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Thurso: 26 July

ThTh150726-1As a result of having a couple of my ganseys on display in the St Fergus Gallery next door as part of their display of old photographs, I’ve been visited at work by a number of people curious to know more. So I’ve been holding impromptu gansey workshops in my office, which is not as easy as it sounds without yarn or needles—at best it looked as if I was doing the knitting equivalent of playing air guitar, and at worst like someone who’d overdosed on amphetamines indulging in a spot of tai chi.

ThTh150724-3In passing, one lady told me her mother remembered the bombing of Wick in World War Two by the Germans. She’d been sent out to buy some mince (US = ground beef), and decided to take shelter in the Cinema; but the bombs continued to drop, and the whole building shook. When it was finally over she looked down and found that she’d unconsciously been clenching her fists and the mince was all over the floor, squeezed out from between her fingers.

The good news on the gansey front is that I’ve almost finished the second sleeve: just a few inches and then there’s only the cuff, the darning-in of ends and then the blocking to go. (And I could do with it, too—temperatures continue to hover around the 10-14ºC mark and the wind’s been so strong the trees already seem to be shedding their leaves.)


John o’Groats on a sunny day.

As ever, I’m already thinking about my next project. This will be for my friend Jan; it will be in Frangipani seaspray, and will be based on a traditional Scottish Fleet pattern (number XXVIII in Gladys Thompson’s book, illustration number 134, if you’re curious and/or impatient).


Betty Martin?

Finally this week, we’re starting to think ahead to our autumn holiday this October in the States, and if the planets align correctly we might be able to visit the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival at Rhinebeck. Granted that it’s too late to organise an official Gansey Nation Clan Gathering of our own, it’d nevertheless be great to meet up with any members of the Clan that might be heading there. So, if you’d like us to look into organising something over that weekend, drop us an email or post a comment below.

And who knows? Maybe we should try and do this properly one year, have a Gansey Weekend Stateside, with workshops and talks and whatnot (topics might include: “The ethics of cabling”, “The impact of zigzags on the decline of traditional fishing”, and of course, “That Betty Martin, she didn’t half put herself about, know what I mean?”)

14 comments to Thurso: 26 July

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Sounds like a great idea to me except I’m on the other side of the continent!!! I believe I’m further away than you are to New York!! Rhinebeck & The Brown Sheep Festival are Disneyland to Fibre Folk. Sigh. But I have neither the money – our dollar is floating around 76.6 cents to the American dollar right now. Nor the Passport – I refuse to go through all that rigamarole at the so-called OPEN border!!! So I will remain reading about it on THIS side. Have fun. You must wear a NEW sweater to Rhinebeck, you know.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, yes, I know I complain about travelling from Wick to Inverness but it does rather pale in comparison with American geography. I’ve never been to a wool fair before, and I’m a little nervous (I start hyperventilating if asked to walk round a shopping mall for more than about 40 minutes, so a 2-day event—even one with sheep—might tax my powers of endurance, or powers of not gaping red and shouting like a 2-year-old, to the limit…)

      Mind you, I’ll probably take the new gansey for a test drive when I go, if that will do?

  • Jenny in Victoria

    A Gansey Weekend Stateside is a fabulous idea. Since several of us are on the west side of North America, how about having a booth at the Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival that occurs in mid-May each year? It will be its 153rd year.

    There are pipe bands from various provinces that compete in various categories, food booths, weavers and spinners, and even kilt makers. There is highland dancing competition as well as Scottish country dancing exhibition. Here is the website http://victoriahighlandgames.com/

    Your gansey is looking very handsome, Gordon. I love the pattern.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jenny,

      The Victoria Highland Games sounds like a lot of fun (one of the nice things about living here in the Highlands is all the little village Highland Games that take place throughout the summer and the fact that there are local pipe bands performing regularly in Wick). Alas, like Sharon above, I don’t think our budget will stretch to another trip so soon—what I need is crowdfunding, I think!

      I have wondered about seeing if there’s any way I could do, say, talks or workshops and help pay for a US trip that way; but it’s such a niche market it’s not easy to identify an audience. Unless I get really good at tossing the caber over the next few months…?

  • Jenny in Victoria

    Gordon, if you do make it across the pond, you and Margaret are welcome to stay at our place. So this will save on hotel expenses. We just had good old friends from Edinburgh come and stay with us and they enjoyed breakfast as well as evening meals. They had one request: no porridge! Alas, I said, but that is my husband’s expertise, Scottish porridge.

