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Wick (John Macleod), Week 6: 31 December

So this is Christmas, as the poet Lennon observed, And what have you done / Three ganseys finished / And a fourth one well begun. Yes, we’re back in a warm, wild and windy Caithness just in time for New Year, which we shall celebrate in the traditional way, i.e., sitting quietly at home, watching other people party on TV—at gunpoint, if the rictuses of forced jollity on the faces of the studio audience are anything to go by.

I’ve never really got the hang of New Year: you force yourself to stay up past your bedtime, feeling wrecked; you count down the hours and minutes to midnight, and then, after you’ve said “Happy New Year!” and “Wa-hey!” a few times, possibly to strangers, and watched the fireworks, that’s about it. Granted you get the excitement of brushing your teeth at about 12.30-1.00am, but is this enough, I hear you ask? I fear not.

On the plus side, living in the far north of Scotland at this time of year you’re unlikely to be woken up by sunlight streaming through the window at some ungodly hour on New Year’s Day: the gods up here don’t wake up till after 9.00am, and even then they’re more likely to just roll over in bed and leave the day to make its own arrangements. No: I’ll take all the Christmas I can get; I’ve never lost the feeling of Christmas as a special, magical, wonderful, cinnamon-spiced, holy time—but New Year for me has all the excitement of watching the car’s milometer turning over.

Sea Stack at Latheronwheel

Ah well, there’s aways knitting. I’ve now divided front and back, and am well embarked on the yoke pattern. And isn’t it splendid? I have to concentrate, and there’s lots of detail to keep track of: but this I think stands the equal of all but the most elaborate Hebridean patterns. Caithness ganseys really deserve to be better known. (More information on the patterns is set out below.)

And now all that remains is to wish you all a very happy New Year, and even, though this is entirely optional, wa-hey!


This gansey makes a change for me, as it’s an attempt to recreate an original gansey as closely as possible. Obviously it’s not possible to do that exactly, as the old knitters, at least in the north-east of Scotland, seem to have knit on finer needles with finer yarn: but as I’m bigger than the average Scottish fisherman of a hundred years ago, using the fine Frangipani yarn it almost works as a like-for-like transcription.

We had to finagle the patterns very slightly to get them to my size (46 inch gansey in the round). To make a gansey in my size, each side of the body has to be 183 stitches. To give me the extra number of stitches I needed, I added one stitch to the moss stitch border on either side (12 stitches rather than 11), and added cables either side of the tree panels (the original just has a purl-knit-purl detail there). With regard to cables, I’m a bit like Slartibartfast from The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy: I tend to add them whether the pattern calls for them or not, as I feel they give a lovely baroque feel to a gansey. But when I added them and found I had almost the exact number of stitches, I felt the hand of destiny on my shoulder…

Another thing to note is the importance of having the yarn-over rows of the central trees happening on an odd, or right-side-facing-forward row. Other, more experienced knitters may feel differently, but I want to do my yarn-overing on a front-facing knit row, not a purl row.

Also, note that the pattern starts below the gussets. This is the case in the original, though mine starts a little earlier to get all the rows in.

I still have no idea if this will work out: whether it will be too wide, too narrow, too short or too tall—or just right. It’s something of an experiment. If nothing else, I can still donate it to the local museum, as was my intention from the start. And speaking of which, many thanks to the Wick Society for giving us access to the high-resolution image of John McLeod in his gansey; and to Margaret for painstakingly charting it out.

20 comments to Wick (John Macleod), Week 6: 31 December

  • Lynne

    Wow! I LOVE this pattern and can’t wait to watch the rest of it develop. Happy New Year.

  • Ginny

    i am with you on the lack of interest in celebrating the new year. A big thank you for your continuing sharing your love of ganseys and your countryside. I enjoy Margaret’s photographs and despite your vivid and loving description of your weather I hope some day to actually experience your corner of Scotland. Another big thanks for the charts for John Macleod’s gansey. I think it is very handsome and it might be the pattern that gets me to knit one. I am not sure I want to do all that body ribbing but I don’t mind not being authentic to the original. Although I am not keen on new year celebrations I do want to wishing you and Margaret a wonderful year.

    • Gordon

      Hi Ginny, and thank you. It’s not a hard pattern to knit, though all those yarnovers do require a bit of concentration. Remember, the charts are for the original pattern; as I did, you can of course customise them to suit.

