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Wick 8: 3 – 9 February

WK140209a First, a public service announcement. When applying spray-on underarm deodorant, do not, and this is very important, look in the direction of the spray with your mouth open, especially if your aim is bad. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Moving on. Having reached the stage in life that many men come to, when a visit to the barber’s doesn’t so much reveal a tonsure to rival Brother Cadfael’s as the summit of Mount Etna rising above the cloud layer, and a haircut becomes a sort of inverted shoeshine, I decided to invest in a pair of those do-it-yourself electric clippers.

Well, it’s a lot of fun, though my approach really has more to do with sheep shearing than anything you’d recognise as hairdressing. They cut quite short – 15mm is the longest setting – which leaves me looking rather intense, like someone just returned from penal servitude in Botany Bay. I find that if I’m stuck in a long queue in the Post Office all I have to do is let my eyes bulge, dribble some saliva down my chin and growl in a sort of throaty undertone and the line just melts away.

WK140209bIt also has the benefit that I no longer have to bother with barbers’ small talk, which in Caithness consists of the wind, holidays, rain, existential terror, the wind again and how far a hat will travel in a good easterly. (And why do hairdressers have such cold fingers?)

On the gansey, I’ve completed one of the right-angled shoulder straps and begun the other. No videos this time, sorry, because I’m still feeling my way. (I plan to do this same technique on my next gansey, though, and will hopefully do a proper video then.)

WK140209cBriefly, the technique I’ve settled on goes like this. First, decrease by 25% on the final row of each shoulder, ready for the shoulder strap. This is because you knit more stitches horizontally than you do rows vertically by a ratio of about 4:3; and as you are knitting the shoulder strap at right angles to the body, if you don’t you’ll end up with too many rows relative to the body and your shoulder will ruck up like a switchback.

Now, you’ll have the two needles (back and front sides) ready, with all the shoulder stitches on them for whichever shoulder you’re knitting. Orientate them so the neckline will be the closest point to you and the armhole will be farthest away. It’s like looking down a gorge.

WK140209dCast on about 2 inches’ worth of stitches onto the left-hand needle. These stitches will form the foundation of your shoulder strap (for this pattern, I cast on 20: 18 for the pattern and 1 at each side to join to the body). Now you’re ready to get started. (And remember, you only need 2 needles to do this.)

Knit the first row of your pattern, right to left, transferring the stitches onto your right-hand needle as you go, in the usual way. When you get to the last of your cast-on stitches, knit it together with the first body stitch (they’re both on the same needle so it’s easy to knit the two together). You now have a thin line of stitches bridging the two needles like a rope ladder across a gorge – that’s your first full shoulder row.

0208aTurn the jumper over so the underside, or reverse side, is facing you. (It’s upside down now.) Slip the stitch you just decreased onto your new right-hand needle without any further knitting (each of the end stitches are purely there to join the shoulder with the body).  Knit another row of your pattern, but as a purl row this time because it’s inverted – i.e., standard front-and-back knitting. At the end, join the last shoulder stitch and the next shoulder stitch together with a purl two together decrease, as before.

Turn it right way up again. Slip the first stitch onto your right-hand needle. Knit a regular knit row. At the end, decrease/join another two stitches. Turn it over. Slip the first stitch. Knit a purl row. Decrease/join another two stitches, turn it right way up again. And, as they say, so on.

As ever, it’s easier to do than to describe. Which you’d have to say, is lucky for all of us…

10 comments to Wick 8: 3 – 9 February

  • Lynne

    That first shoulder strap looks great, Gordon! and, yes, it IS easier to do than to describe. Do most Scottish gansey patterns have a saddle shoulder strap? I knew the Hebridean ganseys do – it just looks so classy!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, the shoulder strap seems to have been a Scottish signature, as it were, either knitted at right angles like this one or else knit up from the front and joined at the back (and more) – makes the ol’ rig’n’fur’ look a bit dull…

  • Jane

    What lovely work. You must be very pleased with it. I like the way the colour of your ganseys always seems to co-ordinate with the weather photos! It looks a bit calmer in Wick now, also calmer down here in Southern England.

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, yes, more by luck than judgment probably! Luckily the house didn’t burn down when I knit the bright red gansey last year… Hope the weather stays calm your way over the next few days – it’s looking rough on the news.

  • Sue G.

    Your sweater looks great and your explanation made sense. When you get to the end of the strap, please say if you bind off or leave the live stitches to be used for the sleeve. I learn quite a bit from your sweaters.

    Yesterday I picked up the gansey I started for myself awhile back. Lets just say you’ve made a few sweaters since this one began. As I was trying to identify the knits and purls of forest green, I realized that either I had to complete a gansey over the summer, when there’s sunlight, or choose a lighter color for winter work.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue,

      When I get to the end I usually keep the stitches “live” so I can continue the pattern down the sleeve. This one will only be a short band above the elbow, but when you start a cable at the neck and run it all the way down to the cuff it’s pretty cool. I’m surprised how easy it’s been to knit a navy gansey this winter – but Margaret suggests draping a white towel or sheet over your lap to help you see better when doing dark things in low light – plus it keeps you warm!

  • Nigel

    Gordon, the idea of decreasing by 25 per cent on the final row is very helpful, and far easier than any other method I have read about. You have explained it very well. I completed a shoulder strap of this method when knitting the gansey sampler from Beth Reinsel Brown’s book. It is easier done than written, but well done. Meanwhile, I have completed rig and fur shoulder straps on my navy gansey and also done the collar. I am, chuffed to bits 😉

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel, and congratulations! You’ve (almost literally) broken the back of it. The sleeves just zip along compared to what you’ve done so far. In the meantime, pour a glass of something golden and relaxing (such as, I don’t know, maple syrup) and toast your progress!

  • =Tamar

    Thank you for the detailed tutorial. If I ever knit a gansey, I plan to knit a Scottish one, or at least Scottish influenced, so this kind of information is vital. Stay warm!

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Tamar — I’ve found that 16 layers of clothes and a certain amount of righteous indignation about football referees helps enormously!


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