Monday, March 26, 2007

Real Ganseys are Real Warm

This project of knitting a gansey was started because I wondered how did the fishermen of old, stay warm? The hand knit "fisherman's sweaters" that I knew, simply were not warm enough to keep a fisherman warm on an extended fishing trip.

Thus, I have knit a traditional fisherman's gansey. Is it warm enought to keep a fisherman warm on an extended fishing trip? That would presume extended exposure to temperatures in the 30F to 50F range with winds of greater than 15 mph. I live in California, so skiing would a beginnning test. The air temperature was about right, and I could ski fast to simulate wind.

I wore my "Cornish gansey" for two days of skiing at Sierria Tahoe and Kirkwood. The air temperature was 30F to 50F, the slopes were not crowded, so we were able to ski fast to generate real, sustained wind effects.

The results were very surprising. The garment is perhaps the single best ski garment that I have ever worn. It was warm enough to keep me warm during fast runs early in the morning or in the afternoon shade. It was warm enough that I could wear it while skiing in shorts, while my companions were wearing long ski pants, long underwear, and ski parkas. On the other hand, it was cool enought that I could wear it on the sun deck or indoors. (With jeans, it is comfortable up to about 62F.) Thus, I was first in the beer line as my companions took off their ski gear, and I was first in the lift line as my companions geared up. I can imagine the virtues of sleeping in such a garment when all hands are called on deck to shorten sail.

Since this was a test, I wore the gansey with a variety of other garments including at least two different under garmnents. You can just see the blue collar of a shirt that I wear when running in cold weather sticking up from under the gansey in the picture where I am wearing shorts. However, the gansey proved to be more versital worn by itself, as shown in the picture where I am wearing the black ski pants.

This gansey has loose cuffs and collar. I fully expected that in the event of a fall, snow would get under the gansey. This did not happen. In fact, I took a good fall on the ice on upper
Zachary and expeced to slide all the way down to Home Run, but did not as a result of the greater friction between wool and ice as compared to the friction between nylon and ice. In any case, we skiied pretty much all of the double black dimond runs at Kirkwood, and there was no problem with snow getting into the gansey. The open slope above and behind me as I am seated is the "Wall" and a good example of what we skiied that day. >>Yes, we started above the cornice.

This was the first time that I had ever been perfectly, comfortably, warm skiing in a hand knit sweater. The great downside to this gansey is that it has no pockets. This convinces me that the purpose of the elaborate fishermen's sweaters was to keep the fishermen warm. The decorative stitch patterns provide additional warmth. The tight knitting provided wind proofing and warmth. The loose cuffs and collar provide ventilation as required.

This summer, this gansey will get a real test off the coast of Novia Scotia. I have no fear about it passing test.

This gansey was knit from Lion Brand fisherman's wool on 2.25 mm gansey needles yielding more than 8 stitches per inch. The stitch patten is Lizard Lattice. It was knit in round up to the armholes, then the front and back were knit separately and joined at the shoulder. The neck stitches were picked up and neck knit, then the shoulder stitches were picked up and each sleeve knit.

This is very different paradigm of constructing a warm garment.

Bottom line, if you want warm, knit tight.

Post Script
The success of the first test inspired a second test. A while back, I knit a fishing sweater for myself, so when a cold rain storm came through the area yesterday, I spent an hour walking around in the rain in that sweater. I was warm and toasty, and I stayed dry. Then, I put on a favorite, commercial "fisherman's" sweater that my wife had bought for me in New Brunswick, and which I had used as a standard of knitting excellence for several years. in the New Brunswick sweater, I started out into the rain again. I could feel every drop against my skin, I was wet in minutes. I was cold in 15 minutes. I put the sweater that I knit back on, and in minutes I was warm and dry again. Both sweaters had been washed in the same wool wash with lanolin in it, so they were similarly oiled. Both are knit at 5 spi. What is the difference? The yarn I used was about 25% heavier, thus was more tightly knit. However, because of shorter sleeves and less ease, the sweater I knit weighs 600 g compared to the 800 grams that the commercial sweater weighs. Thus, a lighter, but tighter knit sweater is much warmer.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cornish Fisherman's Gansey

New years Day, I cast on for a Cornish Fisherman's Gansey as described by Mary Wright in book. This gansey was pattern was selected because swatch testing indicated that the "Lizard Lattice" was the warmest stitch pattern, and it was a common stitch pattern for contract knit fishermen's ganseys.

My Cornish Gansey was finished last week. It is shown here modeled by my climbing buddy, Bob Williams.

Of course, it was filthy after some 130 hours of knitting and frogging. It was knit on steel needles. Half way through, I gave the needles I was working with away, and the replacement needles that I pulled out of the stash had to be polished. I guess I did not get those needles real clean after polishing, and that contributed to the filth on the sweater. Anyway it needed a full wash before blocking.

The gansey is quantitatively different from any other garment that I have ever worn. It is a very clever design. It is comfortable in a temperature range between 40 F and 60F. At higher temperatures, or when I am more active it automatically vents and remains comfortable. It is basically windproof up to about 20 knots. At 990 g it is twice as heavy as most of my medium weight synthetic technical pull overs and in the weight class of my heavier multilayer garments which run about 770 g. I have scheduled a head to head test in the snow.
The body of the gansey was knit using traditional steel gansey needles. These needles are 18 inches long and are 2.3 mm in diameter (US size 1). Five needles are used in the knitting. Below is a photograph of me knitting 16 inch needles, showing how the held and flexed during use. with longer needles, the knitting sheath is slid a couple of inches back on the belt.