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Matt Cammish: 18 September


It’s not easy being green

There are, as I think the Prophet Hezekiah first pointed out, three steps to heaven: unfortunately it turns out there are several thousand, or so it seems, to get onto the cliffs overlooking the celebrated Stacks of Duncansby.

I’ve mentioned before that Duncansby Head, a narrow promontory jutting out into the North Sea a mile or so from John O’Groats, is the real north-easterly tip of mainland Scotland. One side looks north towards Orkney and the Skerries (a series of small, uninhabited islands); the other looks out eastward over the open ocean, and it’s here the stacks, a couple of spiked rock formations protruding sharply from the water, are situated.



You have to tramp almost a kilometre over the headland to see them, and then about the same up another steepish track to the top of the cliffs to look down on them. There’s a rocky arch (called Thirle Door), and the stacks proper, which look like the heads of two pointy-headed giants out for a swim. It’s stunningly beautiful.

We made a couple of trips up to Duncansby this week. The first time we were beset by fog, which was at times so thick as to reduce visibility to a few metres. The few tourists we encountered came blundering out of the murk like the zombie apocalypse; I lost my sense of direction completely and started walking round in circles like a one man Blair Witch re-enactment society until Margaret set me right.

I’d taken last week off from work and spent so much time on the couch the police wouldn’t have needed a chalk outline in the event of my murder; my body form was indented into the sofa cushions like a pre-cast mould. I’d intended to do lots of things, go to many places, but instead ended up just reading, listening to music, going for walks and knitting. And, you know, I had a great time.



Ah, yes: knitting. As you can see, the green Scarborough gansey is washed and blocked and good to go. I couldn’t be happier with it: I love the colour (Frangipani bottle green) and the fit, and find the pattern strangely hypnotic. The only downside so far is people behind me in the queue at the Post Office file their fingernails on it between my shoulder blades.

And I’ve started my next project. Well, I say started—I’m actually a third of the way up the body. (Bruckner symphonies last a long time, what can I say?) As promised it’s an old favourite, the Matt Cammish gansey from Filey in Frangipani pewter yarn. I’ll say more about this next week, and give the pattern chart.

Incidentally, the arch I mentioned, Thirle Door, has a curious name: a thirle means a hole in a wall. So it’s one of those tautologies, like River Avon (“river river”) and Bree Hill (“hill hill”)—this one is “door door”. As for Duncansby, or “Duncan’s Farm”, we have an old map in the record office which gives the name as “Dungsby”—this may just be a record of how it was pronounced; on the other hand, as we can testify, there’s plenty of evidence underfoot, if any were needed, that sheep are not housetrained…

24 comments to Matt Cammish: 18 September

  • Lynne

    That bottle green looks GREAT on you, and I’m sure loving the new pattern in the pewter, is it going to be yours?

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, why thank you! And yes, the pewter gansey is going to be another for me. (I want to build up a collection of some of my favourite patterns I’ve knitted down the years, as a sort of “farewell tour” of my gansey career; obviously I won’t be able to wear them all, but they’ll be available for exhibitions, etc. And I want to knit up some more of the patterns from the Johnston Collection photos of Wick fishermen, which I haven’t seen published so far. So watch this space!)

  • R Sluijs

    I agree with Lynne, it really, really looks great! Fab, stunningly beautiful. I envy your skills. The gansey fits, sleevelength, bodywidth and length: not baggy, not to short, wide or tight. And the neckband……..I hope that one day I am able to knit one that fits like yours. Love the color and the pattern. With eyes cast down I humbly move backwards……😉 groetjes, Christa

    • Gordon

      Hello Christa, and thank you! Of course, this is the result of 30 years of trial and error (mostly error, alas) in gansey knitting, not to mention Margaret’s amazing blocking skills which can torture most disasters into the correct size and shape! But every time is like the first time and I never think they’ll be the right size until I try them on at the end.

      The three big things I’ve learned down the years I’d say are: (a) recognise that your row gauge will probably be tighter when you switch to back-and-forth knitting, so this needs to be factored in to your pattern repeat calculations (i.e., my row gauge on the body is about 11 or 11.5 rows to the inch, but on the yoke it shifts to about 12.75 rows per inch); (b) different patterns may affect your basic stitch gauge differently; and (c) you need to do a bit of maths to calculate your rate of decrease down the sleeves to ensure a smooth transition to the cuff.

