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Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 12 – 13 July

I’ve mentioned before my deep and abiding love for fountain pens. I think of buying one anytime I feel low in spirits and in need of a treat to cheer myself up (about four times a day on average). They’re tools of such elegance and beauty that even writing a shopping list becomes a pleasure, doubly so if you’re out of chocolate biscuits. The best pens have gold nibs, and you can buy superb examples that will last a lifetime for about £80-£150; above that and you’re mostly paying for a fancy barrel (there are hand-painted Japanese pens which get me into trouble with the tenth commandment) or rare editions.

Wildflowers at Nybster

There’s a simple way to find out if someone is a fountain pen addict: tell them you’ve seen one for sale for £525. If they say, “What, are you nuts? It’s only a pen for chrissakes!” then you know there’s still hope. If, on the other hand they say, “Actually, the more expensive model costs £725, so when you think about it it’s really a saving of £200, keep them talking while I get my credit card”, then they’re probably past saving. This is, alas, a true conversation I had with myself recently, the pens in question being Montblancs, the most famous luxury pens on the market. It came down to an argument between my good and bad angels, with the bad angel fighting dirty. (“Listen, you know Gabriel the recording angel? He’s a friend of mine, you think he uses a biro?”)

I already own a couple of luxury pens by the celebrated German company Pelikan. They’re lovely and write like a dream; plus the whole barrel is the ink reservoir which you fill by means of a piston mechanism built into the end; not only does one filling last for ages, but on a slow day you can happily spend hours filling and emptying it, back and forth, hypnotised like a cat staring at goldfish. The only downside is, they’re almost too nice: I daren’t take them to work, where I do most of my writing, in case I drop them or lose them. They mostly live in their boxes, which seems a pity. So did I buy the Montblanc? Reader, I did not. (What, are you nuts? It’s only a pen for chrissakes!) I bought a different pen at half the price, very nice but not excessively so. Now, about those hand-painted Japanese pens…

As you can see from the photo above, the gansey is in the process of cardiganification.  Margaret will now take over and explain the process.

Firstly, the gansey is blocked, as you saw last week, with the stitches for the steek basted closed.

Secondly, the centre line is marked with basting thread of a different colour, and then the basting for the steek is removed.

Step 3

3.  Machine stitch a line of stitching either side of the centre line.  I’ve used a fancy stitch on the machine but you could use a triple zigzag or regular zigzag.

4.  Moment of truth.  Get your scissors out and cut between the two lines of stitching (see main pic, above).

Steps 5 & 6

5.  The edges were wrapped in bias binding made of silk organza.  The machine-sewn edges shouldn’t ravel, but the bias binding gives a nice finish.

6.  Baste the centre opening closed.  Press the basted seam open.

Step 7

7.  With the gansey wrong side out and on a flat surface, place the zipper face down over the basted seam.  Pin in place, then hand baste.  If the zipper’s too long, position the excess at the neckline.

8.  Hand stitch the zipper using matching yarn.  

9.  If there is excess zip at the top, trim it to about 1.5 inches.  Fold it under the seam allowance and secure.

Step 8

10.  Check the seam allowance at the bottom of the zip.  If it shows below the bottom edge of the ribbing, stitch it neatly so it is hidden on the inside.  In this instance, the outside and facing have been duplicate-stitched together.

Step 9

11.  Remove the basting.  Give the zip a bit of a steam if it looks a bit irregular.  If the seam allowance on the inside is a bit floppy, stitch it down with herringbone stitches.  In addition to the zip, I’ve added a neck stay of elastic encased in bias binding, to discourage the neckline from getting too floppy.

Step 10


Step 11


12 comments to Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 12 – 13 July

  • meg macleod

    i had an allergic response ..seeing those scissors on your knitting ..i have never steeked…iknow ..i have read about it …does it put up your heart rate when you make that first cut?

    pens..gold knibs..luxury..i had a simiar love affair with pencils..ones for drawing….neatly lined up in their gradated status from the palest whisper to the deepest darkest storm…..i suppose its only natural..that which transfers thought to paper has to live up to a lot xx

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, I let Margaret do the cutting – I suspect it’s easier if it’s something you’ve spent over 150 hours making!

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    My heart skipped a beat when I saw the scissors going into the gansey. I know in theory how it works but ohmigosh between theory and practice such a lot can go awry. Now re pens. I have a friend in the US who years ago bought a Montblanc pen for herslef and her husband for Christmas. She lost the husband but still has the MOntblanc.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, as Kipling once put it, “A woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke”… I’m sure it applies even more so to men and fountain pens!

  • =Tamar

    Alas, gold nibs don’t last forever. I once found a Parker fountain pen on the side of the road. (True!) It had a gold nib and a piston reservoir. I used it until the nib wore to a sharp point and was unusable. Of course, I don’t know how many years the previous owner(s) had it.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, you’re right, and they can wear out. Though speaking as someone approaching the “sere and yellow leaf” spectrum of life, a lifetime guarantee doesn’t mean quite as much as it did a few decades ago…!

  • Ah, a fellow fountain pen nerd! I own a number of them myself, including several Montblancs that I rationalized myself into buying. I use a Montblanc ballpoint at the office — I’ve had it 24 years and have managed not to lose it or leave it someplace obscure in the office. Of course, since I have been on house arrest since the middle of March it’s a lot easier not to leave it anywhere.

    • Gordon

      Hi there, I don’t really need to rationalise myself into buying luxury fountain pens – in these circumstances I’ve discovered covetousness and greed are all you need!

      If I wrote novels at home I’d buy the Montblanc like a shot; but it seems a waste to use them only for adding toilet paper to the weekly shopping list…

  • Hello Gordon, so was it the Duo Fold that you bought? I am envious. I am now on the trail of a luxury fountain pen. I had bought a rather expensive biro…er ballpoint…with my lockdown savings. A mere £140. It is a Montegrappa Fortuna Aurora Borealis. By far the most expensive pen I have ever bought. I use it to write my journal, but I need a fountain pen for my Filofax.I must start the search.
    The gansey cardigan is looking fabulous. Laura

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura, I’ve been rumbled! Yes, it was the Parker Duofold Centennial, though I was fortunate to find it on sale. It fits my hand nicely; it writes a little wetter than my other pens, but a drier ink should achieve the perfect balance.

      I remember the days when I innocently typed, “best mid-range fountain pen” into a search engine. Sigh. Little did I realise what I was letting myself in for! (I plan to be buried with my pens and some notepaper, so if it turns out I’ve been prematurely buried I can leave rude notes to posterity about those responsible while the oxygen lasts.)

  • Lois

    Beautiful finishing job, Margaret! The elastic on the neckline is a nice touch.

    Alas, my downfall is antique sewing machines. I think the count is up to about 30 now, dating from the 1870’s up to about 1950. Nearly all in working order except for a couple that need some obscure part. Then there are the 3 computerized machines and serger, very nice to work with, but they don’t talk to me like the oldies.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, brilliant – I think you’re achieving the transformation of your house into a museum! Have you thought of charging entry?

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