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North Sea 14: 3 – 9 December

Strong winds have come to Caithness, and the house feels as if the Big Bad Wolf is prowling around, huffing and puffing for a way in. (Lucky we didn’t buy that house made of straw after all, despite the estate agent’s sales talk.)

And it’s starting to feel like Christmas, or nearly. The decorations have gone up, and the tree. When we lived in Edinburgh we were, if you recall, on the top floor of a tenement, a climb of over 50 steps; lugging a pine tree the size and shape of a dead yeti all the way up there for Christmas never really appealed. This year we could have got a nice big real tree, but as we’ll be away visiting my family “dyne sythe” in England between Christmas and New Year, we opted instead to take the scrawny artificial one out of the box.

This could have been a mistake. Under the high ceilings of our lounge it rather resembles an undernourished chicken on a plinth. The branches are made of flimsy wire, so even the little cardinal bird ornament which is supposed to perch jauntily on the top and crown the ensemble has bent the branch with all the elegance of a turkey balancing on a blade of grass. We’ve found we can position it in one of two ways: either its beak is pointing straight at the ceiling, like an intercontinental ballistic robin, or else straight down, like it’s about to plummet into the carpet in a screaming suicidal death plunge. Neither is, to be honest, altogether Christmasy.

On the gansey, I’m about halfway up the back yoke, and the pattern is settling down. I’m alternating the anchors and trees in the panels to keep the pattern consistent; I didn’t want to introduce a different pattern at this stage as I thought it might look at bit too busy. Fancifully, the yarnovers always remind me of ghosts, the holes like the mouths of wailing spirits. (Idea for story: The Haunted Gansey; a man buys a gansey in a second-hand clothes shop, and is haunted by the ghosts of all the herring the original owner was responsible for killing. Okay, it needs work, I admit.)

I’ve been contacted by a gansey knitter, Ronald, who’s looking for either Poppleton 5-ply, or the closest alternative – something smooth and shiny is what he’s looking for. Any recommendations?

Finally, we’ve added to our range of Gansey Nation collectibles over at Zazzle, now including teapots, mugs and a rather natty gansey-themed Christmas ornament. It’s something we’d like to develop in future as a way of helping to fund the website, so if you have any comments or suggestions, we’d love to hear from you.

18 comments to North Sea 14: 3 – 9 December

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, nice to see my old friend, the horse shoe pattern, or maybe you call it the fishtail. I knit a long stole entirely of this pattern, it pleases me. Poppleton in the US can be obtained from Schoolhouse Press in Wisconsin, but yikes that’s a carbon footprint.
    Your descriptions of the bird ornament gyrations give me little champagne laugh bubbles in my central person. It tickles.

  • Dave

    The Poppleton that Marilyn directed us to has the same label and colors (different names, though) as the Wendy yarn that I ordered from Deramores. I don’t know where Ronald lives, but Deramores has free shipping to the US on orders over $50, no VAT, and the Wendy costs about 1/3 less per ball than the Poppleton at Schoolhouse.

  • Dave

    That should be no VAT on US orders–I don’t know if it is charged on other shipments.

  • June Jones

    Suggest Ronald looks out for Wendy 5 ply, available in red, navy, cream or blue. Blacker Yarns also spin a 5 ply Guernsey yarn from specific breeds, one or two are over dyed but mostly in the natural fleece colour.
    Both brands are available online in the UK.

    Great progress with your gansey btw.

    Happy knitting.

  • =Tamar

    To stiffen the branch the cardinal is supposed to perch on, take a pencil and some thin wire and wire-wrap the pencil to the branch as a splint, or maybe wire-wrap it to bridge between two branches as a perch. If you have random live branches available, maybe you could wire them onto the tree – though I suspect that it would only work if you had enough to do the entire tree, so maybe not.

  • Gracie

    Hello Gordon,

    What? A fake tree? I know, I know, but you miss the smell first thing in the morning. It’s magic. I didn’t know they sold fake trees in the UK? I’m shocked – the land of Dickens and all. Oh dear. Is it yet another US invasion, a la McDonald’s?

    Quick aside – I’ve heard about a London coffee shop that is so sick of the triple-venti-latte or cafe maximus scene that they only sell plain, old-school coffee – just coffee!

    Love the turkey balancing on the grass and the cardinal’s plight – absolutely hilarious.

    The gansey is beautiful! Superb! Very fine knitting. I still can’t believe how fast you’re going.


  • Ruth

    What a lovely gansey! I’ve been thinking of you up there in the far north,with the weather being as it is. We’re lucky this year, it’s all coming from the East instead of the west for a change, but we still need our woollies, bet you do too!

