Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Every species has its survival mechanism. Cod like places where the fishermen are exposed to wind, fog, and cold. In response, fishermen have their gansey.

I like to fish for cod in the Gulf of the Farallons off of San Francisco. During the cod season, it is cold and windy and drizzly, with a serious swell rolling out of the North. That is where I started to meditate about, “How did those Irish sailors stay warm while fishing on the Finnish Sea?” Well, they stood in barrels of straw to keep their feet and legs warm and dry as seas splashed across the deck. If you have a wooden barrel to keep the wind off of your legs, what kind of a tightly knit sweater do you wear to keep your upper body warm?

First, a garment that is every so tightly knit to keep the wind out. Then, a stitch pattern that does three things. It gives the fabric a 3-dimentional aspect to provide maximum warmth with minimum weight. The stitch pattern also provides additional stretch in a garment that is so tightly knit and somewhat felted. Finally, the stitch pattern provides air ventilation between the waterproof oilskins worn over the gansey allowing water vapor to be carried off. This theory is familiar to anyone that has considered the problems of athletes and workers staying warm in cold environment. It is just the sailors of old hit on a solution that is attractive enough to wear to weddings, funerals, and church on Sunday. Our modern sporting gear companies do not aim for their gear to be both so practical and so beautiful.

I have no connection to Cottage Craft. I tried a bunch of stuff, and I am just telling you what I found that works. Experiment! I am sure that you can find something else that works!

My beautiful “Fisherman’s” sweater that I bought at Cottage Craft in St. Andrews, N.B (http://townsearch.com/cottagecraft/)makes a great ski sweater. But, it does not really work out cod fishing. It is not tightly enough knit. It is knit at only 5 stitches per inch. The matching yarn that Cottage Craft gave me to make a hat out of, had instructions to use US size 6 needles. I did, and I knit a very nice cap (actually I knit a bunch of stuff). This caused me two years of frustration, even with the solution right under my nose.

When I looked at Gladys Thompson’s books on Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans, I thought that I would have to use a much thinner yarn than the Cottage Craft 2-ply yarn that I had been using on US size 6 needles. But when I used a thinner yarn, sizing/ gauge came out wrong and the stitch patterns did not look right. The stitches just did not look right. The solution was to use the Cottage Craft yarn on US size 1 needles. This is a tight, tight knit.

The Cottage Craft yarn has about 272 yards per 113 grams (4 oz). It is oiled and has a lamby smell when it gets wet. (I will come back to this oiled issue later in the week.) It also has some vegetable matter in it. On the other hand it is very inexpensive at US$4.00 / 4 oz. But this yarn works for the Gladys Thompson patterns. The winning point for this yarn is the wonderful colors that it comes in.

The other yarn of about this weight that I have found is from Iriss of Penzance at http://www.iriss.co.uk/ganseys.htm. I have not tried this yarn. It may be less scratchy, I do not know. It is more expensive, and the colors (over the internet) are close to boring.

No comments: