I have a friend who told me the story of how her grandfather had come many years ago from Japan, and landed on one of the islands in our regional waters of Prince William Sound. He had come with a friend, but what had struck me most of all, is that he and his friend had actually arrived in a rowboat. I imagined these two men in the open sea in this open skiff, subject to the elements, and I am sure some days must have felt endless and uncertain. No cellphone, no radio, no radar, no gps, just the sun, the stars, and a skiff.
Recently, I completed gansey number four, a hand knit garment for my eldest son, Matthew. It began as a concept in 2018, but the final swatch wasn’t actually cast on until March of 2020.
I had made a swatch earlier, but in the midst of the loss of my mother, I somehow misplaced it, and with so much going on surrounding the details of settling her estate, the project floated around, suspended in time and space. In reflection, this gansey has been my “seafaring in a rowboat” gansey. I describe this by sharing that many times through this gansey journey, I felt as though I wasn’t making any progress whatsoever, and often I would lose my bearings and felt totally lost in it. No land in sight, possibly moving in circles, and yet, I was determined to complete the journey. I had a mission of sorts, and I wasn’t going to leave this project unfinished, but rather, “in progress” despite the fact that it often languished, and I became weary of the slow going.
In terms of the time frame, I “left the harbor” with this project in March of 2020, at a time when globally we had no idea what lay ahead. In my mind, all would pass through in a month or so, but we all know what actually took place. Meanwhile, I learned about the zoom concept, and began a zoom group the beginning of April in 2020, in order to make myself available to those who might want to gather and work on ganseys together, as the shop was closed to the general public.
I created my circular swatch, experimenting with the concepts that grew out of an interview with Matt, my filmmaking son. He had chosen a heavier weight yarn, like the one I used for Nelly, which had been dyed by our local librarian yarn dyer, Anna Hernandez of “Skeins in the Stacks Yarns”. The project yarn was an over dyed heather grey, which I had been carrying after my first trip to New Zealand, and the very first yarn I ever carried in the shop, a sturdy Corriedale yarn created by Anna Gratton from the North Island, which is no longer being produced. I purchased what was left and Anna Hernandez had dyed it here in Cordova in a deep teal blue green, and called it “Wake”, as Matthew had wanted the color of the deep waters of Prince William Sound. He also chose the Seaweed colorway, as an accent, which was placed on the edges of the gansey in the same way that the seaweed hugs the shore, just as Matt, the skiff man on the boat, hugs the rocks and shoreline as he holds the net in place at a distance from the larger seine boat, circumventing the flow of schools of salmon as they travel along the water’s edge on their way to their destination, holding for just so many minutes before closing the circle of the net, and allowing other schools to pass on by.
Concerning this gansey rowboat sea journey, my companion alongside was the zoom group. Often there were weeks when the only knitting that took place was during these sessions. And so, I am most grateful to them, for their encouragement and their presence as I plugged away, "row by row" (pun intended), although often exhausted and in a fog.
I kept my gansey log journal, and often times it recorded times of a sluggish mind, unable to calculate, and often making mistakes, and often felt like the I was rowing against the tide, and the tide was winning. Some of the motifs were changed midstream and there were some motifs that I didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted until I got there. My journal and chart were in shreds by the time I finished, shoved often and dragged back and forth from dismantling my mother’s home and unfolding her estate, to periods of quarantine from travel and trips back and forth to the shop.
My motifs included a film strip, for his filmmaking past and future aspirations, a tree of life, cables, as well as symbols for water and ocean, and ladders that he wanted me to incorporate to represent progressing to the heights both physically and mentally. Matthew asked for basic cables, and stated, that for him these cables symbolized the challenges in life and the ties and ropes that connect him to the solid anchors in life. Matt even requested cables of DNA that extended from the strap beginning at his neck and on down to his sleeve on both arms, with three diamonds of faith, hope, and love across the chest. I added a heart on his right arm that when he folded his arm to his heart, our hearts would be connected.
