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Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 2 – 4 May

After I left university—we’re talking some years ago now, when Queen Victoria was still on the throne and the Crimean war was raging—I found myself within the orbit of a group of broadly left-wing young people who were looking for an alternative kind of society. Green before the ecology movement acquired the label, some were anarchists, some were marxists, some were artists or going to be, and all were deeply earnest. Many cigarettes were smoked and much coffee was drunk into the small hours; there seemed to be a general belief that we could somehow get to the truth of things by talking, ideally while listening to Abraxas by Santana or The Concert for Bangladesh. It was a time of flamboyant dress and facial hair, some of it worn by the men.

Under a Rookery

Well, all I can say in our defence is that we were very young. Or, no, not all: for they were also idealistic, friendly and fundamentally good-natured. There was no harm in any of them, and I remember that was what first attracted me to them. Because even if I felt they were on some points misguided, I saw that they were, like the Cavaliers in 1066 and All That, “wrong but romantic”. (What sorts of things were they wrong about? Well, I remember one young man solemnly assuring me that the Anglo-Saxons held all land in common and there were no wars until the coming of the Normans; as if the Welsh had been dispossessed by a curiously persuasive leafletting campaign.) There’s a lovely song by Jethro Tull, Inside, which captures perfectly what it felt like to be part of it all, to belong on the inside of the outside: “Can you cook, can you sew/ well I don’t want to know/ that is not what you need on the inside”. Looking back, there’s a fragile sepia innocence about that time, like the golden summers before the war.

The Old Lifeboat House

It couldn’t last, of course. There was one night I heard we were getting a visit from one of our leading lights who’d left town a couple of years before. No one knew quite what he’d been up to since, but everyone was excited to see him, and we threw him a party. I can see it now: he turned up looking very out of place in a suit and tie, told us he’d made a career in insurance and—with a fatal misreading of his audience that makes me fear for his future prospects—spent the evening trying to sell us all life insurance.

And so, just as Christopher Robin eventually has to leave the Hundred-Acre Wood, so society took us and shaped us to her courses. Haircuts became a thing, and it was a shock to discover that your friends had so much forehead above their faces. Human kind cannot bear very much reality; and, alas, neither it seems can the ideals of sweet-and-twenty; youth’s a stuff will not endure. Turns out, life insurance is not what you need on the inside either…

Interested Bystanders


As the title suggests, this will be a gansey cardigan. The pattern is from Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire, a very simple but effective combination of moss stitch panels alternating with cables.  There are a lot of cables, 20 in all (by the time I’ve done a few rows of moss stitch and cables Margaret has to get the steam iron out to straighten out the kinks in my fingers). The only change I’ve made to the original pattern is that my cable is six stitches, rather than four.

I found it quite hard to come up with the right number of stitches. I usually add a stitch for every cable, to compensate for the way cables draw in the yarn; but there’s already a steek of 18 stitches running up the front of the body, and it will be slightly wider because of the cardigan’s zip. So in the end I made a guess and hoped for the best.

The gansey (excluding steek) is to be 22 inches across. 22 x 8 (stitches per inch) = 176 stitches. Excluding the steek I’ve added an extra 5 stitches to the front and back, and am hoping that—between this and the steek/zip—it will all work out. But we won’t know for sure until we’re just about at the armholes, so we’ve got a few weeks of blind faith ahead of us…

12 comments to Robin Hood’s Bay Cardigan: Week 2 – 4 May

  • Matthew Perry


    I have some Australian merino dk yarn in cream.

    I have a pattern for a sweater or cardigan and wanted to know what gansey pattern would look good in it.

  • =Tamar

    Lovely pattern, though I keep misreading it as Robin Hood’s Barn. I seem to see an area of plain knitting above the ribbing, before the pattern begins. Is that traditional?

    I suppose I should look through the archives.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar, it’s not compulsory but it was often traditional to leave an inch or more above the ribbing. Partly to ease into the body and let the increase in stitches bed in; but mostly in my case because after all that rubbing it’s nice to just do some plain rows before life gets stern and earnest with the pattern…

  • Laura Kinnane-Brew

    Gordon, thank you so so much, I cannot believe it, my gansey is absolutely fantastic. I just love it. It is a perfect fit. It is absolutely stunning. It just arrived about 15minutes ago.I wasn’t expecting it until after lockdown. I can’t begin to tell you how pleased I am with it. I will get a photo of me wearing it for your site.
    The wool, the intricate pattern, the colour it’s amazing. Thank you again Gordon.

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura, hurrah! I’m glad it got there safely, and even more relieved that it fits! Thanks for letting us know, Gordon

  • Laura Kinnane-Brew

    Hi Gordon , I have been wearing it all morning, it will be great at the weekend when the artic winds hit Cumbria. Laura

  • Bridget

    Hello Gordon,
    Do you get a ‘ragged’ edge on the left side of your cables?

    Secondly, I had to laugh about the haircuts. Since not getting to a hairdresser anytime soon, it appears that I will be returning to my current age. I hadn’t planned it, but now will have only memories of those years of which you speak.

    • Lois

      That loose left edge on cables seems to happen just where I switch from knit to purl, but not on the right side of the cable where it switches from purl to knit. Something to do with tension I guess.

      So I’ve taught myself to purl that first stitch on the left cable side a bit tighter in tension, and that seems to work for me.

      • Lois

        PS If I can’t get to a hairdresser pretty soon, I shall resemble an Old English Sheepdog peering through the shaggy fringe, as well as in colour.

    • Gordon

      Hi Bridget, I’ve never really thought about it, to be honest. You can probably tell from the photos if my cables get the same effect you’re talking about. They naturally form an hourglass shape like a rope, if that’s what you mean?

      As for haircuts, well, you kinda need the hair in the first place to be cut…

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