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Seed Panel Gansey: Week 1 – 26 October

“The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.” With these words Cleopatra is informed by Iras, her lady in waiting, that daylight saving time has just ended in the Nile Delta, and as a result she gets to stay in bed an hour longer tomorrow. Yes, it’s time to put the clocks back (personally I’d like to put them back about ten months, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be an option). Autumn is my favourite time of year, and that’s obviously for the colours and the sunsets and the halloween candy you can stock up on, in the hope no children knock on your door. But I think it’s also because winter is coming, the days of the real long dark, and time is precious.

In his poem Tam o’Shanter Robert Burns described a typical Caithness day in late October: “The wind blew as ‘twad blawn its last/ The rattling showers rose on the blast/ The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d.” (Mind you, Burns also famously declared that his heart was in the Highlands—mine is too; it’s just a shame I seem to’ve left most of my hair in the Midlands.) And while this Saturday, which began in rain and violent gales, has eased into an afternoon of sharp, bright sunlight, the sun’s spinning further away with each revolution, the warmth is fleeting, the trees are stripped bare and thermal underwear once more stalks the land.

St Fergus’

Chinese and Japanese poets writing about autumn usually focus on frost on spindly branches, the full moon reflected in a still pond, or the fragrance of chrysanthemums—you know the sort of thing. But the great poet Bashō, master of the haiku form, as ever, gets to the heart of what really matters in life. Here’s one of his sequence of autumn haiku, and the humour is part of what makes him one of my heroes:

It’s great—
Having an autumn lie-in,
As the host.


Reflections in the harbour


It’s new gansey time. But here’s the thing. I love ganseys with simple patterns and no cables (just as I love ganseys with intricate patterns and lots of cables). But when I knit them they always end up too big. The plain knitting on the body is fine; but the yokes, knit back-and-forth instead of in the round, develop a sort of “mission creep” and end up an inch or more wider than the body. If I’m ever to knit a gansey for, say, the Incredible Hulk or Popeye, then I’m all set; otherwise, not so much. (Patterns with cables don’t do this, or at least not noticeably: I assume the fact that the cables twist the yarn serves to counterbalance the lateral spreading effect.)


I’ve never seen this mentioned anywhere, so I assume the problem is mine alone—that the fault is in me, not in my stars. It’s probably a minuscule effect which gets magnified over 180-odd stitches, creating havoc (see also: butterflies, wings, flapping and chaos theory).

Anyway, I’ve been mulling this over, and so this latest project is my first attempt at a solution. Like the Scarborough gansey, I’m going to add a cable at either edge of the yoke, leaving the central part of the yoke for whatever non-cabley pattern I choose. (In this case it’s the classic seed stitch of Henry Freeman of Whitby, also found in just about every village where fine ganseys were knit.) I’m hoping that the two cables will correct my “stitch gauge creep”, while allowing enough room in between not to lose the overall effect of the pattern. Will it work? We’ll find out sometime in November, if we’re lucky. Meantime, the yarn is Wendy’s guernsey five-ply, some of the last they produced I imagine, very uneven, but hopefully just right for a simple seed-panel gansey like this. More on the pattern next week.

17 comments to Seed Panel Gansey: Week 1 – 26 October

  • Song


    The issue is that your gauge in flat knitting is looser (just a bit) than your gauge in circular knitting. It’s very common (unlike you – you’re extremely, delightfully uncommon), and there’s little to do about it. (The issue probably is in the purling.)

    Some people use slightly smaller needles, sometimes just for the purl-back row. Sometimes you can adjust the pattern and decrease a few stitches, discreetly. But mostly, people just let it happen.

    • Gordon

      Hello Song, ah, thank you – I thought it must be something like that, or else Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applied, or something!

      I don’t think I could face smaller needles than 2.25mm – nor do I think I could get this chunky, uneven yarn through the stitches! So I guess I should accept what I cannot change, and learn to live with it

  • Cam

    Or, keep knitting in the round, and steek. I’m a late-comer to steeking, but it works and it solves your problem.

    • Gordon

      Hi there, good suggestion, thanks. I suppose it’s the same as Fair Isle jumpers; but it’s hard enough to get me to darn in the loose ends on a normal gansey – the thought of having an extra couple of hundred or so per sleeve would be the ruin of me!

