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Wick Trees and Diamonds Revisited: Week 5 – 31 January

And so we find ourselves already 1/12 of the way though the year, and my phone informs me there are only 329 sleeps till Christmas, or about 500 if you include afternoon naps. Winter isn’t going down without a fight, though: we’ve had a weekend of winds of around 70 mph, and yet we can’t feel sorry for ourselves as so many others, here and in New England, have had it worse. Visitors to the house compliment us on our slate driveway, only to be told they’ve all come off the roof. It’s been wild. The only compensation is finding out what the neighbours have been buying, as all the street’s recycling is whisked out of the bins and scattered across everyone’s front lawns.

I was reading the other day about Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy (I’d been hoping his brothers were called The Bad and The Ugly, but sometimes history can be disappointing). Philip (1395-1467) is mostly remembered nowadays as a patron of Jan van Eyck, and it was his troops that captured Joan of Arc, whom Philip handed over to the English. But to me he will always be the man who renovated Hesdin Castle. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it? It was first built by Robert II of Artois (1250-1302), and under Robert, and then later Philip, it became famous for its practical jokes.

The Herring Mart

We don’t usually think of the Middle Ages as pioneers of vaudeville and the whoopee cushion, but perhaps we should. Hesdin featured such simple tricks as statues that sprayed water over anyone who stood in front of them, or a book of music that covered you with soot if you tried to turn the pages. One mirror invited you to see what you would look like covered in flour, and duly obliged. Other pranks were more elaborate. One window was designed so that if you tried to open it an automaton appeared, sprayed you with water, and slammed it shut again. In the grounds was a bridge that would tip people into the water below, surely the prototype for Blofeld’s piranha tank in You Only Live Twice. Compared with this, if you only encountered the mechanical talking owl you’d probably count yourself lucky.

Waves at South Head

Meanwhile in parish notices, this week we’re featuring this splendid gansey from John. It’s a Flamborough design, and features a combination of betty martin, cables, moss stitch and a variety of open, moss stitch and double moss stitch diamonds. It’s also very ably modelled by John himself. Many congratulations to John, and our thanks to everyone who’s shared their projects with us.

As I shelter from the wind, and scroll through Yellow Pages for suppliers of automata and soot, I’m making good progress on the Wick gansey, helped of course by the fact that’s it’s so much smaller than my usual commissions. The armhole came to 120 stitches in the round, not including the gusset; by decreasing 2 stitches every 5 rows I’ll have about 70 stitches at the cuff (i.e., after 16 inches), which I shall decrease down to 63-66 stitches for the cuff itself. Then we do it all again on the other sleeve.

View from the end of the path

Hesdin Castle was tragically demolished in 1553, presumably by a visitor who couldn’t take a joke. Though I expect guests knew perfectly well what they were in for, like contestants in a modern game show, and getting covered in soot or flour, or dumped in feathers, was all part of the experience. And it’s a bit like living in Wick: you never know when you’re going to get unexpectedly sprayed with water, or knocked off your feet. In fact, now I think of it, all we need are some mechanical monkeys in badger fur and we could revitalise the tourist trade at a stroke…

6 comments to Wick Trees and Diamonds Revisited: Week 5 – 31 January

  • =Tamar

    Wasn’t Philip Artois known as Philip the Mad? or was that made up by the author of the book I read?

    Anyway, John’s gansey is marvelous.

    I sympathize from a safe distance, as so far I have escaped severe weather here in MD, aside from occasional chill that will freeze my fingers if I walk ten feet outdoors without gloves to get the mail. After which one needs the nap under the duvet.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I don’t know about the counts of Artois. The closest I could find when I looked this up was Philip (the Handsome) of Castile, who married Joan the Mad. Our current royal family must be very glad this practice of nicknames has died out!

      Hope it warms up soon. We’ve had snow here, but it turns to rain later on, as it usually does here.

  • Betsy Rogers

    Hi Gordon – so nice to find your website and that it is active and has wonderful stories and ganseys!! Loved the Cape Cod reference – I have long family history with Cape Cod and met my husband there. I am gradually approaching my first gansey and in the intense research phase plus making a “sampler” so that I can understand all the construction elements. I would really like to knit it in Navy Blue for my brother, a true sailor, but I am worried about how dark that is. I just finished a child’s sweater in black with a detailed design and it was so difficult to see the stitches. Any advice here would be helpful. Should I start with a light color? How do you see into the depths of dark wool??

  • Gordon

    Hi Betsy, delighted you found us!

    My current project is in navy. In low lighting the pattern isn’t obvious, but e.g., in sunlight it really stands out. I would normally knit a pattern that intricate in a lighter colour, because the lighter the colour, the better the pattern stands out. But (a) navy was the traditional colour, and (b) it’s still my favourite colour for a gansey!

    For what it’s worth, if you plan on knitting a relatively simple pattern, or one that has lots of repetitions and clear lines – like typical Filey, Flamborough, Whitby patterns, I mean, diamonds, cables, moss stitch, betty Martin, ladders, those sorts of things – then navy will be absolutely fine. But a really intricate one like the one I’m knitting now, unless you’re committed to navy, maybe think about a slightly lighter colour? (But that’s just, like, my opinion, man…)

    • Gordon

      Ps, Frangipani has a range of “navy” yarns – their basic navy is relatively light, whereas their dark navy and Falmouth navy shades are (as you’d expect) darker, and closer to what used to be supplied as “navy” when I started knitting ganseys 30-odd years ago (from Poppletons and Wendy, etc.)

      So that might be a solution. If you don’t have a colour card from Frangipani, you can give them a call and they’ll send you a sample to see what it looks like “in the flesh”, as it were.

  • Betsy Rogers

    Thanks, Gordon. I just asked them to send me a colour card – I love the darker navy but I think I’ll start with a lighter colour and then, if I get hooked, I’ll do a really dark one. Thanks for the guidance – it is very helpful. And best luck on the weather – I live in Colorado in the US and we have cold and snow (in good years) but also lots of sunshine. It helps!

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