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Week X, 2010

A very warm welcome back to the ganseys blog, after the summer recess. I hope you had a good summer – I spent most of it in a sort of contented hibernation, lapsing into a vegetative coma on the sofa, so that periodically Margaret would be obliged to drop in and hold a mirror up to my lips to see if I was still breathing.

I did rouse myself on a couple of occasions, however. As some of you may have noticed, we’ve made a few changes to the website. After a number of requests, and with some trepidation, I’ve included a complete “How to…” section, showing how I go about planning, sizing and knitting a gansey from start to finish. I hope you find this useful, and if you have any observations you’d like to make, disagree with any of my methods, know an alternative way of doing something, or would just like more information, please post a comment or drop me a line.

Meanwhile, during what we drolly refer to as summer in Edinburgh, I’ve been polishing my bread-baking skills, or “poolishing” (yes, I’m making bread jokes now), and have developed a sourdough or wild yeast culture which is now living in the fridge and growing like one of those creatures that used to give me nightmares in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. With it I’ve learned how to make baguettes, pain de campagne, pain a l’ancienne, and (on bad days) dark matter under laboratory conditions.

I thought I’d take advantage of not doing very much to crack on with a gansey that’s been in my mind for a while – in fact, regular readers will recall that I’ve flirted with this pattern off and on for some years. I’m referring to the famous Henry Freeman of Whitby pattern, which crops up everywhere and is referenced for example in Staithes and even Edinburgh. The reason I’ve hummed and hawed in the past is that it doesn’t show very clearly in my stitch gauge – in the wrong light it can look like a scrambled jumble of random stitches (though in a strong light coming from above it’s very effective). But since I hope in the long run to include examples of most types of pattern on this website, then the collection would be incomplete without it. And, if nothing else, it would show anyone else thinking of knitting it how it comes out.

So here we are – I’ve finished the body up to the yoke, and done three-quarters of the back. I haven’t gone mad yet, not even when I found I’d knit an entire row out of sync and had to re-do all 426 stitches. (By the way, this is the gansey I’ve used as my example in the planning section of the “How To Knit” pages, so if you wish to look up the details you’ll find it all in there.)

Finally, if you ever thought you had a dangerous job, take a look at the photos below – while partaking of morning tea one day, our eyes were caught by this painter decorating the outside of a window across the street – four stories up. I mean, I know archives is a terribly risky profession – actuaries call it “the widowmaker” – but this…

18 comments to Week X, 2010

  • Lynne

    So nice to have you back! – and looking forward to the “how to. . . ” before I begin my winter project. The blue is working up nicely.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne – how are you? – it’s good to be back! It’s been gale force winds and driving rain here in Edinburgh, temperatures in the low 60s, so it certainly feels like autumn – beginning of a new term (semester?) and all that. So it’s time to knuckle down again, put away the T-shirts for another year, and dig out the pullovers…

    Here’s some more Ted Hughes, from his early poem “Wind”:

    “This house has been far out at sea all night,
    The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
    Winds stampeding the fields under the window
    Floundering black astride and blinding wet
    Till day rose…”

    The poem also has two of my favourite lines in all literature:

    “The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
    Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly.”

    So, yes, it’s been a bit gusty, like!

  • Lynne

    I had time this morning to get completely through the gansey tutorial – and what a great service you’ve done for knitters who want to undertake knitting a gansey, and especially for those who don’t have access to some of the books – that can be difficult to interpret at times. Thank you so much!

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    Glad you like it. The important caveat is that I’m not saying, “this is how it must be done”, just “this is how I do it”, warts and all.

    Good luck with your knitting,

  • lns

    Oh splendid! Here I am just starting to plan my first Gansey* and I find a useful entertaining site full of How To… lovely! I shall note well your comment about that this is “how you do it”, and shall peruse it with that in mind. I knit rather untypically, which equals slowly, but I enjoy it and that’s the main thing…

    I like linking things with places or people, and would love to know if there are any gansey design elements linked to Edinburgh or the southern coast of the Forth.

    I’m working my way through your archive with great pleasure – many thanks!


    *er, this will also be my first jumper, following a nearly-finished Fair Isle slipover, so my second design.

  • =Tamar

    It’s good to see you back online.
    The blue Henry Freeman gansey looks good to me,
    not at all random.

  • Gordon

    Hi Ins and Tamar,

    Yes, it’s nice to be back and have a purpose in life again. (No, wait -.) I’m secretly rather pleased at how the Henry Freeman pattern is coming out – maybe I should have had the courage of my convictions earlier, since the large panels give enough of the pattern for the eye to see it clearer.

