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.

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The long and short of it – mystery solved

My first Alan Dart project

Alan Dart holds a god-like status amongst some knitters, on account of his many patterns for soft toys. In particular he designs detailed figures based on the human form. I’m not really sure that the term “soft toys” does them justice, they are more like knitted figurines that stand up by themselves and are meant to be displayed. I need to make some Christmas tree decorations so I thought I’d try repurposing one of these figurines, a classic nutcracker in soldier form.

Well, I should have known what I was letting myself in for when I saw the length of the pattern, Brave Hero, which was originally published in Simply Knitting magazine. It’s five pages long, although admittedly one of them is a photo of the finished article. For something that’s only about a foot tall, that’s a lot of instructions.

There were numerous pieces, all knitted flat. I showed the body and various boot components in my last post. On top of that I had to knit two arms, the skirt of his tunic, a hat plume, belt buckle, hair, beard, two halves of his moustache and even a nose, for goodness’ sake. Life really is too short for knitting noses, in my opinion. And if I’d been making the nutcracker to stand up as intended I’d have had to make a base and a lever for his back too, but since he’s going to be hanging on a Christmas tree facing outwards I dispensed with those.

Stuffed sheep toyAfter much laborious darning in of multi-coloured ends, mattress stitching, stuffing and sewing together, the step I always dread was reached: embroidering the features.

Anything I have to put a face onto is a disaster, you only have to look at Ewenace the sheep to see that.

But I took my time with this chap and there were lots of close-up photos in the pattern. I don’t think he’s turned out too badly, all things considered.

Nutcrack head close-upThanks to drinking straws in his legs, he will stand upright when leant against a wall. Quite how his straw-reinforced legs have become so bandy, I don’t know. I feel a bit sorry for him with his crooked legs (“Couldn’t stop a pig in a passage!”, as my mate Peter would say) and his boxer’s nose.

I have concluded that Alan Dart’s patterns are not for me, meticulously written though they are. It took an age to make this nutcracker, and I didn’t enjoy all the post-knitting work which probably took longer than the actual knitting.

Mini Father Christmas

Mini Father ChristmasAs a bit of light relief after that, I knitted an amigurumi-style Father Christmas, in the round with I-cord limbs. He is much smaller, under 2” tall, and was done in an evening. Plus (big plus) the amount of sewing up, stuffing and embroidery was minimal.

I’ll knit some more of these, they’ll make sweet little present-toppers as well as tree decorations, and I might even hang a string of them across the fireplace as Christmas bunting.


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Finished scarf, matching mitts and a mystery project

The jagged-edge scarf is off the blocking board and I’ve had chance to take some Ta Dah! photos.

50 Shades of Blue 7I love it, I just wish it was mine.

50 Shades of Blue 4Before I send it off to the friend it’s promised to, I’m making a pair of fingerless mittens to match. I thought there’d be enough yarn left, and I’m pleased to find I was right – I can say that with confidence, having finished the first mitt, because I’ve weighed it against the remains of the yarn using my old-fashioned kitchen balance scales.

50 Shades Mitts 2I haven’t bothered with a thumb gusset or any other shaping, I’ve relied on the natural stretchiness of the garter stitch fabric. The mitten is basically the same as the Wensleydale 4 Ply Scarf, I just stopped after 5 “teeth”, grafted the diagonal seam leaving a gap for the thumb, then knitted the thumb in the round. It fits well enough and I’m now in the process of making the second one, which will be exactly the same but grafted inside out.

What can this be?

I’m suffering from SMS – that’s like Second Sock Syndrome but with mittens. In other words, having knitted one mitten, I’m finding making another identical one rather boring. To relieve that boredom I’ve cast on a Christmas project, something to hang on the tree.

Mystery knit 1It has a lot of fiddly little pieces, all knitted flat. I still have quite a few of them to make. The sewing-up is going to be a nightmare. Can you guess what it’s going to be?

All will be revealed next week, assuming I manage to assemble it.

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Luxury scarf

Coastal Colours 4-ply yarnI’ve been knitting a scarf in a Coastal Colours alpaca/silk/cashmere blend using a Wenselydale Longwools Sheep Shop pattern called simply Wensleydale 4-ply Scarf. It’s finished and currently in the process of being blocked. I’m blocking it quite hard because the knitted-up sample I saw on the Wensleydale Longwools stand at Masham Sheep Fair – which is probably the one in the photo on the front of the pattern leaflet – looked very light and airy.

50 Shades of Blue 3The hand-dyed yarn was absolutely beautiful to knit with, no knots or dodgy sections, just gorgeously soft and springy with fabulous jewel tones of blue leavened with a little grey and turquoise. The only issue was a slight dye leakage when I soaked the scarf prior to blocking. I wish I could keep it but, alas, it’s promised to a friend and she knows I’m knitting it!