  • =Tamar

    Adding a cable is a clever move, but that blue yarn looks awfully dark. I hope it’s just a trick of the screen here.
    Speaking of which, I like the brightly colored floats, but I must admit that I wondered for a moment who Mick was, and why the lemons were scattered on the ground.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, you’re right – it’s even darker than the picture, being a darkish navy. It’s not my brightest idea, starting a navy gansey just as the clocks go back, especially with my eyesight. But it’s a simple pattern, I have a fairly bright lamp; and I really can’t go a whole year without knitting a navy gansey!

      I’m just amazed the water was calm enough to actually get a reflection, it’s been so wild up here recently…

  • Hi Gordon.
    I have learned that cables pull the fabric together so you have to increase for every cable a stitch or two just below the cable. Moss or seedstitch expand the sweater so decreasing is an option. Sometime when people knit flat one can tell the difference in size of the knit and purl stitches. It is called outrowing. When purling you wrap the yarn counterclockwise around the needle. When you do this clockwise it makes the purlstitch smaller. Maybe this helps. Sorry for my clumsy and lengthy explanation. English is not my mothertongue. Bye, Christa

    • Gordon

      Hi Christa, and thank you. I’m hoping that between the cables pulling it in and the natural spreading effect of knitting back and forth I’ll end up more or less right!

      I’m going to be honest, I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks now – but thanks again for the suggestions.

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    I love your new gansey. I think you must have the fastest needles in the west. If I may offer a humble suggestion re kntting in the round vs knitting back and forth: go down a needle size–well, not a full needle size but make it a bit smaller. I learned to knit on circ needles in the round and that is what I was told to do–not that your suggestion is not astonshingly cool, but if you want a simpler solution, look to your needles.
    I also share your fondness for autumn. I’ll email poem re Autumn–not as cool as Basho’s but worth a wee lookie.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, and thank you. The trouble is, I’m already knitting at the limits of what I can comfortably manage without swapping my glasses for magnifying glasses!

      I’ve mentioned that the yarn is very uneven – I’ll post a picture next week, but there are times when I honestly couldn’t force it through a smaller stitch…

      • Nicola Bielicki

        Hi Gordon
        I think I’ve managed to avoid ‘mission creep’ amazingly but I can well see how it might arise when switching from circular to straight needles. Interested to read about ways to fix it.
        I’m in awe of your speedy knitting ! My gansey was finished last night and is now being blocked. It’s taken 2 years but wouldn’t have got finished at all but were it not for your sending me the last ball of Wendy (and yes, it is fairly uneven wool but I quite like that). Many thanks again !

        • Gordon

          Hi Nicola, glad to be of help! Your gansey looks great, congratulations. As for speed, a fairy godmother appeared at my christening and said I could either knit a lot or have a life – I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice…

  • The yoke creep is why my gansey knitted for me now fits a 6′ 2″ male fitness buff with pecs, biceps etc. On the illumination problem, I splashed out vast sums of money (80 quids) on a folding daylight lamp (alas the company has gone into liquidation but I am sure there are alternatives) which bolts on the the edge of the table and can be brought down to just above your head to get a good view of of tiny dark navy stitches. It was that or stop knitting after dark. Best of luck.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, and cheers. I have a couple of brightish lights, but really should invest in a good lamp, you’re right. At weekends I can sit by the window, but in a few weeks natural light will be in short supply up here in the frozen north. A white towel in the lap is another surprisingly effective aid.

      • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

        Lumie makes good lights. SAD bulbs as well. A bit pricey but a good investment. I bought mine years ago and we’ve grown older together.

  • Bridget

    YIPPEE! I’m not the only DA out here! Probably why I quit knitting these sweaters! I LOVE the navy. I’m so glad I just finished (well almost) my almost black sweater because I’ve run out of sunlight. I say ‘almost’ because I’m shortening my sleeves, and it is a job in itself!
    I have no suggestions for you, except to find another recipient. 🙂

    • Gordon

      Hi Bridget, it’s possible I was misled by the bright, sunny week we had just before the clocks went back! Though I shouldn’t exaggerate the issue – either sitting in the window in the day, or with two lights over my shoulder, I can see well enough to knit even this navy gansey. I’m tempted by black, but realise it’s not going to happen now. I do have some Frangipani dark navy though which I plan to knit up in the middle of next year!

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