Knit the Look: The Crown’s cardigans

Knit the Look: The Crown's cardigans

I’ve heard it said that Neflix’s spectacular “The Crown” has the biggest budget of any TV series in history, and it’s easy to believe — the sheer number of extras, sets, locations, costumes. It often seems you’ve seen an entire movie’s worth of people and outfits before the opening credits begin.  And gosh, the young Queen Elizabeth’s cardigans alone — a truly dizzying array of them (pink, black, peacock, khaki …) — must have cost a pretty penny! It leaves me wondering whether she really spent nearly every day of her life in one, and how many there were in her royal closet. (Just a few on repeat? She seems so sensible.) But if it leaves you wondering how to knit a similar one for yourself, I’d recommend Churchmouse’s Quintessential Cardigan pattern, which is written for lace-weight yarn held double and knitted on 5s for a nice light fabric (though not as ultra-fine-gauge as the machine-knit costume ones), and which also includes details on how to customize the length of both the body and sleeves. One of the recommended yarns is Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze, and while I don’t think I’ve seen the Queen wear a mohair sweater, it was certainly all the rage in the ’50s. Kidsilk Haze comes in several of the show’s colors, including “Drab,” which looks about like the one she’s wearing above. The other recommended yarn is Shibui’s Lunar (pictured), a luxurious merino-silk blend that might suit Her Majesty. Or of course, there’s always cashmere.

Does anyone here know, seriously, what the Queen might have preferred?

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PREVIOUSLY in Knit the Look: Marthe Wiggers’ vintage-chic pullover

Queue Check — April 2018

Queue Check — April 2018

My little sweatshirt-style sweater vest is coming along, as you can see. Between the stockinette doldrums of it, and working too many late nights the past few weeks, it’s taking longer than it rightly should. But it’s currently drying on the blocking board (and surely sleeveless weather is just around the corner), so I need to make some decisions about the edge treatments! I think what I’m going to do is pick and knit 2×2 ribbed bands around the neck and armholes, then see how it hangs. Depending where it hits at the hip, I might pick up stitches and knit a waistband — ribbed? folded and hemmed stockinette? not sure yet! Or, if the length is good as is, I might just do some kind of attached I-cord edge to persuade it to lie flat. Either way, let’s hope I’m wearing it soon. (No pattern; yarn details here.)

The only other thing I have in progress at the moment is the latest in my series of Log Cabin Mitts. They’ve been waiting for their thumbs since around the time I cast on this sweater. When I do get a little knitting time, it feels wrong not to work on that, and so these have languished. Also, this particular pair is not as conducive to being picked up and advanced a little in the gaps here and there, as the blue is natural indigo. In other words, knitting them in the passenger seat on the way to somewhere would mean arriving with blue fingers. That sort of thing! But I’m quite eager to finish them off and further the next pair.

Next up are two accessory projects I can’t talk about, which leaves me pondering what the next garment will be. At the same time, I’m plotting my Summer of Basics plans and other considerations. So for the moment, I’ll just get those secret accessories underway …

Blocking mats and stitch markers at Fringe Supply Co.

PREVIOUSLY in Queue Check: March 2018

New Favorites: Blanket temptations

New Favorites: Blanket temptations

Purl Soho, always an amazing source of killer blanket patterns, has been back at it lately. I still think if I ever knit a blanket, it will almost certainly have to happen in modular (i.e. log cabin) fashion, but these two are super tempting — and by the way both are free knitting patterns:

TOP: Nature’s Palette Blanket by Joelle Hoverson is an even more lyrical and painterly version of her long-ago Ombré Blanket but also brings to mind one of the first patterns I ever fell in love with as a knitter, their Striped Cotton Cowl. (Both discussed in this 2012 post, The other breed of colorwork.) Whereas the cowl had you holding a strand of randomly changing color along with a persistent strand of natural, the new blanket has you holding a rich range of colors together, alternating them along the way to create deep, mesmerizing color shifts.

BOTTOM: Double Knit Blanket by Jake Canton is, on the other, such a simple but effective thought — just two layers of stockinette “glued” together with a single stitch here and there — and double knitting has been on my list of things to try since the day I bought Joelle’s book as a shiny new knitter, thinking its double-knit coasters would be one of my first projects. I’ve still never done it! But think how cozy the blanket would be, and how fun to pick your colors.

