it.

    Lynne, I’ve always been a fan of conifer. The problem is, when you offer to make ganseys for other people, they usually want navy, because that’s the colour they associate with ganseys. (I can sometimes persuade them to accept cream, like a cat.) In this case I’m afraid I just didn’t offer my victim a choice!

    Suzanne, at the risk of dragging a light-herated blog into morbidity and despair, personally, I think most of life is just a displacement activity to take our minds off our mortality – “they give birth astride a grave” and all that – so I really think we have a duty to enjoy ourselves as much and as frivolously as possible. Crafts are a far better use of one’s time than being a couch potato – in fact for most of my fellow countrymen I suspect that the answer to the question at the pearly gates of “how did you spend your allotted time?” will be “I watched football”. (And they will be condemned, of course, for they should have watched cricket, God’s favourite game…)

    Deborah, how nice to hear from you. Alas, employment beckons, so I’m afraid the rate of progress will drop alarmingly from now on – in fact, I suspect work will be such a shock to the system that I’ll be fast asleep by six! But my motto is, a gansey is for life, and often that’s just the knitting! Thanks for the heads-up on the Pearson – I hadn’t thought of Waterstones, but will give them a go.

    Best wishes,

  • =Tamar

    Back in the 1960s, a biology professor proclaimed in his textbook: “Sleep is the natural state of all of life. It is interrupted by periods of activity.”

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar, how true! Though some of us aspire to a state of sleep punctuated by periods of sleep…

  • Annalies

    hello Gordon,wish you also good luck with the move.
    Margarets lace is wonderful!!

  • Gordon

    Hi Annalies, and thank you. Things are so intent right now that, though I’m not much of a drinker, but I’m beginning to see the point!


  • THAT is a wonderful Aeolian – do tell Margaret. I’ve cast on for one, but then got distracted by something which was more urgent, but clearly not as important, as I MUST have one.

    I’ve made two full-size Laminariae and one mini Laminaria; I desperately want to make a Torreyana as well. Currently, I’m working on a Vermont Shawl in a beautiful autumn-leaves multicolored Madeleine Tosh Lace; I thought it appropriate for my trip to New England. I might bead the rest of it, just to add fun and sparkle.

    I’m in a hurry – late for class – but I wanted to compliment her on the lace. It’s fabulous.

    I can’t wait to see more of the gansey you’ve started. I like the patterning-up-the-sides idea a lot. Seeing your ganseys makes me want to finish up the sweaters I’ve started so I can think about a gansey for my Very Own. (I do still like the fish skeleton pattern!)


  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    Margaret says it’s hand-spun as well – presumably out of cobwebs, sunlight and sub-atomic particles – quite incomprehensible to me how these things are done. (I’m sorry, philistine that I am, I have no idea what most of the words in your post mean – but luckily Margaret will know – my initial guess that they are forms of lepidopterae appears ill-judged…)

    I have a happy image in my mind of someone with a fish skeleton pattern being pursued down the street by a load of hungry ally cats!


  • *snort*

    Well, you’re the one who linked to the fish skeleton pattern, so it’ll be all your fault when the alley cats knock me down and eat my sweater!

    The lace shawls do look a bit like lepidopterae; I wonder if there are any named that! I should look that up in Ravelry… hang on a tick?

    Ravelry shows four things named Lepidoptera. None is a light airy shawl. Clearly there’s a need! I’ll get designing right away.


  • Leigh

    Gordon I will be thinking of you on the 17th. Kudos Margaret on an absolutely stunning lace project. How long did it take you to do that?

    P.S. In Berroco’s Get-the-behind-me-Satan Email, there was a link to an animated film short about the consequences of being too focused on knitting sans everything else. It is on YouTube and is called “The Last Knit.” I thought it was hysterically funny and kept nodding my head thinking, Yep, that’s me alright. I did not copy the link here because of fear of spam.

  • Leigh

    P.S. Re: Michael Pearson’s book, Amazon US is showing release date 03/15/2012.

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    Thanks. I’m in my rented house in Wick, but no internet yet so I’ll look up your suggested YouTube video in due course. Am currently in denial about tomorrow, in the perhaps misguided hope that Monday mornings happen to other people…


  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon!
    Good luck for tomorrow!

    Your new gansey looks pretty good! If I think about casting on so many stitches I consider you are very patient.

    The lace shawl of your dear Margaret looks wonderful! Congratulations.

    Cheers, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    I sort of enter a zen-like trance when I cast on, and play some music I love, and gradually it just gets done. It always takes longer than i expect, so I think I’ve been doing it for hours when I’m only a third through. So I despair, and consider running away to join the merchant navy, and then all of a sudden it’s done.

    Margaret is the talented one in the partnership, I’m the shameless self-publicist!


  • Sarah

    This blog is fast becoming my displacement activity.

  • Gordon

    Hi Sarah,

    I like to think we’re fulfilling a sort of public service by taking people’s minds off more important things!