Winter Knitting – Gansey Workshop!
My winter (post-Christmas) knitting has been perhaps a bit unusual for me. Socks, socks and more socks, along with a sweater or two! It's been COLD in East Tennessee much of the last month - I mean the kind of cold that takes me back 40 years to my childhood.
On the bright side, this should kill off some of the beasties and might mean that you can actually stand to be outside without insect repellent on occasion this summer. On the down side, most of my warm hand-knit socks hadn’t survived last winter’s wear all that well, being of sock-weight wool and having been worn way too often in steel-toed shoes. So when those first few really cold days hit post-Christmas, I felt it. And going out to Washington State didn’t help; the coast around Seattle is quite cold this time of year, with snow on the ground most days and the wind off the water biting.
I did get to visit a couple of yarn/fiber shops while on the peninsula at Poulsbo – Amanda’s Art Yarns and Fibers for some yarn and a bit of fiber, and Wild & Wooly. Both stores were fun, and I immediately started some socks from the lovely worsted-weight hand-painted mohair/wool yarn I bought at W&W. Lovely, muted colors of green, pink, taupe and orchid, much like the area itself this time of year. Amanda’s was a bit of a disappointment, as there wasn’t as much in the way of fiber as I had hoped and no spindles to be found anywhere – but any day you spend several hours poking around a small, waterfront town with more than one fiber shop is a good one!
I returned home and to work just after the New Year, plunging into total insanity at work. In addition, something (the stress?) caught up with me and I had the most incredibly bad month – lots of pain and one cold after another culminating in a massive respiratory infection. I have basically gone to work and then come home and piled up under a blanket for most of January!
On the up side, I’ve been playing around with Liz Lovick’s Gansey Workshop on the EZasPi Yahoo group. Why is a group dedicated to EZ’s Pi shawl in all its incarnations doing a Gansey workshop? Because it sounded like fun and it’s an absolute shame not to take advantage of a group member of Liz’s stature! I love this group – I’m always learning new things from them. The workshop sounded like such fun, and Liz has a wonderful knack for teaching. So I bought several (13 each) skeins of red and cranberry Wool of the Andes from KnitPicks along with several of the new Options needles (yes, I know I don’t like metal needles – more on this anon) and started practicing gansey patterns.
The first project was a pincushion. No big deal, no problem – it was done in a couple of hours and blocking on the ironing board. Sewing took just a couple of minutes, and now it happily holds my blocking pins close at hand.
Liz, being her usual wonderful self, posted several possibilities as second projects. Cushion covers looked nice, but I just made a cushion cover for my couch, using up most of my stash of naturally-colored handspun leftovers in the process, and didn’t want to make another right now (repainting is on the list of spring projects in my household). The socks looked quite intriguing, and I already had the yarn for the sweater plus some extra, and that dearth of warm socks – a matching pair of socks was just the ticket!
Liz’s instructions were for sock-weight yarn, calling for 64 or 72 stitches at a gauge of 8 stitches per inch. On size 1 needles the worsted-weight WOTA I chose had a gauge of 6 stitches per inch. 64 stitches would have fit my DH, perhaps, but not me! So I went to work to modify the pattern. It’s always easy to change modular patterns – just shuffle the modifications between the separator stitches. On this pattern, there were three main elements – a 7-stitch diamond motif at the center front leg, flanked on either side by a double-line of 7-stitch zig-zags. Between each element (the diamonds and zig-zags) were three lines of basic K1P1 ribbing. All I did was remove the 7-stitch zig-zag elements from the back, adding an extra purl stitch to take up the 2 extra stitches. Voila! A 48-stitch repeat with the central diamond motif at the center front and center back. And the resulting socks look rather spiffy, if I do say so myself. The extra purl stitch on each side only shows up if you get your nose down and look for it, and nobody is going to get that close to my socks!
Another thing that this pattern did was push me out of my usual top-down comfort zone. The pattern was written for toe-up with a short-row heel, and it had been quite a while since I’d done that. All in all, I enjoyed the experience and like the fit all right. But my current pair, cast on just last night, is again top-down in sock-weight yarn. I wanted a mindless sort of project for between-times, and I can do these in my sleep!
Now that I’ve got my feet wet, so to speak, I’m considering the gansey itself. Being, as I’ve stated before, vertically-challenged and fluffy, horizontal bands don’t appeal to me. But vertical bands with moss- or seed-stitch between motifs has definite possibilities. I love the idea of various-sized bands of diamond shapes, and perhaps some very narrow cables in one or two places. I’m also considering knitting this in the round and then steeking it into a cardigan. Despite our current cold spell, I know I’ll get severely limited wear from a pull-over here, but can see myself wearing a cardigan quite a bit.
Other than socks, I’m plugging away on my EZ Fair Isle-yoked sweater. I finished up the boring stockinette stuff this weekend, have joined the sleeves to the body, and have only one more row to go before starting the colorwork. In a fingering-weight yarn at 6 stitches per inch, I’m currently dealing with 420 stitches in a single round, so the going is a bit slower than I like. And now that I’ve typed that out, I’m beginning to wonder about the math. I’ll definitely put the whole thing on a ribbon and try it on before I get any further along…
Oh, yes, the Options needles. I know I've said my piece about metal needles before, and I still don't think they're a good idea for beginning knitters. But for experienced knitters (and I now consider myself experienced), they can be helpful. The same slide that drives a beginner crazy helps a veteran fly along. And I've been pretty much converted to one or two socks on a single long circular needle - it makes them so portable! So the two things together have helped me see a use for metal needles. However, I still use my beloved bamboo and wood needles for most of my knitting, especially lace. I've modified the points on most of them so that they're nice and sharp, perfect for lace stitches. Curiosity was involved in the Options purchase - everyone has been raving about the points on these needles, and I thought it was worth a try. So far I've been happy enough - the nice sharp points and cords with no real memory are nice to have around!