    Ins, I hope you find the suggestions i give useful. Please don’t hesitate to come back if any of it isn’t clear. Also, there are some very knowledgeable knitters dropping into this blog from time to time, and any general query will usually receive a helpful response! I’m a big fan of slow knitting, which is closer to meditation or zen in my case, except you’re not supposed to listen to Bob Dylan when you meditate.

    There are patterns connected with Edinburgh and the Firth – in particular, Thompson and Compton’s books have illustrations of patterns from Musselburgh and Fisherrow, such as flags, chevrons, diamonds in boxes, and cables flanked with moss stitch. (The pattern I’m knitting now, which I still think of as “Henry Freeman’s”, crops up in several of the ganseys of fishermen from this area, so is utterly authentic too.) I want to knit a gansey for a friend who lives in Musselburgh based on some of these patterns, so around October-November (when I hope to start it) I’ll be posting charts of the patterns I’m going to use – if I can persuade him to ever give me his measurements!

    Best wishes, and good luck with your gansey,

  • lns

    Slow knitting, ah yes – I’m currently in an “interesting” work situation – I’m a “resting” academic – and the fact that all my family are getting variations on fingerless gloves for Christmas this year is entirely a coincidence, I can assure you. No, really. Honest. No, my nose has always been this long.

    I see from July that you are low on 30cm 2.25mm steel grey-coated DPNs… er, I live in Edinburgh and have spares (I only learnt to knit when I inherited my grandmother’s knitting-holdall). I tend to use seven shorter DPNs so the 30cm ones are sitting idle, year after year. I would be very happy to pass them on to you, if you want them?

    I have two small square-shaped paperback Michael Pearsons from the 1970s (property of my two-needle-knitting mother) and am planning to use the charts in those for the 2011 Gansey, but they annoyingly cover the NE of England and the NE of Scotland, helpfully missing out the bit in between – I shall hie me to a library and see if they can order me the big Pearson book to peruse.

    Is the 5-ply Gansey yarn a smooth yarn? I’ve got the hang of steeking, and splicing for a new ball, in Fair Isle but that’s with ‘hairy yarn’ as it’s so fetchingly and gracefully termed. I suspect I couldn’t steek a smooth Gansey, damn. I was planning to knit a jacket by steeking the centre-front of a trad Gansey, although I suppose I could do sewn steeks but that does somewhat go against the whole no-sewing common-sense principle… hmmm.

    Sorry to bombard you with questions but if you will go answering the first one…!

    Many thanks for the info – a most amusing afternoon’s diversion for me, defering the ironing, the cat’s supper and the


  • lns

    …and the end of that sentence, obviously…!

  • Gordon

    Hi Ins,

    I’m happy to answer questions, insofar as I’m able to.

    First of all, I’d say yes to any offer of needles! So thank you – if you don’t think you’re going to use them, I’d be delighted to take them.

    Gansey 5-ply is pretty smooth and tight, though if you enlarge a photo (as we’ve done on close-ups for this blog from time to time) it can look a bit hairy. So I’m not sure how it would work with steeking. We’ve discussed trying a cardigan one of these days, but haven’t got round to it yet. Gladys Thompson’s book has a pattern for a cardigan under the Filey section, but she has it knit in sections (back, front left, front right) and joined. None of the other books refer to anything other than traditional ganseys – though there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t try it. I guess it would be a bit fiddly, but perfectly do-able.

    I only make a Big Thing about sewing because I can’t do it – so I’m all for a no-sew approach!

    Good luck with the “resting” I hope it’s not for too long?


  • lns

    I just fancy a gansey that is the same shape as the ones you knit, but opens up the front – I don’t plan any other changes except some kind of front opening… partly because I am very nearly incapable of knitting on only two needles! I may try some experimental steeking on a small test-piece with the 5-ply, but otherwise I may try one of the smoother Shetland “hairies”, because I also hope to knit the yoke in the round using steeks for the armholes, so I can continue hiding from two-needle knitting – I just seem unable to knit the wrong way round.

    The “resting” is involuntary, but luckily at present I’m not about to end up cross-legged on Waverley Steps, which is just as well because I’m not sure I’d get much spare-change with a cardboard sign saying “archaeologist for hire, can’t sing, can’t dance, can dig a little…”

    You are very welcome to the spare needles. We could meet in a public place and instead of the rolled-up copy of the Grauniad and the carnation in the buttonhole, you could carry your ongoing gansey and I could carry my ongoing Fair Isle!


  • Gordon

    Hi again Ins,

    But when you’re knitting back-and-forth on two needles, you’re still only knitting knit and purl stitches. The pattern will normally be strong enough that you know where you are even on the reverse side. (I still don’t quite understand how, but even cabling seems straightforward.) I hardly ever come to grief over this, and I have the attention span of… What? Oh, I’m sorry. I was thinking of something else.

