Recently, I was privileged to be asked to do a very short talk on the history of ganseys, as part of the Autumn/Winter season launch at Baa Ram Ewe, in Leeds. “Knit Happy. Knit Yorkshire.” the sign on the shop says – now there’s a sentiment I can get behind.
Sort of familiar territory, as a couple of years back, I sometimes rode shotgun with a very dear, departed friend, when she went to her hospital appointments in Leeds. To make the day bearable, she’d treat herself to a trip to Baa Ram Ewe when the treatment was over, and so I was introduced to the fantastic shop that was the old Baa Ram Ewe, in Headingley. I hadn’t been back since my friend died. In the meantime, the shop has moved to lovely premises on the Harrogate Road, in Chapel Allerton, and now has a lovely range of its own yarns, as well as some brilliant, Yorkshire-inspired, patterns and books.
The new season sees the introduction of Dovestone Natural Aran, which has subtle gradients of natural greys, (anyone who is a spinner knows how difficult it is to maintain a consistent quality of yarn and simultaneously shift the colour along a gradient – I did it many years ago with some Jacob’s wool, here). The Dovestone is a mixture of Bluefaced Leicester, Wensleydale and Masham – all three are longwools with strength and lustre; the Bluefaced also has a softer, sort of buttery feel to it and is probably one of the most traditional of all commercial yarns in that the Victorians liked to use an ancestor of this breed in their knitting yarn. Which would make Dovestone eminently suitable for all kinds of traditional knitting, of course.
Baa Ram Ewe have also added some new, vibrant colours to the Dovestone DK range (I’m hoping to try some out for a new gansey design, as this year I’m experimenting with using non ‘traditional’ 5 ply guernsey yarns, and as this has the lustre I love, I want to try it out).
Best of all, they have published ‘Yorkshire Shores’, by Alison Moreton and Graeme Knowles-Miller. Regular readers here know that I believe there is no real dividing line between ‘real’ ganseys and ‘inspired-bys’. ‘Traditional’ knitting has always been a broad church; ‘traditional’ knitters didn’t always only use commercial 5 ply guernsey yarn; nor did they stick to a certain size needle. The only law is – there are no laws. Also, I have started wondering about using a wider variety of yarns. I’m all about Yorkshire history and Yorkshire knitting, using Yorkshire-made yarns. So this book was always going to appeal to me.
At the season launch, we could see all the samples from the photo shoot – and these knits look as lovely ‘in the flesh’ (on the hoof?) as they do in Joelle Trousdale’s images – which made me want to return to Staithes ASAP!
‘Yorkshire Shores’ is sound on technique – and would be an excellent gateway drug to the stuff of absolute ‘traditional’ Yorkshire knitting. Not only the elements of design but also some of the solid techniques the designs walk you through, would stand you in good stead for any future gansey knitting. They both know their stuff.
Special mention must go to my two favourite designs from the book. With ‘The Ropes’ Graeme has actualised a design I sort of had in my head for the past couple of years – but done it better! Not just me, but the redoubtable Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth (known to many for ‘Freyalyn Fibres’, although I first envied her work years ago via ‘Spin Off’ magazine) quite rightly fell in love with Alison’s ‘Flamborough’.
On the way home, we realised the shop was about five minutes from the cottage where dad was born, on Bradley Terrace (near Roundhay Park). So we popped up there to say ‘hello’ to him, or rather, to see it for him. We had known Dad was dying for a few years, and when he got too frail to travel any more, right near the end, and now living in the Midlands, we went across to Birchwood Hill and Bradley Terrace, to take photos of his birthplace and the two houses on the adjoining road where both dad’s sets of grandparents lived. That was one of the last times I saw Bradley Terrace and I can’t think of it now, without thinking of the smile on Dad’s face when he saw it one last time, in our photos. It was a poignant day for all kinds of reasons – my first visit there since C died, without C. And also Bradley Terrace on the way home. Some of that probably accounted for the crashing migraine I had all day! But the little pilgrimage at the end of the day was something happy, not sad.
I hope to return to Baa Ram Ewe very soon, and now have even more fond associations with the folk who ‘Knit Happy. Knit Yorkshire’.
And Ay Up but I nearly forgot… For everyone born here in Yorkshire, those Yorkshire in spirit, and those who just love the history of our beautiful county… Happy Yorkshire Day, everyone!