Designing a gansey cowl – Part 1

As I mentioned a few posts ago,  I’ve promised to knit a gansey-type cowl as a Christmas present for a friend who lives in Cornwall. I’ll be using the Frangipani 5-ply, worsted-spun (in Yorkshire!) yarn I have left over from the gansey I knitted in 2014.

Gansey sweater, folded

So, I need to design said cowl and get knitting. Seeing as the friend in question gave me a copy of Mary Wright’s book, “Cornish Guernseys and Knit-frocks”, bought some time ago when the author gave a talk at her local Women’s Institute group, that seems like a good place to start. And I know that she’d appreciate a cowl like the one she saw in Polperro museum that is reasonably wide and hangs quite low, long enough to be twisted and worn twice round the neck on a chilly day.

The first decision with a cowl is whether to knit it longitudinally and join the beginning to the end to form a loop:

Longitudinally knitted cowl

or cast on a large number of stitches and knit it in the round, sideways on:

Cowl knitted in the round

Before the days of long circular needles the latter would have been unthinkable, necessitating lots of double-pointed needles, but now we are blessed with interchangeable circulars with cords that can be connected together to make a needle as long as you like.

Channel Island cast-onI’d like to include some gansey-esque features in this cowl in addition to the stitch patterns, and knitting it in the round from edge to edge would allow a Channel Island cast-on with its distinctive picot edge. I’m sure there must be a similar cast-off that would do for the other edge, or if not the second edge could be knitted separately and then grafted on.

I went down this design route for a while, but I soon realised that gansey stitch patterns are meant to be viewed the “right” way up, ie in the direction of knitting, not turned through 90°. Sideways knitting might work for a small cowl that sits round the neck like a collar, but not for one that hangs in a long loop around the wearer’s neck. And, unless the cowl is going to be worn one particular way round with the same spot always at the back of the neck, then the stitch patterns need to work just as well whether they are running up or down. Especially as twisting the cowl to wear it doubled turns half of it upside down. I don’t know about you, but when I grab a scarf or cowl before rushing out the door I don’t want to have to think about which way round to wear it.

OK, back to the drawing board. How about knitting it longitudinally, flat, with only two-way stitch patterns (no anchors or trees, alas), but working picot selvedges to mimic the Channel Island cast-on?


Cowl with picked up bordersOr knitting it flat and then, after seaming or grafting the join, picking up stitches around each edge and working a few rounds of garter stitch – like the hem flap of a traditional Guernsey – before a picot cast-off? I like that idea, although I’d rather avoid picking up stitches if possible, it might create a ridge which would be uncomfortable in wear.

Cowl like shoulder strapI suppose I could knit the two edges first, in the round and starting with a Channel Island cast-on, leaving the stitches live after the garter rounds, and then knit the central part of the cowl down the middle, in effect treating it as a gansey shoulder strap and picking up live edging stitches at the end of each row. Oh boy, that sounds complicated – how do I deal with the fact that the edges are in the round and the central portion isn’t? Maybe it’d be better to knit the edges flat as well, and then join the whole thing with one seam – or 3-needle cast-off – at the end? I think I’ll park that decision for now.

Half a gansey gussetNow, what other gansey-type features can I include? Not gussets, who ever heard of a cowl with gussets. But I can have ridges and furrows (aka “rigs and furs”) to break up the different stitch patterns, and maybe even the wearer’s initials – if she doesn’t mind them being upside down now and again. Perhaps I could work them sideways on. And for the selvedges, if I go down the picot edging route, I can use a narrow strip of garter stitch, like on the upper body of a Guernsey.

Assuming this cowl is to be say 8-10” wide, should I have full width bands of different stitch patterns separated by ridges and furrows, or perhaps 2 or 3 different patterns in each section? And should they all be small, allover patterns, or should I intersperse them with some larger motifs such as stars and diamonds? So many decisions. I’m remembering what it was like when I was designing my gansey, but at least a cowl is a much simpler garment.

I need to decide what tension to knit at before I can make much further progress, then at least I’ll know how many stitches and rows I have to work with. I’ll use larger needles than the 2.25mm ones I used for the gansey, the cowl needs to have more drape. I’m thinking 3mm or 3.25mm should be about right. I feel a swatch coming on.

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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2 Responses to Designing a gansey cowl – Part 1

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

  2. Pingback: Christmas star | YorkshireCrafter

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