Like many people who lost a parent in childhood, I don’t have much flotsam and jetsam from childhood.
I did stumble on this school book, though. I was 8 and as you can see, utterly lacked literary promise.
I also lacked artistic ability. But since when did we let minor details like that get in the way?
These were done in the old Girls’ School in our village – a fabulous Victorian Board School building which still had some of the original Victorian teachers, in 1969, judging by their rather brutal comments.
By the time I was a teacher, we were trained not to write negative things, or use red pen, as it might hurt the kids’ tender sensibilities. 1969 teachers didn’t give a stuff, though. I take it she only didn’t use red pen as she’d just had one run out on her, after a few days’ writing vicious and censorious remarks.
So glad I wore cotton pants. This was 1969. They might have been synthetic:
And, just to show the length of my career writing about sheep or rather, “seep”:
I actually had NO CLUE how cloth was made when I was 8 (or 18) so this was clearly copied from a book and forgotten about by tea-time.
Yet again, these blog posts are like buses. Nothing for ages then two come at once.
Yesterday, someone contacted me to ask where they could find the pattern for Bob Jenkinson’s gansey. I realised I never got round to figuring it out – other things intervened.
So, whilst eating my tea, I did the ultimate in multi-tasking and figured out (roughly) Bob’s gansey. What follows is my rough version chart.
As I don’t like doing moss stitch/variants, and like a gansey with something a bit more figurative I realised, looking at it, it’s one I’m never going to knit. Therefore this has not been test knitted, never will be by me, and so if you want to have a go at it I’d use my chart with any refinement of your own and take the accompanying notes with a pinch of (sea) salt.
If knitting this, do the maths yourself, in other words!
To figure out a pattern from an old image, I usually magnify it, sometimes greyscale it, and mess with the contrast. Not really needed for this one as it was fairly straightforward and in the time it took me to eat my tea, I’d charted it.
There is always the possibility that several people will look at an image and interpret what they see, differently. And so, a codicil – this is just my version. Your’s is no less (possibly more) valid. Sometimes I can look at the same picture on two different days and come up with two charts. I have fairly arbitrarily decided on an 8 round repeat for the cable. In some images, it is easy to count the rounds – others; less so. This picture looks higher res than it is, and the best way to get some idea of the cable repeats was to look at the double moss stitch alongside the cable, and count the number of rounds using those moss stitches, counting vertically. I couldn’t decide whether it was 6 or 8, so went with 8.
Looking at it again today, I’m still not sure as a 6th round repeat cable is far more common. The Filey patterns in Mrs Thompson mostly cross the cable every 6th round. But one crosses it on the 7th. I’ve stuck with the 8th because it fits in nicely with your round repeats. You decide!
Looks like Bob had around 6 cables on the Front; so maybe 12 pattern repeats in all.
You may want to add in 4 extra stitches per cable, at the welt; rising to 6 on the body. I haven’t yet made a gansey with this many cables, and so don’t compensate for the cables’ fierce pull-in with any extra stitches. But other knitters do.
This is why I’d do a tension square and figure out how far your chosen needles and yarn take you from 28 st per 4″, and then decide whether you want to cast on, say one extra patt rep front and back.
Assuming the fairly usual tension of 28st to 4″, and seeing Bob has about 6 cables on the Front, I think we can assume this is around a 38″ chest.
The cables are left leaning so made in the front of the work, a simple 6 stitch cable – I knit inside-out so I have to figure these things out for other knitters with my tongue sticking out. I don’t think the pattern is particularly centered.
We can’t see his shoulder treatment, so I’d assume something very simple – end with some ridge and furrow and cast off the Front and Back together, leaving the centre 1/3rd of stitches for your neckline.
It has a simple, old style neckline – that sort of funnel shaped treatment (as they often wore a silk neckerchief underneath – you see this on the rivers, as well). K2 P2 ribbing, ending with a couple of rounds of garter stitch. Bob’s looks to be cast off very firmly.
We also can’t see the sleeves, so I’d assume the same pattern on the top half, and maybe plain stocking stitch from the elbow as that looks fairly standard on the old Filey ganseys in Gladys Thompson’s book. It’s a fairly safe bet the sleeves ended with K2 P2 ribbing, too as we can see that elsewhere on this gansey.
