A Gansey in a Weekend

I have been enchanted by what is generally called gansey knitting (or sometimes called damask knitting) ever since a visit to the Land's End tip of Britain many years ago. The Isle of Guernsey wasn't so far away, and the fishing culture was strong. Local knitting shops carried the special five-ply yarn that has made sturdy, supple sweaters for many generations.

I like the simple knit-purl rhythm of gansey knitting—rich patterning without the fuss of carrying colors or twisting stitches on the back. I like that patterns can be as intricate as you please without any floats  at all.

Courtney Kelley's Gansey Leg Warmers.

As for actually knitting a gansey, I've only done that once, and it was in miniature—a baby sweater for a tiny granddaughter. When you have to ration your knitting time, as most of us do, small projects are a boon. Small projects that are also historically and technically interesting are best of all. So what caught my eye in the newest edition of Knits Weekend once I got past the rush of fall colors and crunchy textures, was a pair of gansey leg warmers. No increases or decreases! Just simple circular knitting, but with a panoply of traditional knit-purl motifs from top to bottom. I could do that! I could make each one a little different. I could incorporate initials in one, a date in the other. I could give them to that granddaughter, who is no longer tiny. I could use traditional gansey yarn instead of the delicious silk-alpaca-camel-cashmere blend that the pattern calls for, except that it would be too scratchy next to her skin. I would be imagining the footpath along the headlands, and the gorse, and the fishing boats pulled up on the shingle, and all the sailors' wives knitting by the sea, waiting. Little projects like this with so much historical resonance and technical engagement are hard to pass up.

Amanda Scheuzger's 8,000 Feet Hoodie.

Another design in Knits Weekend that has the same attraction and charm is the 8,000 Feet Hoodie (referring to altitude, not anatomy), a simple stockinette cardigan with an extravagantly color-stranded hood and cuffs. It's the right amount of Fair Isle for me, not too excessive and fiddly, and a nice change from Fair Isle yokes. Oh, socks with a Fair Isle cuff—another can-do project.

Among all the handsome and clever sweaters, tunics, vests, and accessories—33 projects in all—in this issue, these were just three of many that popped out at me because of their connections with the past, with knitters of earlier times. Of course there's more; yoke sweaters that hark back to Scandinavia, cabled sweaters that recall Aran knits, an argyle bag. There's plenty that's new in the knitting world, but these ties to the past are special.



If you'd like Traditions Today delivered directly to your inbox, simply provide your email address at needleworktraditionstoday.com