In this section I want to take you through all the processes I’ve discussed in the previous sections about planning out a gansey from scratch. This involves determining the size of the gansey, how many stitches to cast on, choosing a pattern and adjusting it to fit, etc.
This is actually quite simple. But it seems complicated when you try to explain it step by step (it’s like scientists found when they tried to programme a robot to make a cup of tea – a relatively straightforward exercise becomes horribly complex when you break it down). But bear with me: the rewards are well worth it.
CHOOSING THE PATTERN
The very first thing I ever knit was a jumper which used a famous gansey pattern, that of the celebrated Henry Freeman of Whitby lifeboat. The yarn was big and chunky, and the stitch gauge was way bigger than that of a gansey proper, but I’ve always wanted to have a go at the original. Unfortunately, the pattern works better in a larger gauge – it stands out more – but the texture of knitting it in a finer yarn will, I hope, more than make up for the lack of clarity.
It’s also quite appropriate, for the pattern has been recorded all over the coast, even near Edinburgh where I live now!
Now I need to find out how big my gansey is going to be, and then we can see how the pattern can be made to fit it.
SIZING (1) – LENGTH
I have a nice, big, baggy, soft cashmere pullover of which I am very fond. I thought it might be fun to make a big, baggy gansey the same size. The cashmere pullover is 48 inches across the body, so I plan to make my gansey 47-48 inches across (I told you it was big).
There are a few decisions you need to make early on when planning how long your gansey is going to be:
- The length of the body overall;
- The length of the sleeves and the length of the ribbed cuffs;
- How much to allow for the shoulder strap;
- The length of the ribbed welt;
- How big to make the armholes (when to divide front and back);
- When to start the patterned yoke;
- When to start the gussets.
Total Body and Sleeve/Cuff Length
Now, I’m not going to try to replicate the cashmere pullover exactly – the sleeves are a different style, and it’s a little shorter in the body than I like a gansey to be. So I’m going to make the body 27 inches long, to keep my backside warm, and the sleeves 18 inches from shoulder to cuff, with an additional 3 inches of ribbing for the cuff.
The Shoulder Strap
The simplest shoulder strap design, and my default, is the traditional “rig and fur”, or ridge and furrow pattern, 2 rows of purl stitches alternating with 2 rows of knit stitches, for a total of 12 rows per side. This comes to about an inch.
The very bottom part of a gansey, the welt, usually consists of a few inches of ribbing. I’m going to make this 3.5 inches long – that’s enough to draw it in and make a snug fit. (And remember that the welt usually has 10% fewer stitches than the body, for additional bottom-hugging snugness.)
I plan to make the armhole 9 inches deep, including the inch for the shoulder strap referred to above, so that means that I need to divide front and back after 18 inches.
Next, there is the question of when to start the yoke – the patterned section across the chest. Traditionally, this started with the gussets about halfway up the body, and that’s normally a good rule of thumb to follow. Half of 27 inches is 13.5 inches, and if I deduct 1 inch for the shoulder strap, that leaves me with 12.5 inches for the yoke.
Now, having done my vertical row gauge, I know that I average 12.3 rows per inch. 12.5 inches x 12.3 rows per inch = 154.12 rows for the yoke.
Henry Freeman’s gansey consists of 3 patterned bands. So I can comfortably make each band 50 rows (5 rows for the purl and knit bands, and 45 rows for the seed stitch pattern). And that gives me the option of 4 or 5 rows at the top for another purl and knit band.
Finally, what about the underarm gussets? 3.5 to 4.5 inches is a good size for half a gusset. To keep things simple I’ll start the gussets at the same time as I start the yoke pattern, which will give me fairly long half-gussets of 4.4 inches.
So there we are. This is one of those exercises that is more complicated to explain than it is to do, and is easier to visualise in sketch form. Here’s how it breaks down, top to bottom:
Shoulder strap – 1 inch
Armhole – 8 inches
Gusset – 4.5 inches
Body – 10 inches
Welt – 3.5 inches
(Giving us a total of 27 inches in length. The yoke pattern equals the gusset plus the armhole, or 8.0 + 4.5 = 12.5 inches in total length.)
Or, looking at it another way, from the bottom up, after 3.5 inches start the body, after 13.5 inches start the yoke and the gussets, after 18 inches divide front and back, after 26 inches knit the shoulder straps.
SIZING (2) – WIDTH
First of all, we need to determine how many stitches our gansey will consist of. As I said above, I want to base this gansey on my favourite baggy pullover which is 47-48 inches across the chest.
I think I’ll aim for a 47.5 inch chest, right in the middle of the width I’m looking for, so that if my stitch gauge varies a bit either way (tighter or looser) I’ll still have a gansey that fits.
I have already calculated that my stitch gauge is 9 stitches per inch. The calculation (we are all relieved to discover) is now a simple one: 47.5 x 9 = 427.5
Now, you can’t have 0.5 of a stitch, so I’m going to round it down to 427; and I want it to be an even number because it has to be divisible by 2 (so I can have the same number of stitches on the front and back) so I’m going to make it 426.
So the body of my gansey will be 426 stitches in the round.
Next, I have to remember to deduct 2 stitches from my calculations for the fake seams on either side. (426 – 2 = 424)
The front and back of the gansey will be identical, and each will be exactly half the total number of stitches: 424 / 2 = 212 stitches.
The seed stitch pattern I’m going to knit consists of alternating rows of plain knitting with a simple knit 2/purl 2 across the chest, so there’s no problem about fitting it to our total of 212 stitches across the yoke. I’ll just leave a plain knit border stitch on each edge.
All that remains is to knit it… Maybe after a cup of tea and a lie down.