The Filey Cammish, Overy and Jenkinson families have varying ganseys that turn up in all the gansey books. They are a case study in the fact that there was no such thing as a village or even a family gansey.
Although knitters often retain their favourite vertical panel and recycle it alongside different motifs; and we can see that too in the various Filey patterns in Gladys Thompson’s ‘Guernsey and Jersey Patterns’.
In Scarborough, Gladys Thompson met someone who may have been related to Bob:
In search of further material I went to see Kate Brailey, who keeps a fried fish shop, and she told me to go to see Mr Overy. This is an old Filey name, and the door was opened by a typical Filey fisherman, with little gold earrings. George Jenkinson Overy…. Mrs Overy showed me several guernseys knitted by his mother..
I found George Jenkinson Overy on the 1911 Census. His mother – the lady who knitted the ganseys shown to Mrs Thompson – was Sarah Jenkinson. (Who may well have been a sister, cousin, or other relative to our Bob). She married Thomas Cammish Overy in September 1895 and George was born in 1899.
The fact they Filey folk turned up in Scarborough also puts paid to the ‘only one pattern here’ myth. According to Mrs Thompson’s account, they seem to have had with them ganseys knitted by the previous generation, in Filey and this is how patterns migrated around. Some of the other Scarborough fishing families were originally from Norfolk. A study of genealogy makes the overlap and movement of motifs around the coastline, far more concrete and we start to understand why there is no real ‘Filey’ pattern or ‘Whitby’…
Jenkinsons, Cammishes and Overys could all be found on the 1901 Census, on Queen Street in Filey, precisely where Gladys Thompson met them, decades later. Although gaddabout George Jenkinson Overy had strayed as far away as Scarborough by the 1940s, it seems.
The moss stitch in the chart above resembles the panel of the same in Fig 21, of ‘Guernsey and Jersey Patterns’ [P 46] which was knitted by Mrs Overy of Filey. Her family liked a bit of moss stitch. Apparently, this was also called ‘Mary Ann’s stitch’.
Gladys Thompson and Rae Compton wondered aloud who this fabled knitter ‘Betty Martin’ was. I used my sleuthing to uncover the truth! For the intriguing tale of how I figured out who (or rather what, as it turned out) ‘Betty Martin’ was; see ‘River Ganseys’.
I should add: there is nothing wrong with substituting Betty Martin for Mary Ann stitch – just make a tension square, though, so you can do the maths to get the right number of stitches to cast on.
I hope this post gives a small insight into reverse engineering from a photo and also the Bob Jenkinson pattern basics, for anyone who wants to give it a go.
Historically, the simple Backwards Loop Cast On seemed to be popular. It was certainly a cast on described in some of the earlier knitting manuals of the 1830s-40s. It’s not the prettiest cast on and also is not as strong or elastic as we might want for a gansey, where we want to get as much yarn into that first round or two, and build into it some give.
Where you can see cast on edges in the earliest book about ganseys, ‘Guernsey and Jersey Patterns’ by Gladys Thompson (1951), the cast ons look like nothing to write home about. Unshowy, serviceable cast ons. Mrs Thompson seemed to assume the reader would favour their own.
Many of us knit using the first cast on we learned, or our favourite, without really adapting to the project. I know I used a simple cable cast on for more than two decades, with absolute gay abandon. I might have doubled the yarn for a gansey cast on but that was the extent of it. Rae Compton’s classic “The Complete Book of Traditional Guernsey and Jersey Knitting” (1985) walks us through several possible cast ons, and if you’re a fan of tension squares (“swatches” and I’m no fan) then every time you knit a new square, try a different cast on.
Nowadays I favour the Channel Island Cast On. It manages to get three strands of yarn into that vital first round and looks so pretty with the ‘pearls’ of yarn along the cast on edge. So that is the cast on I want to talk about, today. But not without a quick diversion.
