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Whitby, Mrs Laidler Week 8: 17 July

It was the Caithness County Show last weekend, which alternates between Thurso and Wick: this year it was Wick’s turn. Huge white marquees like giant spider webs sprang up in the field across the road from us like some great medieval fair, only instead of jousting and tourneys we had vintage farm machinery and a dog agility display.

I’m not much of a lad for agricultural shows, as a rule – when you’ve seen one best-dressed sheep, you’ve seen ’em all, I think. But the tannoy was loud enough that I didn’t feel I was missing out: I could hear it so clearly from my living room it was like listening to the audiobook version.

The great Liverpool football manager Bill Shankly once quipped that if rival team Everton were playing at the bottom of his garden he wouldn’t bother to open his curtains to watch them. This was literally my sentiment this weekend. But I do feel obscurely privileged to live in a place where everything stops for a day, and people gather and buy candy floss, and look at vintage tractors and watch sheep dogs jump hurdles, and greet old friends; and where a fun fair is still something of a novelty.

Vintage Tractors

I’m off down to London for a few days this week, a business trip to the National Archives. I’m flying down from Inverness, travelling light, so there’s no room for about 750 grams of navy pullover in my carry-on bag. Instead I’m going to make a start on my next project, a gansey for a friend. (By the time I get to the end of a project I’m always keen to start the next one. Casting on and knitting a few rows well in advance works a treat as it gets all the calculations and stuff out of the way, and I have something I can just pick up and run with.)

Meanwhile, I’ve picked up the stitches around the armhole and am about a third of the way down the first sleeve. I’ll say a bit more about this next time; after last week’s maths lesson I think we all need a break to recover.

In parish news, Margaret has now turned the previous gansey into a cardigan, and the operation appears to have been a success: yes, we have besteekening! Here she is to tell you all about it.


The Technical Stuff

1. Machine stitching either side of the centre. The red thread is there to mark the centre line, and will be removed.2. Both sides of the centre line have been stitched to secure the edges. My machine has a fancy stitch, but a three-stitch zigzag or a couple of rows of plain zigzag would also work. Gordon does the honours and cuts up the middle.
3. The steek, she is cut.4. I decided to take a belt & braces approach and really secure the edges. To do this, I applied a strip of organza bias binding in a 'Hong Kong binding seam finish'. The strip is then folded over to the back and stitched again. There are loads of tutorials on the web which explain it in more detail.
5. This is the finished binding.6. Next, the front edges are folded under and basted together, carefully aligning the pattern.
7. Basting finished, ready to install the zipper.8. The zipper pinned in, and . . .
9. . . . basted. Pinning just isn't enough to keep the layers from shifting.10. The zipper being sewing in with backstitch, with matching yarn and a tapestry needle. I could have installed the zipper by machine, but this would have broken up the pattern with two lines of stitches. Sewing by hand means you have more control over the process, and the stitches aren't as obvious.
11. The finished cardi

17 comments to Whitby, Mrs Laidler Week 8: 17 July

  • Annie

    Oh, beautiful, Margaret, and your directions and photos tell me I can do this – and I’ve never, never even have even been willing to consider it before. Thanks so much!

    • Margaret Reid

      Yes, you can do it! It’s fiddly and time-consuming, but if you’ve done any dressmaking it’s not difficult. & thank you!

  • Lois

    Lovely work, Margaret! I never thought of using a Hong Kong finish, that’s just a perfect way to keep the edge neat. Are you using back stitch to sew the zipper in?

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Lois
      Yes, I am – I meant to put that in the caption but forgot. Thanks for the reminder, I’ve amended the text.

      • Lois

        And another question – how did you stitch the folded edge of the organza down? You did such a neat job that there is no apparent line of stitching showing on the front.

        • Margaret Reid

          I’m not quite sure what you mean, but I’ll have a go anyway. There are two lines of stitching to attach the binding to the seam allowance. The first, as seen in Step 4, attaches the binding to the SA. Then the binding is wrapped around the SA, and stitched down ‘in the ditch’, next to the previous seam in the binding. Hope this makes sense!

          • Lois

            Yes, that’s what I meant. Thanks for such a detailed illustration of the process.

  • Linda Abraham

    Absolutely beautiful work Margaret and Gordon!! It makes the steeking process seem less terrifying. I look forward to Mondays because of your blogs. Totally delightful and valuable learning experience! Thank you both!!

  • Jane

    Gorgeous work, Gordon and Margaret, and thank you so much for the step by step with photos, masterly. I particularly like that the zipper is put in by hand, a really good look! Take care!

  • Lynne

    Great instructions and photos on the steeking, Margaret and Gordon. Just one more question: when backstitching by hand, how long a stitch did you take?

    • Margaret Reid

      As short as possible! Also, frequently checking the back of the work to see if the stitching was too close to the zipper teeth.

  • =Tamar

    I see you sew the zipper in from the front, having first basted it into place. I’d never thought of doing that, but it makes perfect sense.

  • Jenny

    Margaret, thanks for the wonderful and clear photos and step-by-step instructions on the cardiganification of Gordon’s work. Steeking is one thing I’ve never had the nerve to do but you have given me the courage to give it a go hopefully on my next gansey project.

    To follow up on Lynne’s question, are the floats of your back stitches equal for front and back so they almost equal machine stitching? Or do you have longer floats on the back and short on the front?

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Jenny
      Apols for the delay in replying. The stitch is a ‘prick stitch’ or ‘pick stitch’, which is a backstitch with a short stitch length on the front of the work. On the back, in this case, the stitches were also very short due to the angle of the needle and the thickness of the layers of knitting and zipper. So the stitches on front and back are about equal, but they are spaced out. So not like machine stitching at all. Hope this makes sense!

  • Jenny

    Yes, I do. Thanks Margaret.

  • Laurie Kilner

    Brilliant! Thank you for sharing this process Margaret. x

    Gordon, I am with you on hot footing it to another project. I travel I do take the minimal necessary in knitting. Worried they may take my needles or something at the airport. I cannot leave my needles empty even for one night. I need at least a cast on row, and it does give you a jump into the next project. I am quite worried lest the airport keep my needles, I keep the least expensive pair, bargin store quality. It won’t hurt quite as much if the take these. I pack the main project in my suitcase if on a longer trip, and my husband says…your not bringing that! Every time we go through, as he packs enough camera equipment, just in case. Ahh such is retirement.

    • Gordon

      Hi Laurie, and thanks. Having Margaret explaining knitting and sewing to me is a bit like sitting down with a nuclear physicist and having them explain quantum mechanics with sock puppets!

      Ha, like you I don’t trust airports to honour their words and let me take metal needles on a plane. So I have a few old circular needles, bent out of shape and with the enamel scraped off down the years, which I can afford to lose—I reckon at worst I can just slide them out and hand them over, and the stitches should mostly keep their shape enough till I reach my destination. (I have toyed with the idea of secreting 2.25mm circular needles at all of my friends’ and families’ homes just in case—but that way lies madness, I feel.)

      Ah, retirement. I remember when that seemed so far away the Second Coming looked more likely. Now it’s within a decade. I have a bad feeling about where this is going…!

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