Bebbanburg Gansey · Knitting

The Bebbanburg Gansey



Every time I see a new post from Gansey Nation appear in my email I know that it is Monday. This is important since I no longer work at a job, as otherwise I might continue to think every day is Tuesday.  It is very nice to know that I can count on a bit of kibble to feed my fascination with fine fisherman sweaters every Monday morning.

Besides that, it is always inspiring to see how Gordon steadfastly produces one glorious gansey after another, as though he is lounging on a very long, comfortable conveyor belt, taking photos of his surroundings as he passes them by; every few weeks returning to his point of origin and trading a finished gansey for empty needles and a new color of yarn for the next production. He has done this for many years.

I finally took it upon myself to emulate the master and begin a gansey of my own, using traditional motifs but not any published pattern or photo. Instead, I perused Gansey Nation, Beth Brown-Reinsel’s Knitting Ganseys, Michael Pearson’s Traditional HandKnitting, and various other books containing information about traditional ganseys.


I decided to use the Claret color of Frangipani 5-ply gansey yarn that I have had in my stash for a while, because I have at least 13 balls of it and wanted to be sure I didn’t run out of yarn.

I did swatch, but my swatch was among those of the untrustworthy kind, telling me 8.5 stitches per inch (on a 2.25 mm needle) was what I should use for planning. Instead I am getting 9 stitches per inch, but I think it will be ok.

I started with a Channel Island cast-on and a garter stitch welt of about an inch. I then increased by about 5% of my stitches (since garter spreads out more than ribbing), knit a plain area with my initials and then a ridge. After that I started the lower body pattern. It consists of two motifs, one a chain of moss-stitch diamonds (Bebbanburg is a diamond in the rough) and wide V-shaps with dots that remind me of two things: the jets that brought us here the first time we visited the area, and all the mosquitoes that hurl themselves toward me in relentless attempts to desanguinate me while I twitch with the itch in a fair imitation of the Saint Vitus Dance.

(The welt wants to flip up all the time, making it particularly difficult to get photos.  Hopefully this will be resolved in the future with a good blocking and steam pressing.)

These two motifs are separated all around by a 1/1 cable crossing every other row, flanked by two purl stitches. These cables also constitute the side seam and will eventually divide and continue around the outside of the gusset.


As does Gordon, I will wait to reveal the plan for the rest of the gansey closer to the time of its beginning.  He will remind me by publishing a post of his own!

Knitting · Weaving

Blustery Blunders

Post #2 of Plan B

Progress Achieved toward Goal: 16.66%

I was knitting merrily along yesterday as giant breaths of wind gusted wildly through the Pacific Northwest, hurling branches and debris at moving targets and kicking over flower pots like a tantrum driven two-year-old.  It was the kind of day Pooh would call “blustery”.  My gauge on Saint Olav was spot on (as Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old British chemist and lover of poisons might say while examining the specimen under a microscope in her late great-uncle Tar’s laboratory) and I had just progressed to the main part of the lower body where I would begin my vertical columns of white.

May I direct your attention to the picture of the sweater in my last post?  Can you compare my beautiful green and red border with that of the design photo?  Take your time… I’ll wait.


Why no, as you can plainly see, you cannot compare them, for the design calls for red and white, not red and green!  Three steps forward, two steps back, and here I am, starting the border over again.


The weaving went a bit better, and I’ve added about an inch, despite many rescues of yarn tails from little kittens.


Because of the Blustery Day, we (along with thousands of other people) lost our power for about 12 hours,  and were forced to revert to primitive means of getting our morning coffee– to wit, driving around until we found an open Starbucks and having them fill our two Thermos containers.  If we had been better prepared, we would have procured a battery-powered coffee grinder and made cowboy coffee on the gas grill.

Knitting · Pets · Spinning · Weaving

Begin Again?

I don’t know if the era of the knitting/weaving/spinning blog is past or not.  I notice that many blogs have gone by the wayside and wonder if it’s because the blogger just tired of it, got too busy, thought nobody cared, or some other reason.

From time to time I think about resurrecting this blog, but I’ve never really had a compelling reason.  I’m older, it’s harder to try to be funny (though I can’t help being silly sometimes), and I just don’t have as much time and energy as I used to.

But now I look around me and acknowledge the data that tells me that I will likely not finish anything I start.  In the past, it was fun to show my progress on the blog and get encouragement.  Just by knowing that I wanted my photo to show a bit more progress on the next blog post, I was motivated to work on an item.

Last week, a reader of one of my former blogs from many years ago wrote me to tell me how much I had helped her and enabled her, in turn, to help someone else.  That was a heartwarming message, and caused me to further consider the future of Material Thoughts.

So here I am, with Plan B (plan A: knit one thing at a time and finish it, has been declared officially impossible).