One alternative is a provisional cast on. I favour the one where you make a crochet chain, then knit into each loop. Later you can cut away the crochet, and have those live stitches to knit down from. I have used a provisional cast on when knitting kids’ ganseys – an insurance policy against a growth spurt. But in the past, certainly along the Yorkshire coast, they have been used so that when the welt starts to show signs of wear and tear, you can unpick the thing and re-knit the welt. It is easier to do this with a cast off edge, than a cast on.
The thing you have to trade for your pragmatism is a less pretty edge as it’s hard to make a cast off edge as decorative as a pretty cast on.
One cast on I have used for hats, and not ganseys, but would consider for ganseys, is the German Twisted cast on. That looks great with garter stitch.
I won’t give a tutorial on the Channel Island Cast On here, just a few tips. The reason being I think it’s easiest to learn from a video and I can’t do that here.
You won’t go wrong with Beth Brown-Reinsel’s tutorial, or Eunny Jang’s. Alongside those, here are a few quick pointers. This will only make sense to someone in the middle of a Channel Island cast on. Sometimes, understanding what you’re meant to be doing, and a couple of tips, make the penny drop sooner! Beth gives instructions for the C I Cast On, using either English or Continental knitting styles. I knit Portuguese style, but cast on continental. So knitting style isn’t crucial.
A general tip for gansey cast on…. I cast on flat, on two needles, and knit the first several rows flat, before joining in the round. If you’ve left a long enough tail, you can easily, in seconds, sew those initial rows together to make your rows into rounds – and that is less aggravating than knitting ten rounds before you discover a twist! Which despite my experience, has happened to me in the past year, let’s just say!
Channel Island Cast On
You are casting on in pairs of stitches. The first stitch of each pair is a yarn over. The second, you are making by pulling a single strand of yarn through that doubled yarn over your thumb.
I find it easier to work from 3 balls of yarn, rather than knit like I sometimes would for a long-tailed cast on, where I’d use a single ball or cone. It is much less stressy to use 3 balls at once as you are not worrying about running out before all the stitches are cast on. If knitting from a cone, I’d make two small balls of yarn, enough for the cast on round and use alongside the cone.
Make a slip knot with all 3 strands to start off. Ignore this and don’t knit it for the first couple of rounds, then you can undo it and darn in the ends to secure the round. (This is the end of yarn I use to close up my initial 3 or 4 flat rows, when I’m making them into rounds). Leave the slip knot and knit into it if you need an odd number of stitches, though.
You have the doubled yarn on your thumb. Remember to wrap the doubled yarn anti-clockwise, round your thumb – as then you can pull the yarn through more easily, and get a neater finish when you pull the yarn snug to the needles, before you start the next stitch.
The little pearls of yarn along the cast on edge will be set off to their best advantage with a couple of rounds of garter stitch, before you start ribbing. 1 X 1 ribbing works better with a Channel Island cast on, than 2 X 2. 2 X 2 tends to be commoner in traditional knitting, though.
Tensioning this is the hard part. It is very difficult to make sure the little pearls of yarn you’re making, don’t look sloppy; and you want them to be fairly uniform as they will draw in the eye of the beholder. So take your time to make sure each stitch is seated perfectly – I just work doggedly through each pair of stitches at a time, and try not to think too far ahead! I can be interrupted mid most things, whilst knitting but will only cast on when I can guarantee no interruptions. Well, so far as anyone with 5 kids can guarantee no interruptions.
My other tip for gansey cast ons… Place a marker every 20 stitches. Traditional knitters thought in ‘scores’. This way you can more easily keep track of where you are in the cast on. And double check your accuracy by re-counting every score of stitches. So you’re only ever really thinking in 20s, not 200-odd to 300-odds. I have dyscalculia and struggle with numbers, seeing them backwards and all sorts, so I find this keeps it manageable for me and as I know at the end of casting on, that each section really does contain 20 stitches, I only have to count up the markers to be sure I have cast on the right number of stitches.
Gladys Thompson described a Filey knitter, Lizzie-Ann:
… I often slipped up to her cottage in the evenings and listened to her lovely East Yorkshire dialect and learnt to knit the different patterns she was always ready to show me.
