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Wick III – Fergus Ferguson: 17 April

3W160418-1 I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been suffering from one of these long-lasting colds. It’s nothing serious, just a cold, but it’s come and gone for many weeks now, not changing very much; to quote one of my favourite examples of bad verse (attributed to the former poet laureate Alfred Austin): “O’er the wires the electric message came / He is no better; he is much the same”.

(This is not the best example of bad verse I’ve come across: that honour must go to James Grainger for his immortal line, “Come, muse, let us sing of rats”. Though Wordsworth deserves a mention for this wonderfully trite couplet: “I’ve measured it from side to side / Tis three feet long and two feet wide”.)

Poetic licence aside, last week the cold did get a little worse, obliging me to take some time off work. I didn’t feel so bad sitting down, but when I stood up I was at once in touch with my inner 85 year-old and started wheezing a curiously high-pitched squeak, like someone inflating a bicycle tyre by rhythmically squeezing a mouse. I keep hoping spring will come and get rid of all this nonsense, but since it was just 4ºC over the weekend with snow and hail—a Caithness heat wave—and today the winds are 50-60mph, that may take a while.

2W160418-1Still, lots of knitting. You may remember a while back I highlighted some superb old photographs from the Johnston Collection of Wick fishermen wearing ganseys. Frustratingly, you can’t see them just now as the website is down; but one of them featured a man called Fergus Ferguson and his highly decorated gansey—a superb example, in some ways resembling a sort of missing link between the Scottish mainland ganseys and those of the Hebrides, and not recorded elsewhere.

3W160418-2I can’t show you the original here for copyright reasons (hopefully the collection will be back online soon) but Fergus’s is the gansey I’ve chosen to try next, this time for Margaret in Frangipani damson. We can’t recreate the pattern exactly, as the sizing and stitch gauge are necessarily different, but after poring over the image we think this is a reasonably close approximation (the chart shown is for the body; I’ll post the yoke pattern next week.)

In parish notices, Judit has sent me a picture of her latest gansey, splendidly modelled by her brother, for whom it was a gift. As ever I am impressed—and not a little envious—of both the execution and fit. Many congratulations once again.

2W160411-1Finally, I leave you with these affecting lines written by the poet George Wither, which I came across in The Book of Heroic Failures, and which have stayed with me ever since. They’re from his tragic poem “I Loved A Lass”:

She would me ‘Honey’ call,
She’d—O she’d kiss me too.
But now alas! She’s left me
Falero, lero, lero.

15 comments to Wick III – Fergus Ferguson: 17 April

  • Hello
    I have admired your knitting. May I ask you what yarn you actually use, and what color it is?

    Thank you.
    Kind regards Inge

  • Gordon

    Hi Inge, I use Guernsey 5-ply yarn, the specialist yarn for ganseys. There are a few suppliers – see our suppliers page for more details – but mostly I use the wool from Frangipani yarn in Cornwall as they have the widest range of colours.

    This Gansey is in their damson yarn. Their website shows the colours and you can order a free colour sample card.

    Hope this helps, Gordon

  • Lois

    That’s a beautiful colour, it ought to show the pattern very well. Curious to see what the yoke pattern looks like.

  • Laura Kilner

    Very lovely

  • Gordon

    Dear Lois and Laura, thank you. The damson is a great colour – it’s what I used for my Thurso gansey last year, currently my go-to heavy jumper. It shows the pattern nicely too.

    The yoke is rather spectacular—it resembles the stars in the night sky, if the stars stopped slouching about and arranged themselves into orderly patterns like trees and diamonds and things… But it keeps you on your toes as the knitter!

  • Katherine Montgomery

    I love that color. I might just have to get some yarn for myself. It sounds like you and Margaret will be twins when you each sport your damson ganseys!

    • Gordon

      Hi Katherine, yes, a matching pair! Though I think I’ll have to start colour-coding my ganseys by season (damson in Autumn, grey in winter, grey in summer and, the way this year is going, grey in spring…)!

  • Hi Gordon
    Thank you. It is really lovely. Think I need a Damson colored gansey 🙂

  • Just want to add that I have send an email to ask for the color card. What a great great service.

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Lovely color although I think I prefer the wonderful BLUE of Judit’s gansey for her brother!!! Lovely job!! And your cold, have you changed your toothbrush??? People forget & keep reinfecting themselves.
    I’m so glad I live on the Wet Coast in the southwest corner of Canada when you talk about your weather. We’re all out in shorts again today working on our gardens. So far, April has been like June.

    • Judit M/Finland

      Dear Sharon,
      Many thanks for your comment on the gansey knitted for my brother ! Here in Finland April is like April: about + 5 C and rain :).

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, yes, I change my toothbrush. I can’t do anything about the evil gnome who comes and breathes germs in my face while i sleep, though… (Serves me right for tricking him out of his magic beans in that card game, I suppose.)

      Unfortunately our April has been like June, too—it’s just that June over here is cold, wet and windy!

  • Jane

    Oh Gordon, excellent, lent, lent! The damson is a glorious colour, and it is a wonderful pattern. I cannot think of a more fitting knit for Margaret, very nice. Doesn’t the pattern pop out beautifully with the yarn and this colour, and is that a hint of the yoke appearing at the top?

    I remain totally convinced that old patterns must and should be kept alive. For me, I felt that the gansey Fergus Ferguson wore in the photograph was rather special, so lovely to see it reproduced! Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, yes i was thinking of you when we charted this one out. Now, I think this is a very interesting pattern—perhaps the most interesting gansey I’ve seen outside a book. For example, it’s mostly a very highly decorated pattern, but the body alternates zig-zags with plain panels. A Hebridean knitter would probably have replaced the plain panel with another pattern (a starfish or diamond, say). But the plain sections give the body a much lighter, more drapey feel than most ganseys.

      There are other interesting points about the yoke, but we’ll come to that next week. In the meantime it’s eyes down and full concentration for some close needle work!

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