Both would also be amazing knitted in wrap proportions — the blanket you get to wear everywhere.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Date night sweaters

What I Know About: Gansey origins (with Deb Gillanders)

What I Know About: Gansey origins (with Deb Gillanders)

When I first posted that seemingly innocuous photo of Daniel Day-Lewis wearing his splendid gansey, I did not imagine anything like where it has led. I’ve spent loads of time since then in conversation with assorted people about their knowledge of these sweaters, fielding recommendations and following leads, reading the informed comments on that and the follow-up post, and most of all exchanging emails with Deb Gillanders, above, of Propagansey, who reached out after the initial post and has been filling me in on so much of what I was wanting to know! So of course, I asked if I could pick her brain a bit on behalf of all of you, and interview her for the blog. Ganseys are a rich well in the land of knitting history — tables full of books have been written on the subject — and we’re just scratching the surface here, but be sure to check out the resources at the end, and pattern suggestions here

. . .

So Deb, how did you first become interested in Ganseys?

My interest in Ganseys began some years ago when I met a retired trawlerman at a party; he was telling a scurrilous tale and wearing a beautiful old blue patinated Gansey that he’d knitted himself. I was hooked.

As Propagansey I sell Frangipani wool, attend wool shows and give talks and workshops on Ganseys and their yarns. I also curate an annual exhibition every September in Robin Hoods Bay. When I began, over 10 years ago, I thought I was doing well to show two dozen or so but it’s now probably the biggest display of its kind in the world, with well over 100 Ganseys old and new from around UK and Holland.

Ok, so first let’s talk about that: UK and Holland, or country of origin. I think most knitters have a general sense of what a gansey is (and you can set me straight on any fine distinctions here) — A type of fisherman’s sweater most closely associated with Great Britain, typically navy blue, that features a mix of stitch patterns (from simple to complex, sometimes cables but often just knits and purls) often contained to the upper part of the sweater, along with seamless construction and a distinctive underarm gusset. It’s often said that they’re called Ganseys (or Guernseys) because they originated in the Channel island of Guernsey, but that’s thought to be a myth, correct? They’re not just a UK thing — you mentioned Holland as well. And they’re distinct from that other famous fisherman’s sweater, the heavily cabled, typically ivory, Aran sweater. Where are the geographical boundaries between ganseys and jerseys and aran sweaters, fuzzy though they may be?

I hope purists will forgive me if, for the sake of brevity, I say that although the origins of the Channel Islands’ Guernsey and the more northern Gansey were possibly different, they evolved into almost identical garments, and the history is probably not worth unpicking. More recent developments have been more date-able; there was a revival of the Aran before WW2 and around the same time the Eriskay Gansey appeared; this seems to have been the brainchild of a local lady who designed a Gansey with the upper and lower body bearing different patterns. Also, in the 1930s tuna fishing became extremely popular off the Yorkshire coast with many well-heeled recreational fishermen coming to places like Scarborough for this sport — they saw the local Ganseys, wanted a special version for themselves, and thus was born the white Gansey for ‘Best.’ Around the same time, Channel Island Parishes were being altered, with some deciding to mark the occasion and promote their identity with a new motif for their Guernseys. So all these human activities had an impact on what we now think of as ‘traditional’ Arans, Guernseys, etc. As for geographical areas, Arans are still associated with the Aran Islands; the Channel Island cod fishermen took their word Jersey across the Atlantic with them and it now denotes a sweater that differs from Guernsey/Gansey in construction and use of more than one colour; and as fishermen from around the North Sea converged on the annually migrating shoals of herring it’s no surprise to find both Dutch and British fishermen wearing blue garments, patterned and knitted in the round. This seamless construction is not only unlikely to fall apart in heavy-duty working conditions, it’s also very easy to effect repairs. The Dutch word is Visserstruien.

Within the realm of Ganseys, there are varieties associated with different ports or regions — this is the part I’ve been digging into more since all that erupted in the wake of my initial Daniel Day-Lewis post. In particular, there are several patterns and references to “a Staithes” as the sub-type of gansey DDL is wearing. And I’ve also seen references to a historical figure named Henry Freeman, survivor of multiple disasters, who famously wore such a gansey in famous photos. This super-simple version almost looks to me like a starter gansey — like maybe you would have learned this and then gone on to knit more elaborate ones. But is that a logical assumption in any way, or is it in fact tied to a specific place, Staithes? Or even more specifically to Henry Freeman somehow? I noted before that Gladys Thompson and Penny Straker both have published “Staithes” patterns with their notes referencing one in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection, but I haven’t been able to turn up a photo of the one they’ve apparently modeled their patterns on. So what’s the story on Staithes?

