August 14, 2006

Paging a smaller fisherman

The ladies are back and order disorder is restored. I remember what it's like now to have no phone, no food and no quiet. It's all coming back to me. I'm not sure I mind though, except for the abbreviated work-day. That really bothers me. Trying to cram a whole days worth of work into the few hours/moments/seconds of peace per day that three teens affords you? Tense.

Might not allow much work time, but it's pretty good for knitting time.


Here's Joe's handspun gansey, moving right along. I cast on 200 stitches and knit 6.5 cm of 1X1 ribbing, then increased to 228 and began working in Stockinette.

A bunch of you have asked for more information about Ganseys, so I'll try to explain about them as I go. For starters, a gansey is a fishermans sweater of a construction that predates other sweater types (like Aran) from the British Isles. Ganseys, unlike Arans were not knit for commercial sale, they were working sweaters and every characteristic of a gansey was knit for a practical reason.

Allegedly, both Ganseys and Arans were knit with particular patterns to help identify drowned sailors. This has turned out (probably, depending on who you believe) to be untrue of Arans. The legends surrounding the meaning and significance of the patterning of Aran sweaters were likely developed in this century as part of a completely charming marketing ploy. (I actually find this pretty intriguing by itself. The idea that knitters came up with the Aran sweater and it's legends to supplement their meagre incomes is fantastical to me. I love stories of genuine resourcefulness.) There is very little in the way of photographs or actual historical evidence to support the idea that anybody was really knitting (or wearing) Arans until pretty recently, when they were adapted from the Gansey, and supplemented with the particular Irish artistic sensibility. They were knit for beauty.

Ganseys on the other hand, were actually worn by fishermen (and were often knit as betrothal gifts by the fisherman's lovie) and as such have some very practical details. (More on that later when I knit the very practical details.) For starters, they use a very sturdy double cast-on (or other strong techniques) to make them wear better, they are knit from a tightly spun yarn worked at a tight gauge to repel wind and water, and because the patterns were passed on knitter to knitter, by watching or telling, the patterns used vary from town to town across the British Isles. (In Gladys Thompsons cool book she collected these patterns by region.)
After a couple of rounds I knit in Joe's initials.


This is a traditional feature of a gansey, allegedly for identifying a drowned sailor. (Another feature of the gansey is that it is close fitting, so as not to wash off in the water.) Joe is a fine sailor, and unlikely to wear his gansey swimming, but I thought that it was best to include this. If I'm going to knit a handspun traditional gansey then I might as well go all out. This is an appallingly poor photo, but the initials read J D.

From here I just have to go on and on and on, around and around and around doing nothing but knitting until it measures....well. I don't know what it should measure, I'm sort of flying by the seat of my pants. I'll keep holding it up to Joe until it looks right. (I think this is also a very traditional approach.) I know it's not long enough now, so I haven't even measured it or him.

What I do know, now that I've knit a bunch of gansey, is that I am definitely not going to have enough yarn. I knit the ribbing out of one ball, then joined another ball and started alternating rows. (This is an attempt to hide any inconsistency in my spinning from one ball to the next.) I've just run out of the first ball, and I only have 13, so clearly....


I needed to wash more fleece. I'm trying not to be crushed by this realization (and have drunk a great deal of coffee and eaten a great deal of chocolate on the path to acceptance) and to embrace the opportunity to spin more wonderful yarn for this great sweater. (Sigh.)
The only thing comforting me, considering the long history of the gansey, is that I really can't be the first knitter who sat there watching her wool run out and thought "Man. In my next life, I'm going to love a smaller fisherman."

Posted by Stephanie at August 14, 2006 5:37 PM