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North Sea 21: 28 January – 3 February

Heb0203a There are, it seems to me, two types of colds. There is the kind where the relatives gather at the foot of the bed, and ask the doctor in hushed tones what is the prognosis—and the doctor, with pursed lips, shakes his head gravely and replies, “Still, we must not give up hope”; and then there is the kind that provokes the impatient response, “Oh, do get up and don’t be such a big girl’s blouse!”

The cold with which I am currently afflicted definitely falls into the second category—bad enough to make me feel like I’ve accidentally got someone else’s hangover by mistake, but not so bad as to elicit sympathy from random strangers or, indeed, anyone. And yet when I sneeze the effect is not unlike an alien monster in a Hollywood movie being shot and exploding in a shower of stringy gobbets, adding an interesting pattern to the wallpaper and creating the momentary illusion on the windows that it has been snowing.

Heb0203bHave you ever come across the phenomenon of stealth cats? There are a couple of cats next door which their owners have designated “outdoor cats” without apparently consulting the two concerned. So they generally sit outside all day and shiver, and plot. When I come home in the dark they put on their night camouflage and track me up the path like silent ninja assassins, and as soon as the door is open they dart between my legs and slip inside.

There they are thwarted by the porch’s inner door, which acts rather like a medieval portcullis, and for the next five minutes we recreate the scene from Shrek when he first meets Puss-in-Boots as I try to eject them and they, slippery as a pair of feline eels, refuse to be ejected. From the road it must look as though I’m fighting off an attack of invisible bees, or else am in training for the Wick All-comers Ferret Down the Trousers Contest 2013.

Heb0203cI have finished the shoulders on the gansey and have joined the front and back, which feels as momentous as the Allies and Russian forces meeting at the Elbe near the end of World War 2. As I mentioned before, the shoulder strap uses the same pattern as the herringbone dividing the yoke from the body.

Instead of knitting half the shoulder as part of the back, and half as part of the front, and joining them in the middle, with this style it’s simplest to knit the whole thing from the front and then join it to the back. The cast-off creates a similar effect to 2 purl rows, so it matches the front exactly.

Next comes the collar, and then the sheer unadulterated fun that is picking up stitches around the armhole for the sleeve (see reference to big girl’s blouse, above).

Heb0203d

Just over halfway through the centre square . . .

In parish notices I have been sent a couple of pictures by Gracie of a gansey-inspired afghan she made for her sister’s wedding which you can see here, and pretty stunning it is too. (There goes the tenth commandment…)

By the way, did you know that in England in the seventeenth century it was compulsory to be buried in a woollen shroud (the burial in woollen acts, 1666-80)? They were designed to help the wool industry, and you had to pay a fine unless you were very poor, or had plague (or possibly even both). I was reminded of this the other day at work, and seeing Gracie’s afghan made me think how cool a gansey-patterned shroud would be.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not thinking morbid thoughts—as Woody Allen said, I don’t want to achieve immortality through my works, but through not dying—but it’s best to think ahead. (Though now I come to think of it, I have a horrible feeling that just as the coffin lid is being lowered two little streaks of fur will shoot out of the darkness and slip inside unnoticed, on the assumption that it’s got to be warmer than outdoors…)

 

24 comments to North Sea 21: 28 January – 3 February

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Any chance of ferreting out the pattern for the afghan? I suppose if one asked Gracie terribly politely?

  • Marilyn

    Goodness Gracious, Gracie! or Wow-de-Wow, in my own peculiar vernacular. Magnificent.
    Dear Gordon, do you compose posts at the computer or plot them all week? Spontaneously combusting metaphors and sneezes?
    I’m sorry you’ve been ill, but you describe it so charmingly.
    I wish a warmer future for the felines, might you have a talk w/ the neighbors?
    Marilyn in Minneapolis

  • Sue

    Gordon, I’m VERY familiar with the phenomenon of ‘stealth cats’ and I fear that you will regard me as the bearer of bad news – you are more likely to surrender before they do. The phenomenon is not restricted to so called outdoor cats – any cat that spies a better billet than the existing one has the potential to turn into a stealth cat. Far better to negotiate the terms of your surrender now while you still have something to negotiate with.

    The peace treaty that my parents managed to hold their next door neighbours’ cat to was

    1) You can spend your days with us but you get chucked out at night.

    2) We won’t feed you, you have to go home for that.

    3) if you stick to your part of the treaty we promise to give you a warm fireside to toast your paws by during the day.

    4) if you are really good at keeping your part of the bargain we will allow you to sleep your days away on a towel-covered chair in the sitting room but you are out on your ear if you try and go upstairs.

    Amazingly this treaty lasted for many years until the neighbours, who didn’t seem to realise they owned a stealth cat, and dragged the cat away kicking and screaming when they moved house. They moved only far enough to mean that he only made the occasional visit after that but he did still visit for a while. We suspected that he stole his way into another household that was nearer to his new ‘official’ home.

    I on the other-hand have always just rolled over and let stealth cats move in. And have had it happen the other way round with a young cat that decided it didn’t like being in a multi- cat household and gradually withdrew, initially only returning to be fed and then gradually not even for that.