Staithes is a small, scenic, isolated ex-fishing village 12 miles north of Whitby. (Look out for the scene in Phantom Thread with a chapel behind them further up the hill where they’re walking down a street together — yes, that’s Staithes!)

There are two Gansey patterns associated with, although not exclusive to, Staithes: one in the V&A is a vertical pattern involving cable and moss, very similar to Robin Hoods Bay, about 6 miles south of Whitby; the other, associated with the Verrill family, is DDL’s. I’ve attached a photo of James Verrill (see photo above) modelling his Gansey rather successfully outside Old St. Stephen’s Church, where Propagansey 2015 was held. A ‘Staithes Gansey’ isn’t a subset of the genre, it’s simply from that place patternwise, as is a Sheringham Gansey or a Whitby Gansey. They’re all built more or less the same. You’re right; the Seeds & Bars pattern is an easy one; not only to knit but also to adjust to fit the wearer. More complex patterns can break down into more manageable, bite-sized pieces that are simply repeated ad infinitum, but still require a practised eye to alter sizewise. Growing up with Gansey knitters, a child would start on small items, e.g. socks, then graduate on to the pattern most commonly knitted in their house, which might be in the local style, with variations added from the knitters’ travels. Then she herself might marry and move to her husband’s village. Thousands of herring lassies moved down the East coast of Britain every year gutting and packing the herring, knitting and nicking each others’ patterns, and they hadn’t heard of intellectual property rights — if they saw something they liked, it was copied and added to their repertoire! Compare Gansey patterns to the treatment tartan received when Queen Victoria became so fond of Scotland; every fashionista had a ball, and tartans became officialised beyond their previous form; this never happened with Ganseys, the tribal ID of many fishermen.

The history of ganseys — and origins of Daniel Day Lewis'sAs for Henry Freeman, that Seeds & Bars wasn’t his only Gansey! Incidentally, Henry Freeman was from Bridlington (these things are important) although he gained fame as Cox’n of the Whitby lifeboat, having been the sole survivor of a disaster where he was wearing the only brand-new cork life jacket.

This upper body Seeds & Bars is also frequently associated with Polperro in Cornwall. This was a place where many women did contract knitting, and as this is a very economical pattern to knit, having no cable, it turns up all over the place. I have heard that there was a connection between Staithes and Cornwall, but I haven’t looked into that. Certainly Cornish fishermen were amongst the fleet that followed the herring down the East coast every year.

I love having the term Seeds & Bars for describing the Staithes design, thank you. And that makes perfect sense about contract knitters sticking to this comparatively simple pattern. But even though knitters all over knitted it, it’s still commonly known as a Staithes gansey? Going back to the geography question, it’s also widely believed that each port (or even each family) had its own distinct design, and you could identify a drowned fisherman by his sweater. (This is also a persistent tale with Aran sweaters.) In reality, it’s not that clear-cut, correct? And yet there are types with names that are commonly known and used and understood. How many different sub-types are there, would you say?

It’s not really true to think of each village having its own pattern. Many early, working Ganseys were very plain; Ganseys were often contract knitted and bought in chandlers’ around the UK; even local patterns were fluid. Having said that, there are regional styles — I can recognise a Gansey from Fife, Sheringham or Eriskay, for example; but I can also spot individual knitters, not only in their favourite patterns/variations but also by the construction details, and it’s when you get to this level that you begin to see the cleverness in little changes.

Having been associated for some time with Old St. Stephen’s, an old church in Robin Hoods Bay where the gravestones date back over 200 years, I can say that most drowned men remained buried at sea; the number of purely commemorative inscriptions attest to this. It was very rare for a drowned man to be returned to his home; logistically, emotionally and financially it was unfeasible. However, I have heard of a body being recognised by its Gansey.

