The underarm gussets on a gansey serve a double purpose. They widen the gansey towards the “upper part of the chest”, hem-hem, and offer greater freedom of movement than you’d expect for such a close-fitting garment.
It’s important to plan your gansey in advance, so you know roughly when to begin the gussets. You need to allow 3 or 4 inches to shape them before you divide for the armhole, or you’ll find yourself caught out, and either have to make your gansey longer than you’d intended, or rip out a few inches of knitting and re-do them. Since you really don’t want to do either of these, it’s best to plan ahead.
A gusset is formed by increasing either side of a seam stitch every few rows – every 4th row works well – until you have a triangle 3-5 inches long, and 23-30 or so stitches across. When you divide to knit the front and back of the body, you place these gusset stitches on a holder and leave them till after the shoulder is finished.
Once you’ve finished the shoulder, you pick up stitches for the sleeve all around the armhole, including the gusset stitches you’ve placed on the holder. Then, as you work down the sleeve, you decrease the gusset stitches at the same rate as you increased them (e.g., every 4th row) until you only have the seam stitch left, which you continue all the way down the sleeve. In this way the gusset makes a very attractive diamond shape under the arms.
Once the gusset has been decreased out of existence you continue to decrease either side of the seam stitch as you work down the sleeve, until the sleeve is the required width for the cuff. (You can change the rate of decrease once the gusset has gone – if I’ve got a cable as part of the pattern I sometimes adjust the rate of decrease to match the cable, so there are fewer things to keep track of.)
How exactly do you shape a gusset? Well, there are all sorts of styles and variations. But as so often, simplest is usually best, and as I mostly follow the easiest model that’s what I’m going to describe here.
On the first row of your gusset, increase a purl stitch either side of your seam stitch, and knit a plain knit stitch instead of the purl seam stitch. So, instead of having just a purl seam stitch, you now have purl – knit – purl.
Keep knitting purl – knit – purl for 3 more rows.
On the 4th row, increase a knit stitch on either side of the central knit stitch. (So you will now have purl – knit – knit – knit – purl.) You can increase on the central knit stitch, or on the flanking purl stitches – whichever is easiest for you. And don’t worry if it looks a bit ugly at this stage – it will soon come out fine, I promise.
Now you’re away. Continue with: purl – knit – knit – knit – purl for 3 more rows, and on the 4th row increase on each of the knit stitches on either edge, so you have 5 knit stitches flanked by 2 purl stitches. And so on. Just repeat this process until you have the right length of gusset with as many stitches across as you like.
Once you’ve got going, if you feel like it, you can make it look a bit tidier by increasing, not on the edge stitches, but on the stitches immediately next to the edge stitches. That way the stitches on the very edge remain intact, and form a nice border to contain all the increases, like putting a fence around your property. But this isn’t necessary – your gusset will look perfectly fine as it is – it’s just an extra touch to think about.
However you go about it, you will find your gusset develops into a clean diamond shape, neatly delineated from the rest of the gansey by the purl stitches on either side. (Later on, as you work down the sleeve and decrease the gusset, these purl stitches will gradually come closer together until they join, the whole effect like water swirling round a rock in the middle of a river.)
The important thing to remember is that every gusset looks ugly and clumsy for a few rows once you start. But trust me, after an inch or two, you will have a nice, sharp half-diamond growing under your fingers. It’s a sort of alchemy. It always comes out right.
Oh, and yes – I have to keep track of where I am on the gusset by making marks on a piece of paper, too. Just four ticks per line, to remind me to increase or decrease every 4th row.
One final tip on gussets. I like to make my final increase on the very last row of the gusset before I place it on a holder, and then decrease it on the very first row when I start the sleeve, i.e., the pick-up row. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, when I pick up the stitches for the sleeve, I obviously can’t start the pattern on that pick-up row – all I can do on the pick-up row is pick up the stitches; the sleeve pattern starts on the next row. So, if I decrease my gusset on the pick-up row, it means that both the pattern and the gusset are aligned – the first row of the pattern is also the first of a 4-row decrease cycle for the gusset, and it’s just easier to keep track of. The second reason is that it gives a nice sharp corner to the gusset’s diamond edge.