    However, she clearly hadn’t moved that far away and in fact spookily turned up in the garden, after long absences, when the two oldest cats where each in their turn buried under the plum tree. I suspected that she was casing the joint to decide whether the coast was now clear so she would move back in but I think that the last resident cat must have outlived her because she never turned up to that funeral!

  • Gordon

    Hi Lisa, Marilyn,

    I tried emailing Gracie last night but the emails bounced back for some reason—time to put another shilling in the meter, probably. Hopefully if she reads this she’ll respond (Hi Gracie! Your fans are calling!)

    As for plotting my posts in advance, alas no, I tend to just sit at the computer on Sunday evenings and pray the spirit moves me (nothing this ramshackle could be planned, I fear). I do rewrite a few times—each post takes an hour to an hour or a half to get the words right. But mostly it’s just what’s in my head at the time—unfortunately, this week that happened to be mucus. Some you lose.

    All the best,
    Gordon

  • =Tamar

    I wonder whether the neighbors are still feeding the cats, or whether the cats have been shoved out and abandoned. It might do to inquire discreetly.

    I am amazed as always at the fact that you to knit a gansey in the time it takes me to get around to knitting a mitten.

  • Gordon

    Ha, Sue, yes, you’re probably right, sadly. Perhaps I should just give in and admit defeat—you can’t win against a cat. (As they say, dogs have owners, cats have staff.)

    Unfortunately our house is quite large, 3 storeys, lots of rooms and places to hide and, er, do their stuff. We’ve just got the house free of a certain residual doggy odour from the previous owners—not sure I want it replaced with cats just yet!

    Gordon

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    It’s OK, the owners are really very caring, but they’ve taken on another two cats and the two pairs don’t get on, so one pair has to draw the short straw. Personally I think they take it in turns, they’ve made a bet, they’ve pooled all the catnip and the first to actually make it inside gets the jackpot.

    The other day I thought I saw one shinning up the drainpipe—when I opened the window to check there was a descending scream and the sound of something landing in the bushes underneath—and if you look closely up can see the marks of tiny crampons on the back wall. But what worries me is the sound of hammering in the neighbours’ yard, and the impression of a giant Wooden Mouse being constructed to be left outside the front porch…

    Gordon

  • Gracie

    Gordon,

    I am absolutely guffawing about the cats in the coffin! That could be the start of a book! Oh yes, Sue has it down – and, she and Marilyn (MN) are also right about conferring with the neighbors. Although… Freud said, “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

    Both projects are coming along beautifully. I wish I could see more of a pulled-back shot of Marilyn’s shawl to see where she’s going – big picture and all. It’s so fine and fragile. Gordon, you must provide a special occasion for its debut.

    Yes, I like the idea of having the shoulder seam “behind thee” – sometimes top seams are irritating to the ol’ shoulders. I really like the pattern you used too. Is it unique to knit such detail on a gansey shoulder?

    Gordon I didn’t receive emails from you after the last about UK prisoners being served non-Halal or Kosher meat products mid-UK meat debacle. Oh yes – sometimes it really is another shilling in the meter – not this time though – who knows.

    Lisa, I totally invented that afghan. I’m not as “pro” as the other knitters in Gansey Nation – completely different level of skill and experience. I never learned proper pattern-reading. Anyway, I’ll look at what I wrote down as I went and organize it into an email for Gordon.

    Hope you feel much better, Gordon.

    Gracie

  • Lynne

    Awww, Gordon, let the cats in for a visit – that is, unless you’re allergic – you don’t need one more problem compounding the rest.
    Regarding the shoulder strap: is that pattern continued down the sleeve? or am I thinking another type of shoulder strap?

  • Gordon

    Gracie, Scottish shoulder straps were often more ornamental than the standard “rig and fur” (more cats?).

    Lynne, this particular strap is just like an epaulette on the shoulder. Though of course some do, especially the ones like the Whitby pattern that has the cable running from the collar to the cuff http://www.ganseys.com/?page_id=18

    I don’t think I’d have the courage to do one like that now!

    Gordon

  • Lynne

    I do believe that the gansey I’m working on now has that pattern running from the collar to the cuff – and you frighten me by saying, “. . . I don’t think I’d have the courage to do – again”! I’m just hoping my Alice Starmore pattern has detailed instructions – or that one of my several gansey books does. I’m bashing my head in right now; I just told the knitting group I wasn’t worried about this part because I would follow your lead on your Hebridean gansey! yelp!

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Gracie – I look forward to a pattern – in your own time though! Thanks.

  • Susan

    Gordon,
    My responses to your post…..

    “big girl’s blouse” – snort, chuckle
    “sneeze effects” – ew, very visual!
    “stealth cats” – yes, nod in agreement
    “Ferrets Down the Trousers Contest” – ROTFLAMO!!! I laughed so hard I could not read the rest of your post for several minutes.

    I really think someone needs to be lurking there out in the dark with their iPhone so they can video your cat ejection techniques for all to view and appreciate.

    Thanks so much for your work. I await the the follow on to Wraiths.

    Susan
    (in New Mexico, USA)

  • Gordon

    Hi Susan! (doffs chapeau)

    Lynne,

    Nah, don’t worry—that’s just the drama queen in me talking.

    If we’re talking about the same thing it’s not hard (or I couldn’t do it). Basically, you knit the front and back of your gansey as usual but don’t knit anything of the shoulder strap, and instead leave the stitches on the needles—let’s call them needles 1 and 2. Then you cast onto a third needle the number of stitches your stitch gauge tells you you need to span the depth of the shoulder—which is usually two inches or so (in my case that would be 18-20 stitches).

    Knit one row of the pattern for your shoulder, right side up, on the third needle. When you get to the end, cast off, joining the last stitch on needle 3 with the first stitch on needle 1. (I use a standard 3-needle bind-off.)

    Your cast-off stitch now becomes the first stitch on your next row, which you knit as a reverse row, like any other piece of 2-needle back-and-forth knitting. When you get to the end you join the last stitch of your row with the first stitch on needle 2, casting off as before.

    And so on, back and forth: you now knit row 3 right side up, get to the end, join with a cast-off, then back on row 4. As you work along you advance down the shoulder, casting off as you go, like a combine harvester reaping a field of wheat and leaving behind orderly rows. The cast-off rows look like purl rows from a distance, like the borders of your shoulder strap (exactly like my cast-off looks on the back of this gansey.)

    You are basically knitting at right-angles to the body of your gansey, casting off each row as you go.

    When you get to the end, leave your shoulder stitches on a holder, so that when you come to pick up stitches around the armhole for the sleeve you can just collect them on the way, and voila! Your shoulder pattern continues in a panel all the way from collar to cuff, and is amazingly natty.

    There is just one thing you have to watch out for. Because one knits more stitches vertically than horizontally—in my case it’s 9 stitches to the inch, but 12 rows, a ratio of 3:4—you can end up with a lumpy effect, as your shoulder strap requires c.25% fewer stitches than you will have on needles 1 and 2.

    The way to avoid this is to decrease the number of stitches on needles 1 and 2 by 25% or so, either by decreasing in the final stitches on the front and back yokes, or by slipping stitches when you come to do the cast-off. It’s not vital, but the risk is it looks like a rucked-up carpet squeezed into a space that’s too small.

    I doubt this is clear, but others will be able to explain it more clearly than I—and by all means demand clarification!

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Lynne

    Thanks for those instructions, I’ve been able to ‘save’ this page for reference at that time. It sounds complicated but, hopefully, when I get to that point it will all make sense.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    It’s more complicated to explain than to do—written out like that ir does rather read like instructions for operating your microwave oven translated from the Japanese, doesn’t it? But any questions you can always email us.

    Gordon

  • Veronica

    I second what Susan said, including the exclamation points. 🙂

  • Marilyn

    Hi Gordon, I read this quote by Winston Churchhill and thought you’d enjoy it. He said: Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it’s a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it become a tyrant. The last phase is just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him to the public.
    You’re welcome.

  • Brenda

    I have joined the ranks of Gracie fans. What an astounding piece of work. I would say she certainly does belong in the upper ranks of Gansey Nation. I on the other hand ripped out my gansey 3 times before deciding on a simpler gansey, only the upper half requiring patterns. In adding to cat stories, I had a feral cat climb through our window and deposit her kittens on my kitchen table in the middle of the night. 3 of them anyways, she left the 4th one on the fence which my son discovered the next day on his way to school. She must have seen the neon “sucker” on my forehead shining brightly through the window, earlier in the evening.

  • Gordon

    Hi Veronica – this is what happens when I come off my meds!

    Marilyn, that’s a great quote—Winnie knew what he was talking about, in this as in so much else. (Except he should have added, ” … who then don’t buy it, the insensitive swine!”)

    Brenda, No need for any sense of inferiority when you can produce something like that, is there? The one disadvantage we have over cats is that we have a sentimental streak and they, really, don’t!

    Gordon

  • Nigel

    Gordon, do you use graph paper specially sized for knitting, or do you just use normal graph paper for working out your patterns. I need to buy some soon.
    Thanks

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Nigel, look here:

    http://www.printfreegraphpaper.com/

    Best regards

  • Gordon

    Hi Judit—haven’t seen that, really helpful, thanks.

    I used to use specialist knitting graph paper (some old stuff that Margaret had lying around that I, *cough*, liberated. These days I use an Excel spreadsheet that we’ve adjusted to fit the proportions of my knitting (i.e., one inch = 12 rows but 9 stitches, so it’s a 4:3 ratio).

    I can add Xs to tweak the patterns to fit my current project to my heart’s content, can easily delete them and try again, and—winces as how this is going to make me look—can copy it onto my iPad and open in Goodreader or Numbers without having to print it out.

    I know, I know…
    Gordon

  • Nigel

    Thanks Judit and Gordon. (Gordon you are sooooo hi-tech) lol

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