Plan B is the Blog plan.  For one month I will commit to posting 3 posts per week.  Each post will contain description and/or photos of my progress on projects.

If I can do this for one month, Plan B will get approved and extended to 3 months.  And so forth.

At my company, we use what is called the Agile methodology to plan and execute how we build software.  “Stories” are written in a specific way.  They have to say what is being done and why, and the why must be measurable, in the format “As a [person, organization or system] I want [something] so that [statement showing value].  So here is my story:

As a maker of things from yarn, I want to write blogs posts 3 times per week for one month showing continual progress on one project from each technique (knitting, weaving and spinning) so that I can make progress on works in progress.

Seems simple, right?  I hope so!

The Project On The Needles

Just started yesterday, Cynthia Wasner’s fabulous Saint Olav and his Men cardigan.  I am using the yarn called for (Rauma Finullgarn) in the colors called for, except subsituting Rose for the Orange. This is the photo from the pattern, since my 1/2 inch of ribbing isn’t very photogenic right now:

Full Disclosure:

I’ve committed to also knitting the Dale Peace Sweater, so I will be posting about both of those projects, which should both progress, but I haven’t received the yarn for it yet, and it will require some design changes so as to avoid knitting fair isle back and forth.

The Project On A Loom

Started last week (after actually finished a class sample), a small Navajo rug of my own design using traditional motifs.  I have two inches of this complete.  The goal of my Navajo weaving is to accept that Navajo weaving goes slowly, to savor the satisfying placement of the colors and the beat of the fork and to delight as the pattern emerges.

This is the design, which I created in Excel:

And here is my humble 2″ start.  The bottom is wobbly because I am a beginner and didn’t secure my edge twining properly.  Next time!

Navajo Weaving #2

The Project On a Spinning Wheel

In line with Navajo weaving, I ordered a lot of Navajo Churro rovings in different colors, from Desert Churros Rovings on Etsy.  This is beautifully prepared roving, not too “rustic” and the shop owner is absolutely wonderful.

I have spun up about a dozen skeins of this so far, on my cherry Hansen miniSpinner, aiming for a sport weight.  I have at least that much more to spin.  The darkest churro comes from Dyers Wool, and it had a bit of dandruff in it (I knew that before I bought it) which is hard to get out, but I hope it comes out with washing.  The dark heathery charcoal also comes from Dyers Wool.

It’s hard to get things washed these days, thanks to the new inhabitants of the laundry room, who haven’t quite attained citizenship in the Greater Household.  Spencer and Katie were adopted last week, born of feral mothers from two different Washington locations.  This brings us up to four cats and one dog.

Breast Cancer · Knitting · Uncategorized

The Knitting Police

How many times have you heard someone say “there’s no such thing as the knitting police”?  Well, I’m here to tell you that there IS such a thing.  They are unpaid volunteers, heroes– brave creatures who risk their reputation as a “nice person” to tell you the truth about your knitting or to keep you out of trouble to begin with.  You may not want them to work in your universe, but in mine they are essential citizens.  They provide criticism or advice as warranted.  They are the ones whose compliments you trust because you know they will tell you the truth.  They warn you of bad design choices– sweaters that will make your Rubenesque curves look like charging hippopotami, armholes that emphasize your aging, sagging bustline,  negative ease that you should have left behind in the ’80s.

If you aren’t aware of the Laws of Knitting, these enlightened enforcers will illuminate your path so that you can obey them in the future.  They may write you a ticket for bad grafting, but at the same time teach you how to do it right or refer you to source of proper instruction.  They may give you a warning for curling button bands; they may point out the egregious nature of the stockinette you produced while drinking the fifth rum and Coke (thought you’d gotten away with that, did you?).  They may even have the nerve to tell you that you will have to rip something back fourteen inches to fix it.  They are your friends.

Not everyone loves the knitting police, and these seek to deny their existence.  Many there are who believe that in this cruel world only kind and positive things should be said.  Instead of saying words to the effect that short sleeves make you look like a sumo wrestler they say “oh, I’ll bet you’ll love those short sleeves in the spring”.  Rather than telling you that your neckline pickup is sloppy, they’ll suggest you wear a scarf over it to “pick up the color of your eyes”.  Not quite as bad as offering you aloe vera for your burns as you blaze upon the stake, but along the same lines.  In the very wise words of the song from Ishtar (sung endearingly off-key):

Telling the truth can be dangerous business.
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand.
If you admit that you can play the accordion,
No one’ll hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Of course it is possible for our knitting police officers to cite offenders with tact and compassion.  The ratio of compassion (the “eggshell factor”) should be inversely proportional to how well the officer knows the perpetrator.  Practically strangers?  Approach with caution, use tact and euphemisms; do not scare the knitter into defensiveness.  “Maybe it’s just me, but is that cable crossed incorrectly near the bottom of the back… I could be wrong.  In fact I probably am.  Don’t worry about it,  it’s probably just the light.”   Longtime friend?  Fire at will.  “Your increases don’t match and you left out the right bust dart“.  Plain and simple, straightforward and honest.  If more knitting police would come out of hiding, knitters would (probably) be grateful.  Think of the times when you’ve had spinach stuck in your teeth.  Your companion lets you know; you are grateful.  It’s the same kind of thing.  Really.