    Where was I? Oh, yes. The other boon of knitting back-and-forth is that by the time you’ve reached the yoke the novelty has worn off, and motivation can be an issue. Suddenly when you divide for the front and back you’re only knitting half the gansey at a time, so you finish a row in less than half the time – less, in fact, because you cast the gusset stitches adrift like first stage of a moon rocket. Suddenly you fly along, and the inches mount up under your fingers. The boost to morale is tremendous!

    But I’ll stop there as I’m starting to sound like I’m inviting you to join a cult…


  • lns

    But… but… it’s BACKWARDS!!

    [backs away fearfully, making ancient signs against the Evil Eye]

    I don’t know. For years I knitted socks and baby-socks (now THAT’s fast for you – a sock in an evening, yippee. Maybe I could knit baby ganseys in 2-ply on 1.5mmm needles?). Every time I thought to myself, aha, I’m more experienced a knitter than last time, so the heelflap will be fine! Every time I had to undo and redo and undo and redo…

    I’ve spoken to two-needlers who cannot get their heads round knitting in the round, and I seem to be their corollary, and just can’t get my head round the idea of turning the whole thing round to face the wrong way and knitting backwards… steeks make so much more sense to me!

    I’m a State Registered Coward about new things. Got a note from my Mum an’ ev’ryfing…


  • Gordon

    Well, yes, when you knit backwards you do have the inconvenience of the Devil materialising at regular intervals. But I find that keeping a pair of red-hot tongs in the fire so you can grasp him by the nose like St Dunstan tends to take care of the problem. (Maybe I should add them to the list of equipment you’ll need…)


  • Leigh

    Wind, love the wind. I would stand in a hurricane if I could survive it.

    I am definitely jealous of all you gansey-making people out there. I have so many things going on for Christmas, that I dare not get sidetracked from those. I cant help, however, to start shopping for gansey/guernsey yarn. I just got a color card from Frangipani. The lady (cant remember name now)was really helpful and she sent me the color card all the way across the proverbial pond to Virginia (Love seeing the Royal Mail Stamp. Ah, simple pleasures.)for Free. Dont see that these days. Anyway. I think I might do one of Frangipani’s beginning sweaters for my first guernsey or go do Fife, start out small, Alice Starmore’s pattern, or maybe I’ll just do one of Beth Brown-Reinsel’s pattern, or maybe I just check this other… Well, you can see my dilema.

    I am definitely going to check out your How-To section. I am scheduled to go to Beth B.R.’s guernsey/gansey and Aran Top-down classes this next year. I also want to get her new DVD that is out.

    Question: Do you think Beth. B.R.’s designs are Americanized (for lack of a better word) ganseys?

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh! Nice to hear from you.

    Frangipani certainly do a wide range of colours. My trouble is, most of the people i knit for want a traditional gansey in a traditional navy blue, which hampers me a bit, plus I’m not sure Herring Girl’s Pink would go with my eyes.

    I have Beth Brown-Reinsel’s book, and I’m very impressed (it’s very thorough, with good instructions). I don’t know about Americanised patterns – though it’s an idea I think is very interesting. Some of hers look almost Scandinavian, or Dutch, too. Certainly the patterns are traditional, though, and are based on yer actual traditional ganseys, but I think she expresses more freedom in combining them than I tend to. I think she uses them creatively, as an experienced knitter would, in a variety of combinations, whereas I tend to stick to replicating existing ganseys – or when I do play around with them, it’s within a particular style, or region – quite limited – whereas I think BB-R tends to look upon all patterns as a single palette. And that’s great, of course! I hope you enjoy the classes, and let me know how you get on.

    Best wishes

  • I meant to say in my first comment that I am very keen on sourdough too! As you are in Edinburgh I recommend you seek out Andrew Whitley – he is the master of sourdough and you live so close: http://www.breadmatters.com/courses.htm

    Although I know this is an old post so you’re either an expert yourself already or you’ve given it up!

  • Gordon

    Hi Sarah,

    As I’m online just now, working through & responding to back posts, we’re almost in real time here! No, I wasn’t aware of Andrew Whitley, but I just checked out the link and i wish I’d known about him before. Alas, I am in the process of moving to Wick (256 miles north of Edinburgh, near John o’Groats) because someone was careless enough to offer me a job – so I’m afraid that will have to be on hold for now.

    I’m still a keen home baker, though I haven’t been able to do much these last couple of months while I’ve been getting myself established in Wick, but I still nurture my trusty sourdough starter – it’s in my fridge up there and I fed it carefully before coming back for the Christmas hols!