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Worked example: calculating a gansey

INTRODUCTION

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 Welt

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.)

The Armholes

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.

The Yoke

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.

The Gussets

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.

Summary

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.

12 comments to Worked example: calculating a gansey

  • Alice Dominguez

    Thank you for your very precise and concise description, I’ve looked at commercial patterns and failed to grasp the ratios.
    Many thanks,
    Alice

  • Gordon

    Hi Alice,

    Well, I can only say that this is what works for me, after many years trial and error! If we can be of any assistance at any stage please don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

    Best wishes and thanks for getting in touch,
    Gordon

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I am in the prep stage of knitting my first gansey, and i, too wanted to knit the one the Whitby man was wearing, only i’m not clever enough to work out the pattern myself and worked a few others that seemed they would be similar. Which they were but not exactly the same.

    I’m currently trying to figure what my gauge/tension is and have been using US 2/UK 11 /2.75 mm with scrap yarn that’s close in diameter to the 5-ply yarn i want to use (will do a test swatch with that ultimately, but wanted to play with some patterns first to see what felt right for my fingers to do). If i get 9 or 10 stitches to the inch, then i think i’ll stay with the size 2 needle.

  • Gordon

    Hi Megan,

    Good to hear from you! It’s all a question of trial and error for me—more error than trail, I find!—and down the years I’ve come to believe that once you find out what you’re naturally comfortable with, it all comes together. The old knitters seem to have had a gauge at anywhere between 7 and 9 sts per inch or so, so whatever you finally arrive at, you can rest assured it’ll be authentic!

    Feel free to drop us an email any time if you think we can be of assistance, otherwise—best of luck!

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Ruthe

    Gordon,
    Love your website which I fell upon by sheer luck. A friend of mine made a Gansey for her son (very large and tall). She did her swatches for all her pattern choices and made a beautiful scarf for herself. Thought all might enjoy. I hope to begin one for my husband in the next few months. I want to do traditional double pointed pins, but will see what happens. Many, many thanks for the great site it will be very useful to me.

    • Gordon

      Hi Ruthe,

      I’ve just come across your comment which I don’t seem to have seen before, or replied to —? Apologies if so, I didn’t mean to be rude!

      Thanks for the kind words—I never felt comfortable with the double-pointed needles, but some folks swear by them, and of course that’s the traditional way. Best of luck with your gansey—any thoughts on the pattern yet?

      Best wishes and apologies again,
      Gordon

  • Kathleen

    Your explainations make these calculations seem so much more straightforward then my other sources. I do have one question – am I correct that the gusset stitches are not included in the # of stitches for the body?

    A group at my LYS,(The Purple Sock, Coldwater, Ontario Canada) has been working through the mini gansey in Beth Brown-Reinsel’s book. ( http://www.ravelry.com/discuss/the-purple-sock/2491479/101-125#122 )Several of us are now working toward full size sweaters in the Frangipani 5-ply, just waiting on the yarn to arrive and planning our patterns. Its terrific to see the colour photos, they help alot.

    Thank you very much for sharing.

  • Gordon

    Hi Kathleen,

    How nice to hear from you, and thank you. Yes, the gusset stitches are extra, they’re NOT included in the calculation of the body stitches. (The idea was to give a little extra movement when you lift your arms, as well as more room around the chest.)

    Good luck to you and your group with your projects! And remember, if you have any questions at any stage, please don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

    Best wishes,
    Gordon

  • Kathleen

    Thank you Gordon for your quick reply and encouragement. I just wanted to check and not assume, as we all know what is likely to happen then. 🙂

    I’m very intersted in your cardigans, as I’m planning to knit my gansey as a cardi, with a steeked front and armholes. Not anywhere near traditional but I want to do the best knitting I can and have a sweater I will wear.

    I hope your eye problems turn out to be minor. I’ve had that mapping done. I agree with your description and they expect you to keep your eye open and not blink …

  • Gordon

    Hi Kathleen,

    This weekend we’re finally going to cardiganify the cream gansey, now all our car problems are, for now at least, over (touches wood); we hope to take some photos and, if I can work the camera, videos to show how we’ve done it, hopefully for Monday’s blog.

    I’m getting my eyes looked at next Friday; it’s one of those things where it’s probably nothing … but it’ll be nice to have that confirmed!

    Best of luck with your cardy project,
    Gordon

  • Alison

    I used to be intimidated by designing my own patterns but I have found that if I measure my swatch (knitted in the round as my flat knitting seems to tension differently for some reason)properly and check my work, work out the measurements I want and check my work, do the maths and check my work (twice) I can then cast on with confidence that I won’t end up with either a tent or a straightjacket. I have nicknamed my approach ‘tartan’ knitting as it is check,check,and check again.

    • Hi Alison,

      Ha, in my case most of my swatches would be “tartan knitting” because of the “hoots” of laughter at how wide of the mark they always seem to be! But I’ve never tried knitting a swatch in the round – perhaps that’s why my swatches are so unreliable. Knitting them in the round is an intriguing idea – albeit a bit of a commitment for reluctant swatters such as I…

      Gordon

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