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North Sea 12: 19 – 26 November

And so we begin the yoke, the point at which the gansey ceases to be the plaything of an idle hour and becomes serious business. Of course, even the simplest pattern can be tremendously effective, but the north of Scotland ganseys were celebrated for their high levels of decoration—so it’s time to, as it were, push the boat out and get all twiddly.

I’m using a combination of Hebridean patterns from Michael Pearson’s book. The main features are the three 25-stitch, 39-row panels (two flanking trees and a central anchor); each panel will have three alternating pattern sections going up the yoke like little totem poles. There are also two “horseshoe” panels of 15 stitches each, consisting of chevrons made of yarnovers. And at either side of the yoke are two little 10-stitch ladders. Separating the pattern panels are my ubiquitous cables. The cables themselves consist of 6 stitches cabled every 6 rows; but in deference to the north-of-Scotland theme, instead of my usual two purl stitches either side, this time I’ve gone for four stitches of moss stitch.

I’m well into revising my sequel to The Wraiths of Elfael, which clocks in at around 80,000 words. If you open the window and listen carefully you’ll hear the reproachful screams of several of my characters being killed off, despite surviving the first draft. Ah, the godlike power. (I sometimes wonder if God’s a novelist and we’re all just characters in his book—if so, I personally intend to demand a rewrite. And, of course, a happy ending.)

Unfortunately both knitting and writing require the use of one’s eyes, which is starting to become something of a challenge for me, what with the secondary cataracts and all. My superpower is a sense of unease, and it made me phone the doctor’s last week—could they just confirm that they really had passed on the hospital referral nine days ago? Ominous pause, followed by being put on hold (never a good sign): actually no, they hadn’t, because ‘no one had passed it for typing…’ (‘Are you all right, Mr Reid? It sounds like you were caught in an earthquake.’ ‘No, that’s just my teeth grinding…’)

Now, my feelings towards John o’Groats have always resembled those of God towards Sodom—except that God wanted to destroy the town because it was wicked, not because it was desolate, bleak and boring. But just as Abraham persuaded Him not to destroy Sodom if just one righteous man was living there, so I have relented in my wrath for the sake of one decent coffee franchise (one of several important ways in which I differ from the creator of the universe): for John o’Groats now serves Starbucks coffee, and is now one of my favourite places in Caithness. (Assumes Miss Piggy voice: ‘Shallow? Moi?’)

By the way, the Caithness Archive Centre now has its very own Facebook page, run by my colleague Fiona and me, where we’re going to put up lots of fun facts about Caithness history and images from the archives. (Not that I’m begging or anything, but you should totally “like” it.)

So there we are. Tune in next week to see the gussets halfway and the ceremonial dividing of the front and back.

10 comments to North Sea 12: 19 – 26 November

  • Lynne

    This sounds like a very interesting yoke and fun to watch it develop. Interestingly, the gansey-esque cardy I’ve been working on needed an extra vertical pattern and I also did the cable bordered by seed stitch, although I only used a 4-st.cable. I’ve been on this for 5 months and knitted my last stitch last night, now the dreaded seaming. I’m ready for a ‘proper’ gansey! Now, to the Wraiths . . , I know I’ll wait to re-read #1 before reading the sequel if you’re killing off that poor lost soul.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    I really like the seed stitch border to a cable, though as you know I’m rather wedded to my purl stitch borders! Good luck with your seaming—which to me means the way a cricket ball deviates after it hits the pitch when bowled by a fast bowler. (I may have got the wrong end of the stick, of course…)

    Ha. No lost souls were harmed in the making of this sequel! (Well, I say harmed…)

    Gordon

  • Sue G.

    My husband is also writing a book and keeps telling me how many words each chapter has. I feel bad that this info is meaningless to me, but he was happy to see your 80,000 word count, as he has about 40,000 and is halfway through his story.

    Your gansey will be gorgeous. I was surprised by the yarn overs-I thought ganseys were supposed to keep out the wind. Don’t yarn overs allow it in? Or are they so tiny it doesn’t matter? I’m not criticizing, just curious.

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Hi Sue ,
    What is meaningless for you , means a lot for him :). And as he was happy to see the count, you may be happy seeing him happy 🙂 :).Well, it is fantastic that even a number can make somebody happy.
    As to the yarn overs in a gansey this sweater is probably ment for special occasions and not for work. As far as I know there were different ganseys used for Sundays and others for everyday wear. I met Gordon in Inverness and he had a white gansey, decorated with yarn overs – and his white gansey was smashing.

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue and Judit,

    I used to feel the same way about string vests! I think Judit has it right, this sort of decoration on a gansey would probably have been a “Sunday best” one—it’s surprising sometimes to see in the old photos the plain ganseys the men wore when out working, after reading all the patterns in the books. Either that or they wore a sou’ wester on top?

    Re word count—my novels are all stripped to the bare bones, no excess fat, so they clock in at 75-85,000 words each (about 280-320 pages if printed). I was told by one publisher that they really want 90,000 words for fantasy, which makes you wonder where quality comes into things, and explains so many bloated doorstep fantasy novels you see on the shelves! (Bitter? Me?) Anyway, please pass on my good wishes to your husband: I know from experience how much hard work goes into writing a book, so respect! (Now for the other 40,000…)

    Gordon

  • Gail

    A Starbucks in John O’Groats! Catering to the tourists? But good for you. I guess if it was a toss-up between Starbucks or a movie theater, one might tend to go to Starbucks more often.

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Gordon, plain ganseys were and still are quicker to knit, this may be the reason of using them instead of heavily decorated ones when out working. “Sunday best” is an other issue or what is your opinion ?

  • Gordon

    Hi Gail,

    You’ll have to come back sometime and try it out, because you probably don’t have Starbucks over there in the States… Oh. Wait.

    Judit,

    I think that’s a very good point. Plus if I’d spent hours knitting a really fancy gansey and my man came back after a hard voyage with snags and tears in it I think I might be a shade vexed!

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Judit M./ Finland

    “Plus if I’d spent hours knitting a really fancy gansey ”

    Congrats Speedy Gonzales ! I knit even simple ganseys for months 🙂

  • Gordon

    Well, I didn’t like to say it, but I really knit these ganseys in a weekend, and then spin out the photos over 4-6 months’ worth of blogs…

    Ha, well, maybe not! But I was thinking of some of the real old-time knitters who could knock them out at an astonishing rate. Even if I worked full time I’d struggle to finish one a month, whereas they could turn one around in a week or less. Amazing.

    Gordon

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