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.
It 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.)
Briefly, 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.
Cast 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.
Turn 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…