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Week 11: 8-14 February

Ever noticed how good news always seems to come balanced with a healthy dose of just enough bad news to take the edge off it? Like having Barack Obama in the White House at the same time as the deepest economic crisis for 70 years.

Or, in my case, like finally getting rid of my gum infection (touch wood) with an antiseptic mouthwash, but finding it’s coated my tongue a woad-coloured shade of blue which makes everything I eat or drink taste like spearmint-flavoured marmite.

Or discovering I have an improbable job interview in a couple of weeks, but having to do an online psychometric assessment first. Now, the last time I took one of those my confidence was destroyed by the maths paper – I still wake up at night thinking I’m back at my desk, frantically trying to answer questions about the profitability of acreages of woodland (just the sort of thing you need to know when working with libraries, obviously) with a clock in the corner counting down remorselessly. (Come to think of it, perhaps it’s not such a surprise I didn’t get the job!)

Ah, well. To take my mind off all that I’ve spent a week plotting out the yoke pattern for my Hebridean gansey. So no knitting this week, but lots of graph paper.

I can’t find a way to set out the whole pattern for you – it’s 213 cells wide and 130-odd high in spreadsheet terms – but close your eyes and I’ll try to describe it so you can picture it. OK? Ready?

  • There are 2 seam stitches next to the gusset.
  • Then a ladder (2 rows purl to 4 rows knit), 13 stitches wide inc. a seam stitch.
  • Then one of my standard cables (10 stitches, i.e. p2/k6/p2) cable every 6th row.
  • Then a panel (A) of 31 stitches, with a 3-stitch moss border on each side plus a seam stitch.
  • Then another cable.
  • Then an open chevron with yarn-overs, 15 stitches across.
  • Then another cable.
  • Then a centre panel (B), also 31 stitches, with borders as in panel A.
  • Then another cable.
  • Then another chevron panel with yarn-overs.
  • Then another cable.
  • Then another panel (A).
  • A last cable.
  • Another ladder.
  • Finally, another 2 seam stitches.

Each of the 3 panels is divided into 3 vertical sections. The (A) panels will have an X pattern in the top and bottom sections, with an anchor in the middle. The centre (B) panel will have a purl diamond in the top and bottom sections, and an open diamond with yarn-overs in the middle.

All of which adds up to 213 stitches (I know because I’ve just knit the first row today!) Repeat for the other side.

If this sounds a bit over-the-top, trust me, it’s entirely in the spirit of the originals. These ganseys are supposed to look like a baroque wedding cake, or the web of an anally retentive spider suffering from psychological trauma. If the viewer doesn’t reach for their sunglasses you’ve done it wrong. (At least, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!)

I admit there’s a certain irony in me worrying about a maths test after spending a week laying out a pattern this complex, having adapted a combination of sub-patterns to my stitch gauge. But I don’t suppose I can just turn up to the interview with a gansey and expect to get away with it. Or can I…?

11 comments to Week 11: 8-14 February

  • Nigel

    I do look forward to your weekly updates. It takes my mind off sub editng 1,200 word rugby match reports which is akin to trudging through mud with a rock on your shoulder and er… no wellies.

    Best of luck with the Gansey, I’m sure you know what you are doing

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel,

    It’s nowhere near as complicated as I’ve made it sound, and once the foundations are laid it should all grow in accordance with the architect’s plans, as it were. Though no one should ever assume I know what I’m doing!

    Sub-editing 1200-word rugby reports sounds like a cruel and unusual punishment to me – but still better than actually playing rugby?


  • Suzanne

    Why not? A real gansey is impressive under any circumstances. It could help you ace the interview.

    I think this is going to work out very nicely. You have just elevated the cream wool, about which I was so disparaging, from plain vanilla to very special. The variety of patterning should do a lot to keep you focused and take your mind off the more troubling aspects of the immediate. By the time you have joined the shoulders and knit the sleeves, the uncertainty and upheaval should be receding rapidly.

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    Yes, I think there’s always something very satisfying about precision, especially when the sleeve of care is unravelling! If I had the talent, and the timber, I’d probably enjoy making furniture too, but as it is I’d probably just plane my thumbs off…

    I plan to leave a note in my will to the effect that the directions to my buried treasure are concealed in the patterns of this gansey, and can then die happy in the knowledge that my heirs will drive themselves mad trying to work it out. Well, it’s good to have a hobby…


  • Lynne

    This should look wonderful and makes my gansey look like “kindergarten”. I’m looking forward to seeing the final product, but I can invision it well with your description and all this graphing and planning would certainly kept your mind off other stressors.

  • Hi Lynne,

    Sorry, your email got caught in our filters for some reason, and without Margaret to keep an eye on things just now I’m not picking up on things right away. Thanks for your kind words. Hopefully by now you can see the patterns start to come together for real – I must admit I’m rather pleased at the way it’s looking. I’m just praying I’ve got the maths right!


  • Leigh

    I have never knitted a guernsey/gansey. I have a couple of not-so-smart question:

    1. Do ever knit with different yarns bew the body/arms and the yoke.

    2. (Okay, I know this is dumb, but I gotta ask)I only see pictures of the front of guernseys. Is there a back yoke mimicking the front. Hey now, no throwing the tomatos!


  • Leigh


    Wholeheartedly agree with the Obama comment.

    From one who is across the Pond.

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    I’m sorry, your comments got caught in our spam filters – we get so many spam emails sometimes a genuine one gets lost in the mix. Many apologies for that!

    To answer your questions, no, ganseys are traditionally only ever knit in one colour all the way from bottom to top. Though there’s no reason you couldn’t pick and mix and have stripes if you wanted, except it would look kind of unusual. (But anyone should feel free to do what they like! There’s no gansey police that I know of, unless they haven’t caught me yet…)

    The front and back are usually identical, too – if you follow the blog on the current gansey I’m knitting, the next entry should go live tomorrow and you’ll see that I’ve just started the other side (which will be the front) and it will be exactly the same as the one I’ve just finished – except it will have an indented neckline, as I don’t like clothes that press too tightly on my throat. (The story goes that in the old days they used to be fully reversible, so it didn’t matter which way round you put them on!)

    Anyway, apologies once again for your comment getting swamped by spam – if you want to post again at any time it should go straight through.

    Best wishes

  • Joan

    Now I’d be interested about the anchor, why the line going in a diagonal? I’m curious..

  • Gordon

    Hi Joan,

    Not sure why the anchor has the diagonal line through it, but it’s fairly common on Scottish designs, I think – I think it’s supposed to be the anchor chain? Maybe? (From my exerience of knitting them it (a) makes the pattern more interesting, and (b) helps it lie flatter in a way that plain knitting doesn’t. For what that’s worth!)