She talked very fast, and it was difficult to follow all she said. She called her knitting needles ‘Pins’, the stitches were ‘loo-ups’ and she reckoned nubers by ‘t’scoore’. She was a quick knitter and worked with one needle held under her arm.
Although the Channel Island cast on is not ‘traditional’ for Yorkshire knitting, I use it anyway because it looks so beautiful and with those acres of boring 2 X 2 ribbing ahead of me, followed by an expanse of fairly plain stocking stitch before my pattern starts, I’m determined to do something a bit special-looking, when I can.
In “Knitting Ganseys”, Beth Brown-Reinsel points out:
“… Whereas in modern garments, the ratio of ribbing to body stitches is 90 percent, many old gansey ribbings had the same number of stitches as the body 100 percent)…” 
And this is worth mentioning when thinking about cast ons, as well. I usually check my measurements and calculations for a gansey using Elizabeth Zimmermann’s ‘EPS’ system (See ‘The Opinionated Knitter, 2008, page 25 – first EZ book I pulled out at random – EPS can be found in most of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books). But I tend to ignore EPS for the welt, and cast on very close to 100%. I may add in the faux seam stitches – anything from 2 stitches to 6 or more – above the welt. But yes. There’s that to consider, too, when casting on a gansey.
To add to this, there is the modern idea of changing needle sizes so a contemporary knitter may go down a needle size or two for the welt, as well as start on 90% of the final body stitch number. I am with the traditional knitters, and stay with the same size needles throughout. That said, I prefer close to zero negative/positive ease and like them to fit well.
These are matters of personal taste and the knitter must, as ever, do what seems right to her/him.
Hope these tips and random thoughts on cast ons, are useful.
Look what came for me last week! A belated Mother’s Day present, from me to me.
A knitting belt from Journeyman Leather. I have long had my eye on these, but when I had a mini windfall selling some I’ll-never-knit-this stash on eBay, I decided to finally take the plunge. Especially after I saw the picture on their Facebook Page of the nice, groovy and funky coloured knitting belts. I asked for green; or red if no green was ready to go and am now so glad it was red!
I have had a knitting belt from elsewhere for years but never fell in love with it because when it came it looked nothing like the picture in the brochure – this was in the days when there were brochures not websites! Totally nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t look usable for what I do (living history). And I never forgave it for not being the one in the picture.
No such problem with Journeyman knitting belts.They are sewn – not a rivet in sight. And even a funky coloured one is OK for living history, I reckon, because the vege-tanned leather in the past was occasionally dyed bright colours.
An historical quibble though. Journeyman say : “The Shetland Knitting belt is unique to our islands…” and I can’t blame them for being proud of their brilliant heritage. But that’s not quite accurate. Belts were used in Yorkshire. I don’t know about elsewhere in the UK as I only get to the museums here and in Cumbria. But my feeling is they may have been universal, once. Although Dales knitters seem to have preferred a wooden knitting stick.
Researching ‘River Ganseys’, I found a man’s description of his Humberside mum knitting ganseys using a ‘tipee’ and he goes on to describe a knitting belt. There are examples from here in at least two Yorkshire museums and of course, Gladys Thompson mentions them more than once. They may have been less common in some parts of Yorkshire than others, as the firm accounts I have are from Humberside and I know one example in a museum, from here on the Vale of York.
I’ve thought of them as ‘knitting belts’ or ‘tippies’ . In Staithes, Gladys Thompson saw one when she visited the elderly Mrs Manship:
Her daughter showed us the leather ’tishie’, or pouch, pierced with holes and worn on a band round the waist…
I hate it when I hear people using the old words like “pricks” (no laughing at the back) or try to pretend there is some complicated distinction between “gansey” and “guernsey” (there isn’t) – although traditional knitting belongs to everyone, the world over, there is something pretentious about swaving pricks thousands of miles away by people who didn’t grow up using this now largely defunct lexicon. I grew up with at least one parent who was fluent in the East/West Riding border dialect but even I cringe to hear what feels like cultural appropriation. I think the oldest knitting usage I heard was ‘pins’ for ‘knitting needles’ which was a common usage across the UK and not particularly Yorkshire dialect.
But I love the word TISHIE so much it’s not cultural appropriation for me to use it, right? Or anyone, come to that, because tishies deserve another life. So tishie it is.