The Knitting Police Academy does teach that habitual offenders should be left alone.  If they do not have a proper appreciation for the Laws of Knitting and fail to show interest or aptitude for such, they should be kindly tolerated.  Like the colorblind cartographer who doesn’t care if his socks match or not, these known knitting lawbreakers pose no threat to society.

One more thing:  there is corruption among the Knitting Police.  Outliers on the Force will be intentionally cruel and possibly not even well-meaning with their interpretation of knitting edicts.  They might be open to bribes in the form of delicately hand-dyed qiviut or combed merino top, but they will never help your knitting skills, so you’d best buddy up to a KP officer who is honest and perhaps curmudgeonly.

Ok, lecture over.  Here’s a photo of what my fingernails look like right now.  Cool, huh?

My left hand is worse, so I’ve got surgical tape over the first two fingernails.  The official name for this condition is “Onycholysis”  (some websites report the condition as “painless”, and by this it is obvious they have never endured it) , so I guess I’m officially an Onychoholic. Although by the grace of god I was able to put down the bottle of Taxotere and conquer my addiction to chemotherapy once and for all, I am stuck  with this hurty condition until the nails grow out.  Until that happens, I’m doomed to knit only a row now and then, but I’ve got a cushy side job.  I’m high in the ranks of the Knitting Police.


The Studio in Sunlight

Just as we were about to have galoshes surgically attached to our northwest feet and umbrellas implanted atop our Seattle skulls, the sun arrived.  Every year the weather teases us just a little bit more, and only the intrepid and those who take massive Vitamin D supplements can survive it.

I suddenly remembered (perhaps due to the sunlight) that I am supposed to occasionally tell you about my fiber endeavors, including (but not limited to) knitting.  Though I have missed a few months’ worth of Nihon Vogue classes, I still try to learn what is taught and thanks to good friends and fellow classmates I can do that.

My current project is just underway– a cardigan to be knit with Madelinetosh sportweight merino in a color called “Composition Book Gray”, which is a beautiful hue of cool grays trending toward lavender.  Lately I am drawn to this color like a caricature, as you will find out in future reports of other projects.  After having dutifully swatched and tallied up my gauge in all its permutations, I work on my draft in my little studio room, for once unencumbered by cats, who are presumably elsewhere in the house doing what cats do best– napping and dreaming about that poem where the cats creep in on little fog feet.

This particular cardigan will be round necked, with a twisted stitch motif placed on either side of the narrow button band.  The vertically knit bands will be created separately and sewn on for a nicer finish.  I am also putting in bust darts,  shaping the waist,  raising the back, adding short rows to the bottom sides, and raising the bustline for a nicer and more flattering fit.  The ribbing will be twisted rib.

Here are the swatches more plainly seen:

I have cast on for the back with a provisional caston and commenced with the first few rows.  It will be slow going, because unfortunately, since my fingernails are detaching from their beds, knitting hurts.  My oncologist assures me that this will “only” last for a few months.  I’m sure he meant to be encouraging.  Meanwhile, I’m in the process of trying to figure out how best to knit without using movements that involve, however remotely, my fingernails.  This is harder than you might think, because as you push the yarn along the needle, there is a pushing and pulling against the nail bed.  I’ve tried wrapping my fingertips in various substances, to no avail.  I’m hoping to have an epiphany any day now.

Finished Items · Knitting · Spinning

A Tale of 2.25 mm Needles

I’ve been knitting for a long time– ever since at the age of eight, armed with one red and one white skein of Red Heart Acrylic, I took a knitting class at the local YMCA.  Therefore it might not surprise you to know that I own a lot of knitting needles, in all permutations, materials, sizes and state.  But it surprised me that not long ago,  I did not have the one size I needed– 2.25 mm.

2.25 and 2.75 mm are not commonly stocked in stores in the U.S.  My mad dash to one of the local yarn stores saw me bringing home what I thought was 2.25, only it turned out to be 2.5 because I had assumed that the next highest size after 2.0 would be 2.25 and I was, sadly, mistaken.

