There’s quite a lot to cover this week, starting with how we approached the yoke pattern of Fergus’s gansey. But if you’d rather skip the technicalities and go straight to the regular blog—and let’s be honest, who could blame you?—then Click here.
Are we alone? Have they all gone? OK, then. (Warning: maths ahoy!)
Now, here’s the problem we ran into: the row gauge of Fergus’s gansey changes quite dramatically at the start of the yoke. Up to now what I’ve been knitting matches the body of the gansey in the original photograph pretty closely. But now there are no fewer than 200 rows from the gussets to the shoulders.
My standard row gauge is currently about 10.5 to the inch—if I recreated Fergus’s yoke pattern exactly it would be almost 20 inches long! (We’ve charted out the original pattern, so you can see what it consists of.)
On the other hand, the (horizontal) stitch gauge is about the same. Go figure.
Anyway, there’s no way I can reproduce Fergus’s original pattern under these circumstances, not at that scale. So we had to compromise. Basically, what we did was this: we calculated that the central tree consisted of about 50% of the height of the pattern, and the two centre diamonds about 25% each.
Now, given my current row gauge we had about 100 rows to play with, give or take, so the maths are really simple. We made each centre diamond 25 rows high, and the central tree about 50 rows.
But! There’s a catch. Making the centre panels shorter vertically also necessarily made them narrower horizontally—and remember that the stitch gauge stayed about the same. So we had to play around with the pattern to get it to fit. In the end we achieved this by widening the side panel diamonds and also the moss stitch rows used to separate pattern bands (instead of having these one stitch wide, we made them 3 stitches wide, copying the pattern from the body so it would all be in keeping with the original).
It’s a compromise, of course. But hopefully the overall effect will look roughly similar, even if it’s not so fine as the original. (How on earth did she do it?)
Anyway, that’s enough of that. Time to take a deep breath and rejoin the others.
One of the reasons why I enjoy working with archives—apart from the fact that I get to sit indoors out of the rain and sometimes receive chocolates at Christmas—is the way it telescopes the past and the present, closing the distance between them until it’s as thin as a sheet of letter paper. Here’s an instance I came across last week. It’s a story from the First World War, so you’ll forgive me if the tone is rather more serious than usual.
We were recently given a collection of letters from the family of Sinclair Macdonald, the celebrated Thurso architect, relating to the war service of his son, who’d been christened John but was known as Ian.
Ian had served in the Middle East but in April 1918 he was made 2nd lieutenant and posted to the Western Front. This was at the time of the great German offensive, a last desperate attempt to win the war before America could turn the tide in the Allies’ favour. It nearly succeeded: the Germans broke through French and British lines and suddenly trench warfare was a thing of the past, all was chaos and confusion and movement as the Germans surged towards Paris and the Allies frantically tried to throw together a last-ditch defence.
On 11 April Ian Macdonald was posted as missing. He’d gone on patrol one night with another officer and wasn’t seen again. Next day there was a German attack, the British were forced to retreat and the officer he’d accompanied was found dead. But Ian had vanished in the darkness of the night.
For two weeks the family was left in uncertainty as to whether he’d been killed or captured. Two officers with the same initials had been lost on the same day, one of them killed, and no one knew if either of them was Ian. (To make matters worse no one even knew if he’d been registered with the army as Ian or John.)
It’s impossible to read the letters without experiencing something of what the family must have gone through. Two weeks! Can you imagine? There are letters of support and encouragement from family and friends, as you’d expect. Eventually the news came through: Ian was alive, a prisoner, and at last his name was posted in the paper.
Then I read a heartrending letter from a lady in Ross-shire. She’d read the news of Ian’s capture in The Scotsman. She had a son in the same regiment, but he was still posted as missing; how had Sinclair Macdonald learned that Ian was alive? How might she discover the situation of her own son? (I looked her up and found she’d already lost one son at Gallipoli, at which point I had to get up from my computer and go for a walk and think about something else for a while.)
Ian survived the war, though his health never recovered. Now, like almost everyone who lived through that dreadful war, he’s passed into history. And yet—through the words of his family and friends recorded in letters like these—they’re not quite lost to us.