  • Dave

    Well my car has just rolled over 312 and for me that was a lot more exciting than what may be the year of leaving the EU (am I the only one to hate the b word ?). So, we have a tradition of a few years now of having an early drink and an early night – starts the new year off a treat. I quite liked a piece of advice received earlier today – lift up your left leg at midnight and ensure you start the new year on the right foot.

    Happy new year!

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, I am much of your way of thinking. Plus, if you have an early night, you get to ring your neighbours’ doorbells at 7.00am next day to wish them a happy new year!

  • =Tamar

    That is a glorious pattern!

    I actually enjoy watching the odometer roll over. Recently I had the pleasure of noticing when it read 88888, just like those digital fuel pumps just before they go to 00000.
    Simple pleasures.

    But how can lifting the left leg ensure starting on the right foot? The first step would then be made with the left foot. Or is it just me being thick and not realizing he’s only referring to standing still on one foot, and not to first-footing?

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, there was a British comedy sketch once of a self-service petrol station. The customer was painstakingly inching the counter up to exactly £10.00; the counter crept up, and the just as it reached the exact amount he released the handle and returned it to its cradle… at which point the guy in the kiosk, with a malicious grin, pressed a button on his desk and the counter clicked over to £10.01!

      • =Tamar

        That’s the glory of the 88888 before the 00000 – it’s in advance. If they made it go to 00001 before I started pumping, they’d be breaking the law by false recording of amount pumped, and I could call the inspectors.

  • Colin Reid

    Watching the odometer roll over – can be very exciting !!!

    • Gordon

      Hi Colin, no offence intended! Though I did think of you when I wrote that and wondered if you’d notice… Happy new year!

  • Jane

    A joy, just wonderful this gansey. I hoped it would be interesting, and it exceeds! Great colour for the stitchwork, and charts too, thank you so much.

    All the best for the coming year. Nothing beats a quiet evening with a cup of coffee at this time!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, and a happy new year to you. I doff my hat to whoever knit the original – Mrs MacLeod, I presume? It really is a work of art.

  • Dee

    What an interesting pattern! It’s looking great. I suppose you couldn’t go far wrong following Slartibartfast’s example.

    I am not looking forward to staying up past my bedtime either, but a Happy New Year to you and Margaret!

  • Dee

    P.S. Apologies for the late wishes, I am in a part of the world that hasn’t caught up yet.

    • Gordon

      Happy new year to you Dee, and thank you. It’s a Sunday best gansey, and no mistake. Though the lace tree pattern with all the holes now has me wondering about designing a Gansey vest…

  • meg macleod

    Dear Gordon, full of admiration for your gansey wisdom….Happy New year!
    I remember long ago on a moonlit night walking the frosty roads of the west at the midnight hour watching the year move across the world arriving at a friends house where freshly made shortbread and a `dram` was waiting..and the sound of bagpipes filling the air….something special in that memory…i think of my friends across the other side of the world watching the clock knowing that we are connecting across timelines as yesterday turns into tomorrow and although like yourself I turn off the awful television celebrations before midnight and have a last cup of tea in the old year….there can be something magical about the moment..if you want it to be……..waking up without a headache is a good start!!!! Im with you on that….looking forward to your 2019 adventures.x

  • Gordon

    Hello Meg, and a very happy new year to you too! That’s a special memory, and I have to say the freshly made shortbread would make any new year’s special (and a dram only sweetens the deal).

    The BBC have, disappointingly, managed to ruin the fireworks broadcast from Edinburgh at midnight; so next year I think we’ll celebrate new year in Europe at 11.00pm, thus striking our own blow against the madness that is Brexit, and go to bed instead!

  • Judit M / Finland

    Gordon, I think that those who choose Brexit did not know the meaning of it. And those who were against it did not go to the polls. It´s a pity.
    The pattern of this gansey is one one the most interesting I have ever seen, congratulations !
    Wishing to you both a healthy and happy new knitting year and thanks Margaret for the photos !

  • twinsetellen

    We did New Year’s Eve on a 3-yr-old’s schedule. He can’t tell time yet, so we celebrated at 8:30pm, he went to bed, and an hour later all of the gathered aunts, uncles, nanas and grandpas did, too. Very satisfactory*.

    Happy New Year to you and yours, and thank you for the holiday gift of those charts. The gansey is looking splendid.

    *Though the danger of explaining “next year” to a 3-yr-old is that when he says he wants to start the advent calendar up again and you say we have to wait for next year, he tells you on January 1 that it is now next year. Lessons in being specific about what one is saying…

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