    • Gordon

      Ha, well, porridge is an acquired taste, I guess. I’m a fan, both of the pinhead oatmeal you have to boil for about a week, and the “quick”, pre-steamed and flattened oats, though I must confess to a preference for making it with milk and then drowning it in cream and sugar, though not necessarily in that order. My father, on the other hand, as a true Scotsman, prefers it with water and salt and a strong dash of race grievance.

      If we ever do make it to your side, I’ll get back to you. Thank you for the kind offer!

  • Patrick


    I live in Western NY and am looking forward to heading toward the Hudson Valley (the ‘Rhineland of America’) for my first NYS Sheep and Wool Fest. It would indeed be great to meet you, and hopefully the Nation can put together a bit of a shindig! Who knows, we just might survive it….

    All the best,

    • Gordon

      Hi Patrick, you can imagine me like Yul Brynner in the Magnificent Seven (we share the same hairdresser these days), when asked how many men he has and he holds up a finger, “one”. If it’s just the two of us it might be rather a restrained shindig, but it would at least strike a blow for the radical movement I like to think of as Gansey Knitting By Chaps! Watch this space…

      • Patrick

        I will indeed continue to watch this space. Yul Brynner having one is better than Gary Cooper in High Noon having none (assuming, safely I would say, Grace Kelly does not count as a man), so I hope to prove a faithful companion. Still, it might be a shame for you to share the Wool Fest with someone who doesn’t knit, but maybe by the end of it, that will change!

        PS Don’t think I missed your OK Computer reference below….

  • Laura Kilner

    I wanted to say how much I enjoy your updates, and look forward to reading along. I travel little, but a planned vacation on a subject you love…wool, that could well be more fun than usual. I prefer to have a reason to travel, so if one is able to go, all the better!

    • Gordon

      Hello Laura, how nice to hear from you. I’m not a big fan of travel these days—I relax of an evening by sitting down with an atlas and thinking happily of all the places I shall never visit, and thanking God—but a wool and sheep fair should be an adventure. And I’m a bit odd (in this regard only, of course), in that I enjoy going back to places I’ve been before; but I don’t like new experiences. No alarms and no surprises, as the song says!

      Sta tuned in late October and we’ll see how it goes!

  • Jane

    Superb work on the gansey, lovely pattern and colour, it is going to be a really nice garment to wear!
    And I can completely understand the interest the exhibition of your ganseys has generated.

    The gansey worn by Fergus Ferguson is absolutely wonderful. As I wrote twisted rib, I did think this was a bit ordinary and the photo showed more definition. I cannot see the motifs on the upper arm in great detail, but I do see the general shapes and how they vary. The skill in this garment is totally impressive. There must be a story behind it all, for instance, that hat with its hint of braid, does not look like an ordinary seaman’s hat. A sideline in gansey hunting for you and Margaret!

    I love the picture of the cat, at least this one doesn’t get beaten up every few days. Poor Spike is now on his second course of antibiotics and painkillers, and with the approval of the vet we have embraced water as a deterrent. Fortunately, October has come early to the South with lots of rain and wind, and the bad cat has retreated a bit.

    The yarn for the Print of the Hoof cardie,relatively humble stuff compared to Frangipani, has arrived. I am going to swatch again, can’t be too careful as the tension sets the needle sizes, and I will go from there! Take care!

  • Jane

    PS If, nay when, you might choose to look carefully at Fergus’ s gansey, might I volunteer the old humble knitting skills for trialling the pattern, if deemed suitable, etc, etc. Gladys did not soldier on alone, her sister-in-law and her daughter are mentioned. She also knitted dark wool pieces in cream for better stitch definition for photography, shame the creator of Fergus’s gansey didn’t realise the solemnity of the moment and do the same!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, and thank you for the offer. Fergus’s is one of the most intricate ganseys I’ve seen, the more i look at it – so far it’s got sleeve cables, zigzags, trees, big dramatic diamonds, that fancy Scottish stitch you get on Mrs Laidler of Whitby’s gansey, more trees, and (ta-da!) print o’ the hoof cabling. Plus panel of plain stitch, just so as not to show off! Next step is to chart some of it out.

      The hat is interesting, isn’t it? Unless he was nonchalantly holding his tuba case behind his back, to whip it out as a surprise to the photographer an play a few bars of “The Good Ship Lollipop”?

      Beautiful sunny day here today and temperatures a giddy 16º. Time to get the speedos out…

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