Other symbols were included such as triangles to represent stability and equilibrium, and symbols of other elements that meant to Matt how different parts of the world around us are found within the different parts of ourselves. The filmstrip had to be oriented correctly to represent movie film, his primary interest.
Persistence. I was trying to think of a word for it. Others around me were completing one, two , three, even four ganseys at even a finer gauge, mind you, yet I continued , in my little wooden boat with my oars, at a different pace, yet determined not to give up. Thankfully, the company of the gansey group was good, and that brought great comfort to me. I witnessed and celebrated the completions of those in the gansey group and appreciated the friendships made in the process. I knit on, and Matt would try on the dear gansey for me despite its incremental progress as days, turned into weeks, turned into months, turned into years .
We had speakers from afar sharing their expertise and a bit of their faraway lives. Me, I meandered through the seemingly endless foggy banks, stalled and sometimes directionless. I would get to some spots and I would just have a blank stare, immobilized by uncertainty because my mind was overcome by the all encompassing heavy fog.
But then, at last I was making my way down the sleeves, which basically was almost a year from this photo above. I finished the sleeves, and then in a short creative burst, added in an interesting element across the back between the top of the back and the neckband in order to build up the back of the neck. It was a breath of strength as I reached the end and had land in sight. I created an additional sideways braid that was placed in the same way one puts in a shoulder strap.
It felt good to have been able to think this sideways cable through and to pull it off, as if it had been a part of the original plan. As in all ganseys, love and protection is knit into the every stitch, and for some reason, I liked the thought of this braid extending from arm to arm, without interruption, as though there was an unfound meaning in its presence.
And then, after months of holding onto it and carrying it around, it was time to step back on the shore. These last two years have been filled with so much emotion. For me, I felt a sense of closure on this window of time we have all endured, as well as the grief I held within from the loss of my mother's physical presence who was always such a source of creative encouragement.
I have made a long journey, and I realize that I have arrived in a different land, and some of that which was familiar is no longer. I mailed off Matt’s gansey. He was headed back to Alaska , but at the time I could not wait that long for it to arrive and make it officially his. He had waited so long and so patiently. I hope when he wears it that he feels the great love I have for him and that he will always understand this gansey to represent a lesson of patience and endurance, and for his life as well, to stay hopeful and persistent, even when things seem slow and difficult. I am always sad and happy to release a gansey, but I am content to now see it on him in the midst of life, knowing all the love wrapped within will have finally found its home.
When speaking to Deb Gillanders of Propagansey concerning this one, she came back to me with, “Dotty, It’s had a difficult birth”, and perhaps that is why it took me a couple of weeks to actually let it go and get into the mail…Ganseys seem to have their own time frame sometimes. If you are in the midst of one, take heart, your gansey's time will come and it will be just the perfect time.
And so off it went, and then came back again with him when he returned.
And with my dear gansey friends that I have made along the way from all around the globe, as I hold them close, I set my oars down, and let this gansey go…
Dear Gansey, you will always remind me of the deep blue green seas that we navigated together.
Have a good life caring for son Matt on his life adventures.
Photo of Matt, our film maker fisherman son.
We know what a challenge this last couple of years has been for all of us, each in our way. We have learned many lessons concerning perseverance and what is truly important. We have overcome challenges, and rowed across an endless sea, but for what it is worth, I am grateful for the new land it has taken me to, the new friends I have made, and those I hold near and dear that I continue to treasure close to my heart.
International Gansey Day is November 25. We welcome all those who are interested in creating an heirloom gansey to the project wherever you may be and for whatever reason. We are here to support and encourage your gansey journey as well.
I cannot find words to express how deep the value I have found in creating these garments, throughout the entire process. I have especially loved the community I have found as I have connected with others in the midst of creating them. We continue to meet on zoom each week and would love to have you join us. Be sure to check out the Cordova Gansey Project for more information.
As always, thank you for your purchases and support of The Net Loft. We appreciate you very much.
ps... hooray!! now on to gansey 5....for daughter Rosemary. Started my swatch...onward.
etching by Nicola Slattery