The pattern is simplicity itself, a repeat of a few rows that’s easily memorised. I love the way the scarf is subtly curved as a result of increasing along one edge while casting off several stitches at the other edge every now and again to create the Hitchhiker-like “teeth”. My only criticism is that, as written, the pattern only produces a skinny scarf. I’d knitted about a third of it before I decided it was just too narrow, so I did a bit of weighing and calculation and decided I could make it 25% wider and still have it long enough.

Fortunately, not only is the yardage of this Coastal Colours yarn better than the Wensleydale Longwools equivalent that the pattern was written for, but my skein was a very generous one, over 10% heavier than the 100g it’s supposed to be.  The finished item is about 7” wide, enough to bunch it around the neck when worn as a winter scarf, or just about cover the shoulders on a summer evening.

Now that’s out of the way, I need to design a gansey-style cowl for someone else. (Why do I keep promising to knit things for other people when I could be making things for myself?) When we were in Cornwall recently, the friend who took us to Polperro museum was quite taken with a long cowl on display in the small shop area at the entrance. Kits were on sale to make the cowl and other small knit-frock/gansey-type items, like gloves and hats. My friend found the price of the cowl kit off-putting – quality gansey yarn is expensive, unfortunately, and a long cowl takes quite a lot of it – and she isn’t a knitter anyway, so like an idiot I volunteered to make her one for Christmas using the Frangipani yarn I have left over from the gansey I knitted in 2014.Blocking a gansey

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Quilted covers

For once I’ve achieved what I was planning to do last week and made a quilted cafetiere cover. In fact I made two because one of my pieces of Skopos quilted furnishing cotton was exactly twice as big as required.

Quilted cafetiere muffWhile I was at it I made myself a new hot water bottle cover because the last one (also made from Skopos fabric) is worn out.

Quilted HWB coverI used to bind the edges of this quilting with purchased satin bias binding. It certainly gave the things I made a luxurious look, but I discovered that the binding wore away much faster than the fabric and soon became ragged-looking. Now I make my own binding, either from the top layer of the fabric itself if there’s enough, or a toning fabric. For this hot water bottle cover I used a left-over strip of curtain fabric.

More baby hats

After 4 of these sock yarn baby hats, I’m calling a halt.

4 sock yarn baby hatsOne is for the new baby in my family, the others will be put to one side until I need a small present for another new arrival. They work really well in patterned sock yarn and, at about 20 grammes apiece for a newborn size, they are perfect for using up the leftovers from an adult-sized pair of socks. I knitted the red one top-down, just for a bit of variety and to use every last inch of the yarn.

Coastal Colours 4-ply yarnMy next knitting project will be a scarf from the luxurious yarn I acquired at the Masham Sheep Fair.

I can’t wait to get started.

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Bike chain key rings

My dear husband needed a new bike chain the other day. I’m not sure why, but he’s now on the 3rd since we bought our current bikes in the mid 90s while I am still on the first. Must be something to do with the additional weight his bike carries, or the extra power he puts into the drive chain compared with me. But anyway, there were a couple of link-pairs over when he’d fitted the new chain and I thought they looked too shiny-shiny to put in the metal recycling bin at our local tip.

Instead, I used them for a variation on the wine cork key rings I’ve made before.

Wine cork and bike chain key ringsI also had a couple of Danish coins with holes in the centre, 1 krone and 2 krone pieces, which I’ve used instead of plain washers to “dress” the ends of the corks and hide the damage caused by the corkscrew. I’ve left the other ends uncovered rather than sticking an ordinary, hole-less coin on them. That way they won’t damage paintwork when hanging from a keyhole or other lock.

I’ll be using one of these keyrings for my bike key and I’ll give the other to a cycling friend. Apart from the surplus chain links and the corks, all they needed was a split ring and a screw eye each, plus some superglue.

Felted cafetiere coverAlso on the variation-on-a-theme theme, I’ve made a new felted cafetiere cover much like the last one, which had become rather stained from constant slopping of coffee. These felt muffs are washable, but mine was definitely looking like it had seen better days after a few years of daily use. I already had a section of felted ex-sweater  – I made a cover for my Kindle out of the rest of it some time ago.

Kindle caseThe remaining piece was just big enough to go round my cafetiere.

Cafetiere coverA friend popped by while I was sewing on the poppers and dropped a broad hint that she’d like one too. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more ruined sweaters at the moment that are fit only for felting. After my dear husband washed a pair of my beautiful, luxury yarn, hand knitted socks at 60°C and shrunk them beyond all hope, I introduced a new laundry system involving a fluoro-yellow bag – it lives in the bottom of the laundry basket and I put anything delicate in it, and woe betide him if he touches it.

Skopos quilted fabricSo, no more ruined sweaters, but I do have some quilted fabric bought years ago from Skopos’s mill shop. You used to be able to buy huge pieces for a fiver, and maybe you still can but they no longer have a mill shop anywhere near where I live.

I’ll try making a cafetiere muff from this.

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