The out-takes illustrate not only how a thing ‘should’ be done, but how impossible it is to really pin a tradition down. Just when you think you’ve nailed it … . There is a type of Double Moss motif made up of 2 rows of knit then 2 rows of p2k2 to end, which is known as Betty Martin and was widely used in Filey and Flamborough, but none knows if Betty Martin actually existed. One Yorkshire woman married and moved to Cornwall, taking her Betty Martin upper sleeve motif with her — it was seen as very distinctive. One Filey pattern is named after a local man called Matt Cammish. His family came from NE Scotland. Ganseys in Whitby usually have a 3-button opening on the left side of the neck; this came down with the Scottish herring lassies, and when I met some Polperro knitters a few years ago they hadn’t seen this but thought it was a very good idea. Incidentally, the Cornish term for Gansey is Knitfrock. The typical Guernsey has a split welt, not normally found in other Ganseys.

However, I do believe that many Gansey knitters were operating when Ganseys were a part of life and you’d pick up the basics with your daily breath, just as kids today are at home with their various devices. Hence Propagansey — I love the yarns, and how by actually spending time with them, you can get what the knitter was doing, even if was over 100 years ago. There were definitely some clever tarts around!

For those wanting to know more about Gansey history and patterns, in addition to your Propgansey website, what books or other resources do you recommend? Any specific knitting patterns you’d encourage people toward?

• Gladys Thompson; Patterns for Jerseys, Guernseys & Arans
• Mary Wright; Cornish Guernseys & Knitfrocks
• Michael Pearson; Traditional Knitting of the British Isles, vol 1: Fisher Gansey Patterns of North East England, and vol 2: Fisher Gansey Patterns of Scotland and the Scottish Fleet (In-print option: Traditional Knitting: Aran, Fair Isle and Fisher Ganseys)
• Beth Brown-Reinsel; Knitting Ganseys: Techniques and Patterns for Traditional Sweaters
Propagansey 2018; 8-16th September at Fylingthorpe Methodist Chapel, Fylingthorpe, N Yorks, UK; 10-4 daily

. . .

Thanks so much, Deb! I hope to get to your exhibit someday.

And here’s a fun fact, dear readers: The gansey Deb is wearing in the top photo was later knitted for her by the trawlerman who first sparked her interest in ganseys. How awesome is that?

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PREVIOUSLY in What I Know About: Rhinebeck (with Kay Gardiner)

Photos courtesy of Deb Gillanders

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How to knit the Double Basketweave Cowl with chunky yarn

How to knit the Double Basketweave Cowl with chunky yarn

When the gorgeous OUR Yarn arrived at Fringe Supply Co., we were of course eager to see it knitted up. I’d already made my Log Cabin Mitts in the DK weight (we’re now down to just a couple sweaters’ worth of the DK, in black only) so we asked my pal Jo Strong to knit up the Double Basketweave Cowl using one strand of chunky instead of the two strands of DK called for in the pattern. The result is the deeply beautiful black cowl I’ve been wearing on chilly days in the studio (as seen in yesterday’s 10×10 outfits, Day 9).

We still have lots of the chunky-weight OUR Yarn, in both black and toffee, so if you’d like to use it to knit a Double Basketweave Cowl of your own (free pattern here on the blog), or any other chunky yarn, here’s how to tweak the pattern to wind up with roughly the same finished dimensions:

– Hold one strand of chunky-weight yarn throughout (rather than 2 strands of DK held together)

– Other than that, cast on and proceed with the pattern exactly as written

– Work rounds 1-10 of the basketweave stitch 3 times

– Work rows 1-5 again (so you’re working 3.5 repeats, instead of 4)

– Work the 4 ribbing rounds and BO as written

Jo knitted this cowl with 2 skeins of the OUR Yarn chunky, with a bit left over, and it blocks out to almost exactly the same dimensions as the pattern. Your results may vary slightly with a different yarn — just make sure you’re matching the pattern gauge, as usual.

How to knit the Double Basketweave Cowl with chunky yarn

Happy weekend, everyone!

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PREVIOUSLY in Free Patterns: Log Cabin Mitts

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New Favorites: Date night sweaters

New Favorites: Date night sweaters

It’s good that you guys LOVE New Favorites, because fate has given us two in a row! I have Things To Say about this whole 10×10 Challenge I’ve been doing, coming up later this week, but one thing that has been highlighted for me is how lacking my closet is on date-night clothes. Not that we go out anywhere particularly dressy or anything, but it always feels a bit weird to me to go out to dinner with my husband on a Saturday night in the exact same clothes I would I wear to work on any given morning. I’ve realized during the challenge that I pretty much wear the same silk top every time we go out, because (even though I wear it to work all the time, too) it’s the only thing I have that’s sort of soft and pretty. But that means for much of the year I’m underdressed, shivering in my chair. So I got to thinking about the possibility of knitting a date-worthy sweater or two just before the new Helga Isager book arrived at our Fringe Supply door, like an answer to a question I’d only just started to form. You can read more about the book in the webshop, but it contains at least two strong date-night contenders:

TOP: C6 (Cable 6) is knitted sideways, with cables running up the arms and across the neckline. I love the soft marl constrasting with the non-marl cuffs and waistband.