  • Gordon

    Hello everyone,

    First of all, thanks for the suggestions – I’m sure Ron will find them helpful.

    I just got some great photos from the recipient of the FRG, or Famous Red Gansey, which I’ll post next week (it fits! hurrah!).

    I guess horse-shoe must be the proper name for the pattern—certainly works better than “chevron-y type thing with the holes in”, which I usually think of it as…

    I was never very good at first aid, so my attempts to use splints to firm up the tree branches were not very successful, using chopsticks and twisty-ties. The tree now resembles an undernourished chicken which has experienced a severe road accident and been treated by the work experience doctor who was eating a takeaway.

    Fake? Fake? Not that I’m cheap or anything, but you can do wonders with an artificial tree and a pine-scented toilet cleaner, if you leave the bathroom door open.

    Thank you for the positive comments on the gansey. I love the Hebridean patterns, and the cream wool really shows them off to advantage. Someone should develop wedding cakes using these patterns, they’d go great in royal icing. (Mmmm… cake….)

    Not much snow up here, but freezing cold and ice. Sit in one position for too long and you crack when you stand up. All the moisture sucked out of the air, skin so dry that scratching your nose is like lighting a match. And it’s still not even the shortest day!


  • Judit M./ Finland

    Gordon, the shortest day – 21th Dec- is therefore the shortest becouse this day is the birthday of Stalin ….

  • =Tamar

    Ouch. You have my sympathy for the dry air. A humidifier works, and to some extent, it helps just to have an open container of water somewhere in the room, ideally on top of a heat source (but it should be checked and refilled frequently). Or just rub the lanolin-filled gansey wool on your skin – aha, that’s the real reason for them, it’s like wearing a lotion applicator!

  • Gordon

    Dear Judit and Tamar,

    My favourite Stalin story is that in one of his purges, Stalin sent one of his generals to prison. Then Hitler invaded Russia and suddenly Stalin needed all his top generals. He ordered this general to be released and when he turned up at the Kremlin, emaciated, teeth missing, Stalin stared at him and said, “What happened to you?” The general explained. Stalin just laughed and said, “A fine time you picked to go to prison!” and went on with the briefing.

    I like the idea of a gansey and lotion! I suffer from dry skin in the cold winter air, so I’ll consider anything. We have to keep the strongrooms of documents stable, which means dehumidifiers taking moisture out of the air. All year we’ve been emptying them by the bucketful—recently, however, there’s been no moisture to suck!


  • Sue

    Hi Gordon, how have you been surviving the storms in your corner of the world? The combination of high winds and high tides seemed to have wreaked havoc right along the northeast coast. Luckily, I seem to live just far enough south to have escaped the worst.

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    Just about! I’ll write more about it tomorrow, but look at the pictures online (see Caithness.org) for the storm surge—like something out of a disaster movie. There’s been some flooding and damage to Wick harbour, but not at our end, luckily. It’s odd seeing playing fields covered in seaweed, though! Glad to hear you escaped.


  • Daniela Pagliaruli

    Good afternoon Gordon,
    first of all thank you so much for sharing with us your great works.
    I love Ganseys too, and I hope to make one as soon as possible! 😊
    I would like to ask if you knit in Continental, in other words with the yarn on the left hand, or in Enghlish style, its opposite.

    Greetings from Italy,

    • Gordon

      Hello Daniela, how nice to hear from you. I knit the “English” way, it’s the way I learned and I find it almost impossible to change (though I have tried—not very hard, though…). My big problem is tension, when I try the continental method I struggle to keep the yarn as taut as I prefer.

      Margaret knits the continental method, and I can see it’s faster. But then, I knit ganseys for the pleasure of knitting them, and they can take as long as they like to be finished!

      Best wishes and happy knitting,

      • Daniela Pagliaruli

        Thank you so much for your kindness, and for your answer to my question.
        I knit in the English way too, using long steel double pointed needles. In the past I also had a knitting belt, but I was not able to use it as I wished..
        Sometimes I felt that I tied the belt around my waist too tight, sometimes to loose, sometimes too high, but never in the right way at the right point.
        Maybe one day things will change.
        And maybe I will try to work in the English way without any support at all, just like you.

        Best wishes to you too!! 😊

        • Gordon

          Hello again Daniela, I flirted briefly with a belt and sheath but just couldn’t get the hang of it—and I think I lacked the patience to learn to change my technique. But every now and then I see pictures of the old knitters flying along with double pointed needles and a belt and I think i should have another go. Maybe in a couple of years when I’ve run out of projects!

          Cheers, Gordon

          • Daniela Pagliaruli

            I think that every knitter has his/her own unique way of knitting.
            Best wishes,
            Daniela 😊

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