      Other than that, plenty of exercise, clean living, in bed by ten and— Damn! Wrong thread…

  • Julie

    So striking … both of them. Speedy, inspiring work. I I’ve knit with both colours and I know you’ll enjoy wearing them. A pink shirt under that grey … ooh, la, la!
    Victoria, BC, Canada

  • Gordon

    Hi Julie, and thanks—and now i come to think of it, I do have a pinkish/purplish shirt somewhere… Though I’m more of a grey man myself, let the clothes match the hair I say (while there’s still a little left bit to match!)

  • Nicki

    It looks terrific on you! Best of luck on the new pewter gansey … I can’t wait to see more of it.

  • Linda Abraham

    Am adding my congrats to finishing the bottle green gansey and modeling it for us! Beautiful work, and yes, the fit is perfect. Also enjoyed the geography lesson and pictures. Not sure if Margaret took them or they are yours, but beautiful, and thank you! Am partway through an afghan for my great niece after finishing one for her sister…..then it is a gansey for me – yes, we are able to wear them a few weeks in Northern CA….once the heat has moved to the southern hemisphere.

    • Gordon

      Hi Linda, thank you—the photos on the blog are all Margaret’s (except when she’s away, when the drop in quality is rather noticeable!). I find Caithness fascinating—so much history, and when that run out, there;s always geography…

      Best of luck with your afghan, and with your (sigh) heat…

  • Lois

    And I add my congrats too. Lovely colour which suits the handsome model to perfection.

    Now that pewter grey!!! Drool, drool! How in the dickens do you just keep getting better and better?

    I will just drop a little hint that there is something on my needles too. But don’t hold your breath until you see pictures.

    • Gordon

      Thank you, Lois—though to be honest, you can’t really miss with gansey patterns—I’ve never yet seen one that was underwhelming. I think it’s the small scale that does it—what would seem a bit plain in a big, chunky knit is hypnotically fascinating in gansey 5-ply!

      Good luck with your project, you big tease you.

  • Elizabeth

    Wow! That is stunning. It looks great!

    A farewell tour! Oh…

    Well I have to thank you for all the great information & inspiration so far. I have really appreciated it.


    • Gordon

      Well, Elizabeth, when I say farewell tour, you should think Frank Sinatra, as opposed to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, in terms of how long it’ll last… And while I am aware that I have fewer ganseys in my future than in my past—it’s the same with chocolate oranges, of course—I do have a stash of 5-ply to work through that will take me a minimum of 2 or 3 years (even at my current rate of progress!)!

      In fact I already have the next 18 months mapped out, so we’ll be around for a while longer. But thank you for the encouragement and kind words.

  • Jane

    What a triumph, Gordon, lovely colour, super pattern, great fit, very impressive, many congrats and definitely one for pride of place in the wardrobe!

    The new one is truly impressive too! Take care!

  • Jane

    P S In the South on the Dorset coast we have Durdle Door, a natural arch in stone, could this be a bit like your Thirle Door?! Very interesting your North!

    • Hi Jane, and thank you. This one’s already my go-to gansey for everyday (and every day’s a gansey day…).

      Some cursory research reveals that “hurdle” is indeed derived from “thirle”, which is rather pleasing, isn’t it? There’s one at the very top and the bottom of the country!

  • lorraine

    Gordon- And very handsome it looks too. Sometimes, simple is best.

    I am always trying to convince the husbeast that a sheep or two in the backyard is a good thing. All that lawn mowing and fertilization. And wool- it’s a win/win!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lorraine, it’s such a great design isn’t it? No bands, no panels, just texture.

      After my experience at Duncansby, my only advice when it comes to sheep in the back yard would be make sure you have wellies to hand!

  • =Tamar

    I do like that shade of green (at least I like the way it looks on my computer screen). I see that the previous Matt Cammish was in green, too. Was that your choice or the recipient’s?

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I think this is very close to the actual shade (though it changes with the light, as so many gansey yarns tend to do, which is a big part of their attraction for me.) The other Matt Commish was the greenish blue of Frangipani sea spray: it was more or less my choice, as I wanted a colour that would show up the spectacular pattern (and I had some in stock…). Though I was tempted to knit this one in navy; but winter’s coming on, and I thought of the dark evenings and chickened out…

  • Sharon in Surrey

    So nice to see such a non-traditional color used for a gansey & I DO like that simple pattern that you wear so well. So far I also really like the pattern of the grey as well. Good thing you’re making yourself some warm things for a change, old bones & joints on the damp coast really need to be kept warm or they seize up!! Hahah

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, the climate up here is a little unforgiving, you’re right. The nights are drawing in, and winter is coming fast, and it’s a long, dark, cold one up here. Not only that, if my old bones seize up any more, people will assume I’ve been bitten by a rabid dog, or something…

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