Meditations on a shoulder strap, and a bedroom fire in hot weather

The shoulders of Scottish and east coast ganseys (but not Guernseys and other similar sweaters from the Channel Islands) are commonly joined with a shoulder strap. Ganseys typically have little or no neck shaping and the straps makes the neck opening rectangular and therefore more neck-shaped and comfortable than a slash neck. (Guernseys use triangular neck gussets to add a little ease at the sides of the neckband.) The strap can be worked vertically, as an adjunct to the front and/or the back, or it can be worked horizontally down from the neck to the point of the shoulder. Such straps are sometimes called perpendicular straps because the direction of the knitting is at right angles to the direction in which the front and back are knitted. They join onto the sleeve, creating a saddle sleeve. This means that a stitch pattern can run unbroken from the side of the neck all the way down to the cuff if you wish. In designing my gansey I decided to go for this sort of strap, in part because I’ve never knitted a saddle sleeve before, and in part just because I like the idea of a band that runs from shoulder to sleeve.

As is the case for many things about this gansey, I’m working it out as I go along. This week I finished the second side of the back (or the front – they’re identical) and have had to do some research on shoulder straps. The first problem to surmount with a perpendicular strap is how to match the stitch tension of the shoulders with the row tension of the straps. It wouldn’t matter if I was going to sew them into place, but I’m determined that this gansey will be seamless. That involves working a stitch from each shoulder into the corresponding end of the strap as it is knitted, meaning that I need twice as many strap rows as there are stitches in each shoulder. So there are two options: work two shoulder stitches into the strap every few rows instead of one, or decrease the shoulder stitches in the last row to give the right number. I have chosen the latter route on the basis that it ought to look neater, but I am a little worried that the decrease will introduce some tightness. I tried to knit that row a little more loosely than normal to compensate.

The back and front each measure 18″ across. I have split them into thirds, which seems to be the traditional way and it matches the Guernseys we have in the house. Each shoulder will then be 6″ wide leaving 6″ across the neck. There were 143 stitches on each front/back, or 48 for each shoulder and 47 for the neck. I swatched the net pattern I was going to use for the straps and got 19 rows to 1.5″, which means there will be 76 rows in a 6″ strap. Therefore, to end up with 38 stitches I decreased 10 stitches evenly across each shoulder, leaving the 47 neck stitches as they are.

Having done the maths, I then had to decide how to bring in the shoulder stitches at the start or end of each strap row. I knitted a 15 row swatch using the ghastly acrylic DK that I have been using for Tour de France bunting – the “strap” is white and the front and back are red and blue. I didn’t bother to allow for the difference in row/ stitch tension which is why it doesn’t want to lie flat and I had to pin it for the photo.

Shoulder strap swatch

Shoulder strap swatch

First third: slip 1st stitch of each strap row and take in a shoulder stitch at end of each row, using P2tog on a P row and S1, K1, PSSO on a K row.

2nd third: take in a shoulder stitch at end of each row, using P2tog on a P row and K2tog tbl on a K row.

Final third: work a shoulder stitch at the end of each row and then K2tog or P2tog (as appropriate) at the beginning of the next row.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, such as SSK and P2tog tbl, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered to experiment further. The first third looked perfectly acceptable and I used that. I like the final third least, it just looks a mess, but I expect it would look a lot better in gansey yarn of one colour.

Gansey 14

Shoulder strap

The stitch pattern for the straps is the herring net design I have used across the chest. It would have been nice to adjust the pattern to make it look the same running vertically down the sleeve as the horizontal band across the chest, but after tinkering around with graph paper of the required size to match my stitch and row tension I concluded that it was impossible.

The second shoulder strap is now finished and I need to come up with a design for the sleeves. I am torn between just having a central column of herring net with stocking stitch either side, or something more elaborate to match the body of the gansey. While I’m deciding I’ll keep knitting bunting. I’ve only managed 6 triangles (bunts?) to date and there are 7 weeks to go before Le Grand Départ.

Flying display

Flying display

Yesterday the sun shone and I headed off to the Otley Show, which is believed to be the oldest single day agricultural show in England, having been going for over 200 years.  Often it pours with rain on show day, but this year was an exception. Dear husband was in London for a couple of days so I wandered around happily on my own for the afternoon, taking in everything from a 60s-style girl band to ferrets, a sheep-shearing contest, a birds of prey flying display and prize livestock.

Amongst the many stalls I spotted the Wharfedale Beekeepers Association – little did I know I would be seeing more of them before the weekend was out.

Farriers engaged in competitive horseshoe-making

Farriers engaged in competitive horseshoe-making

When I got home at 4 o’clock, with a slightly red face from too much sun, I noticed several worker bees buzzing in the downstairs windows on the sunny side of the house. I let them out and swept up a few dead bees from the window ledges. How had they got in? I listened at the open fireplace that is at one end of the house, but didn’t hear any buzzing or see any bees. Then I went upstairs and into the spare bedroom to catch up with the ironing. The floor near the windows was carpeted with dead and dying bees, with dozens of live ones on the windowpanes. I flung the windows open, helped some groggy bees to get out and then concluded that this was a Sisyphean task because more bees were emerging from the open fireplace in the room. I retreated, shut the door and decided that dear husband could deal with the problem on Sunday when he got home. On closer inspection of the situation downstairs I found a few bees flying out of the chimney at the opposite end of the house from the one I had previously examined. There is a gas fired stove in this room and the chimney is all but closed with just space for the gas flue, but it does link to the chimney serving the bee-infested bedroom above.

Straw skep

Straw skep (and sugar syrup)

This morning we peered at the chimney pot through binoculars and could see substantial apian activity. We rang the local swarm officer from the Wharfedale Beekeepers and he turned up fairly quickly, with another member of the association. I bet they were only too glad of the excuse to get out of the house on a Sunday morning and I dare say they popped into the pub on the way home. These bee experts gave us the unwelcome news that the chimney pot in question (we have several) is the ideal shape to attract swarming bees. They left us a straw skep to be put at ground level with some sugar syrup nearby, in the hope that the bees would relocate to it if we made the chimney uncomfortable for them. To do that, we were advised to light a fire in the bedroom and generate lots of smoke. Apparently, it took nearly 24 hours to shift a colony in a chimney nearby that took up residence on Friday.

No fire has been lit in our bedrooms since we move in, and they are fully carpeted. This meant we first had to build a makeshift hearth from tiles and tinplate. Then we have had to take it in turns all day to mind the fire and keep it smoking, on the hottest day of the year so far. The chimney isn’t “drawing” too well – I expect the presence of thousands of bees isn’t helping – and smoke is everywhere, but some is emerging from the chimney pot and the number of bees buzzing around it four hours into the process has declined markedly. The beekeepers popped back a while ago to check on progress and advised that we can probably stop in another couple of hours. The skep, disappointingly, is still empty and a quick search of surrounding trees didn’t find the swarm. Perhaps the bees are now ensconced in someone else’s chimney. Before leaving, our saviours told us that they’d never had a fortnight like this for swarms before. After a lot of wet weather that kept bees in their hives and hungry, a few fine days has encouraged them to go off with a queen in search of richer pickings elsewhere.

About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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1 Response to Meditations on a shoulder strap, and a bedroom fire in hot weather

  1. Pingback: Designing a gansey cowl – Part 2 | YorkshireCrafter

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