I might revert to tipee sometimes.
Coming Soon – I’m working on a blog piece on genealogy and knitting. In Gladys Thompson’s Footsteps. I recently found out the writer of ‘Guernsey and Jersey Patterns’ came from my neck of the woods – by no means a foregone conclusion in such a large county. So look out for a piece coming soon, about the places Gladys Thompson knew, growing up here in the Vale of York. We had ancestors in Selby at the same time, and from similar backgrounds, both with close relatives who worked on the river when Selby was a busy dock. There must be something in the water, here!
And also hopefully give an insight into how a pattern evolves. This design was eventually published as “Parthenope”. I wanted to name the ganseys in the book after actual river vessels. Here’s one I called “Parthenope” (p.175ff). But in an earlier incarnation, as I was developing the design, it was simply called ‘The Gansey of Pinkness’.
“Parthenope” was a ketch (two masted ship) built on the river, at Howdendyke, in 1885. She was owned by John Holmes who lived on Neptune St, Hull. She was named after one of the sirens of Greek myth. The gansey has the hearts pattern sometimes found on the rivers and along the coast in Yorkshire.
If you fancy knitting a version of The Gansey of Pinkness, then ‘Parthenope’ is fairly close. Although like all patterns, it evolved. I will put a couple of the prototype’s pics up here simply because the motifs pop better in the paler colour.
The greatest difference between the prototype and later version, are the sleeves. My favourite shoulder and sleeve treatment, is to knit at right angles to the front and back, starting at the neck edge, and knit down, usually with a central cable which can then continue uninterrupted the whole way down the arm. I wanted to offer some different options with ‘Parthenope’ so that ended up with a simpler shoulder and sleeve. I like to go off piste when knitting other people’s patterns, so hope anyone knitting mine will totally ignore my suggestions and do the shoulders and sleeves another way to that suggested, if they prefer.
In the book, for technical reasons, we had to present the ganseys’ body charts as a series of small, separate charts but when I work, I always make a big master chart that incorporates all the vertical motif patterns, in one go and work from that.
Often traditional gansey motifs have varying depths and the challenge for me is usually to even things out so that all my different vertical panels have the same number of rounds’ repeat, or smaller motifs are in multiples of larger. This obviates the need for the knitter to keep different round counters for different pattern panels.
And although I chart on Envisioknit, and export that as a .PDF to whatever machine I’m using – iPad or laptop – I also usually draw out a chart the old-fashioned way, by hand, even if it involves sellotaping several widths of graph paper together – knowing from long experience that my laptop gets hijacked by teenagers who want to play ‘Football Manager’ and my iPad usually ends up being commandeered, at some point, too!
I have knitted fern motifs on several ganseys and they do seem to be a motif I re-visit – diamonds and stars also re-cured during ‘River Ganseys’ – largely because they actually do recur on extant inland mariners’ ganseys. The ferns not so much – but they remind me of the fir trees in the little plantations here, along the river.
The alternate open and closed hearts are a bit of a trademark of my knitting. The closed hearts I always think of as kind of memorials, to the loved ones I’ve lost. As I was knitting a child’s gansey with hearts when my late dad fell ill and segued into closed hearts then. I can never quite make all the hearts closed, though.
Even old motifs can change their meaning, and I think people’s own choices are what makes gansey knitting so unique and personal.
I wrote a ‘Ganseys 101’ chapter in ‘River Ganseys’ to support readers in developing their own designs and patterns. So I saw the gansey patterns in ‘River Ganseys’ as a handy introduction, maybe for someone knitting their first gansey who felt like a bit of hand-holding was in order. But even so, if knitting one of these feel free to substitute out motifs for others of a similar stitch count you prefer. (Knit a tension square of your planned substition motif first, maybe!) They are just a starting point and there are other options and different ways to do things as I hope to show you with some of the other river ganseys.
I’ll be doing a couple of gansey workshops this year at the Yorkshire Museum of Farming and in the summer, a Yorkshire ganseys workshop at Baa Ram Ewe in Leeds. So check out my Talks & Workshops pages for those!