So began my hunt for 2.25 mm needles.  These were to be used to knit ganseys, so they needed to be strong and either a) circular 24″ or 32″ or b) doublepointed, and long.   Over the course of a week I had found and ordered:

  1. Two 2.25 mm 32″ Addi Turbo circulars from a seller on Ebay.
  2. Two 2.25 mm 32″ Chiao Goo circulars from a seller on Ebay
  3. Four sets of five 16″ double-pointed steel needles from Frangipani in Great Britain, one of which was 2.25 mm.
  4. One case of 11 sets, 5 each of 14″ steel double-pointed needles from a Chinese seller on Ebay, one set of which was 2.25 — for $0.99.  That’s right– 99 cents.
  5. Two cases of 14 sets, 5 each, of 16″ steel double-pointed needles from a different Chinese seller on Ebay, one set of which was 2.25 mm — for about $28 for each set.
  6. As an honorable mention, I enquired at Signature Needles as to whether they could provide 16″ double-points.  They replied in the affirmative, but said they would cost about $250.00 per set.

I knew I was taking a gamble on the Chinese needles.  I knew that what seemed too good to be true probably was.  And I was so right.  Both sets of needles from China are utterly useless.

They cannot possibly be steel, and even if you are not telekinetic they will bend if you look at them.  The only positive thing I can say is that at least the red “velvet” case will be nice to hold future sets of real steel needles.

The needles from Frangipani were real steel needles.  They are sharp, have a nice heft to them and remain straight when stared at.  I don’t have a picture here because it would not serve any purpose– they look the same as the Chinese needles, but they are the genuine article!  However, I am still awaiting the knitting belt I ordered from the Shetland Islands a few weeks ago, and without that I can’t use them.

The Addi turbos were ho-hum.  The annoying thing about them was the cable, which kept kinking up.  I know, I know– I should run some hot water over them and they will be tamed, but I do not keep hot water in my knitting spot and do not believe that circular needles should have to be treated in order to behave.

So I eyed the Chiao Goos a bit warily.  They have a bend at the end of each tip that I thought would be annoying, but their red cable lay nicely in my lap as I cast on.  The needle material is smooth and slick, and the points are nice.  I have decided that these are my most favorite needle for knitting at a small gauge.  Yes, they are Chinese too, but made with a quality not even comparable to the cheap ones from Ebay.  They are the ones that I am using for Cape Cod.

Speaking of Cape Cod, it is like popcorn.  I just can’t seem to put it down and it grows very slowly but surely.  I am almost to the end of my first skein of Renaissance Poll Dorset, and I am still utterly in love with this yarn.

On the Saturday before Christmas, I decided that since a) I needed new socks and b) I had sock yarn I should c) knit a pair of socks before New Years.  Amazingly enough, I did it.  I used Cat Bordhi’s book New Pathways for Sock Knitting and the Riverbed architecture and they fit so perfectly that I immediately cast on for another pair.

2012 may turn out to be the year for socks and spinning, for I’ve also got Fortuna out and started her spinning again with a silk/merino blend purchased from The Artful Ewe at Madrona two years ago.

Knitting · Pets

The Perfect Yarn

For many years I have loved and admired Cape Cod, a gansey designed by Alice Starmore for her Fisherman’s Sweaters book and  expressly created for a feminine wearer.  The yarn used in the original design, like many of the venerable Rowan yarns of yore, is long discontinued.  It was a 50/50 silk/wool blend, and knit up at 34 stitches and 44 rows per 4 inches.

Because I did not have access to the original yarn, and did not know of a suitable substitute, I did not ever knit the sweater.  Over the years since Ravelry has come into existence, I periodically look at the implementations of the Cape Cod design as knit by other people, but nobody’s choice of yarn has ever struck me as perfect.  I therefore refrained from adopting any of those yarns.

In the last month or so, largely inspired by Gordon, I contracted a serious case of Gansey Fever, and so began once again my hunt for the perfect yarn for Cape Cod.

The characteristics of this yarn, in my opinion, would be that it is soft in appearance and feel, but not so soft that it stretches into nothing as it loops around the needle; that it is tightly twisted so that it shows great stitch definition,  but not so tight that it is harsh; that the color complements the design and is not overbearing.

One day it all came together, my perfect yarn:  Renaissance Dyeing 4-ply Poll Dorset.  The color is called Pastel, reminiscent of wispy clouds across a pale blue sky.  It knits at the perfect gauge on a 2.25 mm needle, and is everything I ever dreamed.  It has the bounce and softness characteristic of this breed of sheep, and I am infatuated with it.

In this picture you can see the bottoms of the shells and the beginnings of the horseshoe cables above the welt, see the sharp relief of the purls against the knits, and if you could also experience its softness against your skin you would agree that this yarn is perfect for Cape Cod.

Change of subject:  I told you about Stonewall in my last post, and here he is to greet and to wish you, with his operatic meow, a very Merry Christmas!