BOTTOM: SSK (Slip, Slip, Knit) is similar in many ways [edit: also knitted sideways], with elbow sleeves and an eyelet detail rather than the bolder cables. It might also be lovely in linen or a linen blend.

They’re like the winter and spring/fall counterparts to each other!

Actually, nearly all of the sweaters in the book are date-worthy. Isager has such a way with making things pretty yet not too girly for me. You can see the whole collection on Ravelry and buy the book at Fringe Supply Co.

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PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: the Staithes Gansey and how to knit one

New Favorites deluxe: the Staithes Gansey and how to knit one

New Favorites deluxe: the Staithes Gansey and how to knit one

So, the question of the moment is “How do I knit a gansey like Daniel Day-Lewis’s?” In the voluminous comments on that post, a couple of commenters mentioned Penny Straker’s 1981 knitting pattern #796 Staithes Guernsey (photo above, top), and Fiona noted there’s a similar pattern in Gladys Thompson’s book, aka Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Arans. Thompson’s pattern is not available for download but there is a listing in the Ravelry database, where you can see samples, and it is called Staithes Gansey (1969). I also remembered, as I started writing this post on Friday, that my friend Courtney Kelley of Kelbourne Woolens put out a very similar gansey pattern just a few years ago called Seascale (photo above, bottom), which is literally in my Ravelry Queue! And which is in the same gansey-minimal style as the DDL/Straker/Thompson sweaters — just horizontal bands of moss or double moss broken up by purl ridges.

On Saturday, I opened Kelbourne’s newsletter and saw that Courtney had included a mention of my DDL post and is offering Seascale as a free download until this Friday with the checkout code GANSEYBABES. And their new yarn Scout even comes in a deep blue-black, which is one of the hardest colors to come by. (I get asked for good navy suggestions often enough that I have “dark navy yarn roundup” on my list of blog posts to do!)

I think the vague “navy pullover” on my wish list may be taking a more distinct shape.

. . .

New Favorites deluxe: the Staithes Gansey and how to knit oneCircling back about the origins of DDL’s gansey, I’ve gotten some answers. Back in the original comments, Dianna had uncovered a men’s fashion blog that had posited that DDL’s had come from Flamborough Marine, purveyors of handknit ganseys, and they do offer a version called, you guessed it, the Staithes Gansey.* You can see the sample — the bright yellow one — halfway down this webpage, and again on page 5 of this PDF of theirs about what a gansey is. However, it differs from the one on DDL in assorted ways — the waist ribbing, the number and width of the moss bands, etc., so I thought the blog had it wrong. Then I had an email yesterday from Deb Gillanders of Propgansey, who has the details. She says the one he is wearing in the magazine is one he commissioned from Flamborough Marine to match the one that had been left to him by his father. So the one he’s wearing is not the one his father left him after all, but a recent handknit replacement, and did come through Flamborough Marine.

Gillanders, who lives in Whitby (near Staithes) and curates an annual gansey exhibit in the nearby village of Robin Hood’s Bay, also loaned three ganseys to the costume department of “Phantom Thread,” and says you can see him wearing one of them in the scene where he decides not to go dancing for New Year’s. I’ve yet to see the film, but apparently much of the early action is set in RHB, so there are all sorts of connections here. This is all very fun to know — thanks, Deb!

*I’m now deeply curious about how and why this particular sub-type of gansey is apparently commonly known as “a Staithes” and am in search of answers. So I may have more to say about all of this!

RELATED:

– Another great source of gansey knowledge, Beth Brown-Reinsel’s highly regarded book Knitting Ganseys is being republished this summer.

– And Dotty left a comment saying there are still some openings in her upcoming FisherFolk gansey-inspired retreat.

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PREVIOUSLY: Daniel Day-Lewis and wow, that gansey

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