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Week 14: 20-26 October

It’s a little-known fact that parts of the West Country still preserve their traditional rural customs, and not only have the radical changes of the 20th and 21st centuries passed them by, but even the 19th century is seen as unduly modern – so much so, in fact, that this is the only part of the world where the novels of Thomas Hardy are seen, not as quaint relics of a bye-gone age, but rather as cutting-edge social commentary.

It comes as no surprise, then, while hiking across the barren heath land of Dartmoor, to come across itinerant gansey-wool merchants on their way to the great gansey wool fairs at Exeter or Barnstaple. They’re easy to spot once you know what to look for: the great baskets of wool-skeins on their backs, so large that from a distance they look like a man giving an armchair a piggy-back ride, and a set of 2.25mm double-pointed knitting needles in their hair, which is done up in a bun like a geisha who’s had an accident with a model helicopter.

They’re a less common sight than in former days; for the farmers took against them after some of the more unscrupulous pedlars took to following sheep about the fields in Spring with wool clippers, hastily clipping tufts from their backs before the dogs came after them, and then passing the wool through the hedge to their accomplices (which is, of course, why receivers of stolen goods are known as “fences”, and why you see so many strands of stray wool on hedgerows in early Spring). So unpopular did they become that country folk refused to wear garments made from their wool, and that’s why you only see pictures of fishermen wearing ganseys.

All of which goes some way to explain why, after buying the wool for this pullover from one such itinerant gansey-wool merchant whom I met late one evening in the tap room of the Pig and Poke, and fell into an absinthe drinking competition with (the pedlar’s drink of choice), I’ve just discovered that it comes from two separate dye lots… But how was I to know a one-armed, dirty, shabby stranger I’d just met in a pub, with an eye-patch, teeth like a piano keyboard and a bag marked “swag” was not to be trusted?

So there we are. A gansey made out of wool from 3 separate dye lots, which is something of a first for me. And hopefully a last as well! (D’oh!)

5 comments to Week 14: 20-26 October

  • Nigel

    Gadzooks! That’s a pretty fix to be sure, perhaps you could dye it all blue when you are finished? It would be tempting to say ‘no-one will notice’, but, in a way, after all your hard work, you would want people to notice!
    It still looks a beauty

  • Hi Nigel,

    Thanks for the comment. You can actually see the join between the 2 dye lots in the close-up picture above – pretty noticeable, alas. (To make it worse, the previous ball of yarn had a really thick section – I mean, REALLY thick, like rope, so I could barely get it through the stitches – but I foolishly persevered and as a result I’ve now got this distorted half-row just before the point where it changes colour. Put it down to experience!)

    My new plan is only to wear it at night, or during eclipses, so no one will notice! Either that, or pioneer the T-shirt gansey and try to start a new fashion…

  • Aaron Lewis

    What fisherman’s wife could affort to buy all her yarn at the same time? She sold some fish or eggs and bought some yarn. By have three different yarns in the gansey, you are making it look authentic!

    Wear it proudly! somebody put a lot of effort into that gansey, and those yarn transitions will remind folks that: This gansey was hand knit!

    Any handknit gansey is a world class garment.

  • Veronica

    I agree with Aaron, but also had the idea that you could tie-die it. Can’t find even one tie-died gansey picture online so we can start a new trend. 😉

    I’ve re-read this posting several time, it’s so much fun. You really need to write a knitter’s version of ‘The Book of Nonsense’ or ‘Dan Leno, His Book: A Volume of Frivolities Autobiographical, Historical, Philosophical, Anecdotal, and Nonsensical’. Based on how well Franklin Habit’s and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s amusing knitter-oriented books are doing, I expect yours will be much appreciated and do well.

  • Veronica

    Even better; I’ve just learned about dip-dyeing! You make up a light color of dye, put on your gansey and sink into the vat up to your armpits. Remember to keep your hands down by your side. Then you stand in it and dry out a bit before dip down a second time. This time you only bend your knees a bit, so the gansey is saturated to the waist. Stand and drip. The third time you only stand in it with your hands down at your side so just the cuffs and welt get a bit of extra color. Now wouldn’t that make for a completely cool effect?

    Remember not to do any other knitting until your hands have stopped bleeding dye whenever slightly damp.