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Seed Panel Gansey: Week 8 – 14 December

On Saturday Margaret and I strapped on our wellies and made for Dunbeath, about half an hour’s drive south of Wick, to visit Graeme Bethune at his farm of Ballachly. You may possibly remember that back in 2016—I’m now starting to add the suffix “BC” to historic dates, which stands for “Before Covid”—I knit a gansey for Graeme’s father George. The Bethunes have lived in Dunbeath for almost two centuries, and a photograph of Graeme’s great-grandfather in his gansey appears on page 37 of the Moray Firth Gansey Project book, Fishing for Ganseys. So there’s history there.

Expectant Faces

Graeme is a sheep farmer who trades as Caithness Yarns, and the reason for our visit was his recent foray into gansey yarn. But first we met his sheep, or “sheepies” as I shall now think of them, some of them in an open barn, others out in the fields. Even on a cold, wet, December afternoon, with bands of rain blowing in from the ocean on an icy wind, it’s a beautiful location: the fields sloping down to Dunbeath Strath, the river full and fast-flowing at this time of year, and the farther banks rising to gently sloping wooded hills, all exposed beneath the wide, sweeping Caithness skies. There are, you feel, worse places to be a sheep. The main breeds are North Country Cheviot and the smaller, horned Castlemilk Moorit, all traditional to the area. Graeme has adopted an ethical approach to his farming—as he says, his main crop is wool, and all aspects of oviculture on the farm, especially grazing, are designed to improve the quality of the fleece.

Treat time for the Castlemilk Moorits

Graeme’s first gansey yarn has been a traditional grey-black worsted, and he’s about to add an Ecru Cheviot and a Cheviot and Castlemilk Moorit blend to his range—what I think of as “cream” and “light brown”. Of course, his yarn isn’t cheap; but sometimes you really do get what you pay for, and what you’re paying for here is a commitment to quality and animal welfare. Like many farmers Graeme’s been hit hard this year, with the cancellation of so many wool festivals and shows where he would normally be able to sell his yarn and tell his story. It’s a good yarn and an important story, and one that deserves our support. So even if you’re not in the market for yarn just now, can I ask you please to spread the word? And when the world eventually emerges from hibernation, keep an eye out for Graeme at the next wool festival; and for the splendid yarn from his sheepies.

Shepherd & Sheep

Meanwhile, my current gansey is approaching the finishing line. The first sleeve is completed, and I’m about a third of the way down the other. (This is Wendy’s “A” dye lot, some of the last available, and I’m not pleased to note that I might run out before the cuff—the first time this has happened. Harrumph.) Will I finish it this week? To quote the famously equivocal President of the Neutral Planet from Futurama: “All I know is, my gut says maybe…”

18 comments to Seed Panel Gansey: Week 8 – 14 December

  • Sharon Gunason Pottinger

    How great to know that Graeme is doing Gansey wool. His wool is lovely and his ethos refreshing. Perhaps I need to commission a gansey from his wool for a pressie for someone dear.

  • Song Palmese

    How would one in far away lands such as the wilds of the New World lay hands on such wonderful yarn?

    In other words, does he have a website?

  • =Tamar

    Cream, light brown, and grey-black is more than enough to make a color pattern. If only I didn’t already have enough yarn for five years’ steady knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, you say that like it’s a bad thing… I have a stash of about 5 years’ worth of ganseys, which gets topped up each year, enough to take me comfortably into retirement.

  • Nicola Bielicki

    Great jumper and I’m interested in the yarns so thanks for the link.

    • Gordon

      Hi Nicola, it was quite something going into the barn where all the fleeces are piled higher mounds, like an Aladdin’s cave of wool…

  • Lois

    Sniff, sniff – tears of frustration …..
    In my next knitting life, I’m coming back as NOT allergic to wool!

  • Lois

    We have been watching a series called Highland Vet, which features a veterinary clinic which operates from Thurso to Wick. Very enjoyable and shows wonderful views of the countryside. And all the more interesting because I know Gordon has travelled those roads.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, I haven’t caught the series, though it’s quite possible that practice has treated me for mange or distemper in the past…

  • Lynne Brock

    Gordon, when you say that Graeme’s yarn is a “worsted” weight and you’re using it for ganseys, does it knit up to the same gauge as Frangipani? I always have a difficult time comparing the weight of yarn from N. America to the U.K., ‘worsted’ weight over this side of the pond only knits up to 5 stitches to the inch and is used for afghans.

  • Lynne Brock

    Oops, I should have done my reading first, I just went to the Caithness website and see that it IS a 5-ply gansey yarn, it was the ‘worsted’ that threw me.

  • Maureen Turman

    What I do when I’m afraid I might run out of yarn is knit faster, to outrun it. Perhaps you’ll have better luck than I. Or know some who has one arm shorter.

    • Gordon

      Hi Maureen, well, my luck ran out halfway down the cuff. How annoying! But I found a leftover ball that was a similar shade of navy, and so long as I only wear it in the cellar during power cuts I don’t think anyone will notice…

  • =Tamar

    Technicalities: “Worsted” is spun from wool combed so that the fibers are parallel. “Woolen” is spun from wool that is deliberately mixed up so the fibers are in all directions. Worsted-spun is smoother and I believe can give better stitch definition. Woolen-spun has more air pockets and is said to be warmer when knitted at the same gauge as a comparable worsted.
    People got into the habit of using the terms as if they meant thickness or number of plies. This sort of thing is why we have dictionaries.

    • Gordon

      “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

      “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

      “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

      I take my stand with the egg…! (I mean, it worked out pretty well for him, right? 🙂 )

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