Archive Entries for November 2006

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Thursday November 30, 2006

Christina: First ever gansey - complete

OK I admit it. It is very small. It may not fit George. It may not fit anyone over 12 inches in height.


Posted by Christina at 8:57 AM. Category: Ganseys

Wednesday November 29, 2006

Christina: "How to knit a gansey"

After a discussion at Alison's knitting group about how ganseys were originally made, I am posting this information, again taken from the lovely books by Michael Pearson. I need to say two things: this text and pictures are copied verbatim from the book, and this is probably the only source of information I have read; as the statements are sourced from knitters in Scotland and the NE of England, they are clearly true, but overall, there is no one method or technique, and it is also an obvious truth that different areas have different traditions.

Seam Lines
A seam line occurs, made up from a combination of purl and knit stitches, which runs up each side of the gansey. This device is designed to help the correction of the pattern by making a division for front and back. It also provides the base for a gusset, which is knitted under the arm to give freedom of movement, and extend the life of the gansey.

Circular Knitting
The circular knitting technique is the essential feature of ganseys, creating a seamless construction. This traditional method of knitting in the round is more natural to knitting than the more modern method of knitting over two needles. Knitting pieces and sewing them together owes more to dressmaking and tailoring than knitwear. Two needle knitting has arisen to accommodate difficult shapings demanded by fashion trends. The majority of old patterns were in the round. Shetland Islanders mention over and over again: “Never sew when you can knit”, and most people hate sewing the knitted pieces together. Circular knitting is achieved by knitting over 3, or 4 long straight needles.

The “Whisk”
Whisk.jpg To speed up the knitting, apart from the obvious mechanism of the technique, the most significant method was to anchor the working needle so that the knitter can use the fingers of the right hand to move the stitches from the left hand needle. This enabled the average knitter to knit “two cuts a night” (4oz which is 115g), at around 200 stitches a minute. The most popular of these anchors was the sheath or a stick, strapped or pinned to the waist. The stick was about 10 inches long, with a hole at the top for placing the needle. The sheath was made of leather, stuffed with horse hair, and attached to a belt fitted around the waist (see photo).

There were other methods:
Mrs Leith from Orkney: “… leather belts are sometimes used… personally I prefer the safety pin stuck firmly in the bodice, a little above the belt on the right hand side. I have seen a bunch of feathers used, stuck in the belt….”
Mrs Keith from Lossiemouth in 1959: “a ‘wisker’ was a bunch of straw stuffed inside an old sock and tied to the waist…”

The Patterns
The tradition was an aural one – the information and expertise passed down generation after generation. Many of the knitters now too old to knit explained their patterns by repeating the rounds they used to chant, or the pattern was deciphered through close examination of archival photographs taken around 1900. The shape of the gansey relates to bridal shirts and smocks of earlier centuries. The arms and cuffs are knit down from the shoulder and cast off at the cuff (the opposite of modern knitwear), to enable one to repair any worn parts by simply pulling back the past the hole and knitting back down again to the cuff.

Posted by Christina at 11:48 PM. Category: Ganseys