Cordova Gansey Project: Letting Go

Cordova Gansey Project: Letting Go

There are some ideas that come from within. We work hard to brainstorm them with purpose and focused attention. We feel responsible for what becomes of them, because we are personally entrenched in their inception, and because they are something that has emerged from our own thought processes, and for that reason feel compelled and driven to bring them to life. I have had these kind of ideas, and it is exciting to watch them grow from idea to reality.

In regards to the Cordova Gansey Project, however, I feel it has been something altogether very different. Although the project is very personal and I am deeply involved, I was and continue to be just a faithful follower. The idea came from outside of me and I felt it call to me and  simply followed where it took me. I felt responsible to the calling rather than to any idea of my own, and tried my best to listen and follow the direction to which it led, all the while recognizing that the pathway of the life I have lived and the places life has taken me had brought me to this very place and project, and I have recognized and acknowleged that entangled with my part in it all, were three things I value very much ... family, fishing, and craft.

Last night, as I packed up Nate's finished gansey, I felt somehow this sense that I was sending off a physical and symbolic "rite of passage". . . a blessing bestowed on a son moving into a place of leadership and authority from young person into adulthood. And although he has now been the Captain for over a year of the good ship Orion, previously manned by my husband, for some reason, I felt an overwhelming sense of depth and meaning, as I attempted to pen him a letter that I hoped would instill in him a greater understanding of what this transition really meant to me.

As I packed up his gansey carefully, first sewing inside the label with my signature, then tying it up with a length of seine twine, I began to reflect more precisely on what I was actually feeling concerning this send off and seeming rite of passage, and what came to my mind is what I believe we share as parents in our hopes for our children in regard to the qualities and character we hope to see develop in them as they emerge into adulthood.

I ended up making up and tying with it a special tag by writing down upon it these certain character qualities that I hoped would guide him amidst his future fisherfolk life, so that he would know that along with the love I knit into every stitch, that there were these valuable qualities I had reflected upon as I worked on his gansey, praying also for his safety and success.

In light of this, I believe there are many different ways one measures success, and my hope for him is that he will always keep the broader picture in perspective, and that he will remember in the midst of his fishing and life endeavors that his character and conscience are the most valuable of all he has or ever will come to possess. 





abundant harvest








& faith


And then I sealed up the box. 

After months of knitting on and off, months of story telling, events, discussions, figurings, doings and undoings, all the ends woven in, the tag sewn on, the letter written, the box taped,  it is time to let go.

When my husband Bob first said,  "I think I am thinking about retiring" and then gave our son a chance to work as a leader on the boat, my husband said, "Well, maybe we could co-captain the boat together."  Nate knew otherwise. There can only be one Captain of the ship. It was hard at first for my husband to let go, and even now he still likes to know all the particulars, but Nate knew there could only be just one captain and told my husband so. It could be either one or the other, but it couldn't be both.  It meant letting go, and letting the next generation become the new leader. It's hard to let go, and somehow all tangled up in the knitting is this process of stepping back and letting the younger ones take the helm.

And so this particular voyage is complete. Nate's gansey is now in the mail and on its way. I cannot wait for the package to arrive in Homer where Nate is working to completely refurbish the family boat, making it his own, bringing it up to date for him to start his own life journey in the fishing fleet. I have told him to send me a photo when he wears it for the very first time.  He will have his own stories to share of deckloads and waterhauls, rocks that make big holes, storms and sunrises, rafting up with friends, berry pancakes and cobblers, hikes on the island mountaintops, nets, and ropes and engines, deck wenches and power blocks, jellyfish, kelp, and that sparkle of sunlight as it dances on the waters of the ocean on a sunny day, and somehow I feel as though I will be there in a way in the gansey I knit for him.

Nate's gansey took me to many special places. On the way I made new and wonderful friends, and reinforced and strengthened those who I continue to hold near and dear.  Thanks to all of you who followed along the way. For now, a new voyage is being planned, that of the gansey for my son in law,  Michael. The next ship is sailing, and off I go. I had a wonderful visit a couple of weeks ago to Tolt Yarn & Wool, a very very special yarn shop in Carnation, Washington, and after a presentation we gave on the project, I was able to take measurements of Michael to get the project launched.

I feel as though I have had a nice little rest from my gansey knitting and ready now to embark on this new journey and when I let go today at the post office of that package for Nate, I knew the best thing to do was come home, open up my notebook, and start planning the next.  Here's to a safe arrival on a distant shore.  

journeys end..on to the next


FisherFolk Illustration with Orion in the Night Sky - Artist Clare Chapple .  Inspired from Gansey talk and gathering at Tolt Yarn & Wool where she works as a member of their fine team.

Measuring Michael at Tolt Yarn & Wool - Photographer Kathy Cadigan

For those in the Seattle region: There is a group within the Tolt Yarn & Wool Community that have joined the project, and if you are in this region and interested in ganseys, we are trying to work together to help those who want to attempt the process have the information and supplies they need to get started. 

Father and Son circa 1996

Sepia photo: Captain Nate steering skiff with crew headed back to F/V ORION  Snug Harbor Prince William Sound. Photo by Brother Matthew.

Back to blog


Thank you Marjorie. Good luck on your project and do keep us posted on your progress.
I am finally restarting the gansey journey for my son in law, despite my good intentions of actually getting knitting on it sooner.
Learned so many things as I told this tale reflecting back on these years. I have realized that it is these everyday moments that we look back on, even the hard ones that we make it through. And in thinking of each we think that each of them are the best days of our life.


What a beautiful story that inspired this nurse with a fine arts degree in textiles to start making
again. You brought tears to my eyes with the love for family, pattern and wool, the fiber of history.
Thank you.


What an absolutely wonderful and inspiring journey I have taken reading your blog. I have put down my needles and shuttle to follow your Gansey path for the past two days. I thank you so much for sharing this story, and I will be sure to pass it on to others that may not have the opportunity or ability to make such journeys….

This fantastic adventure needs to be put down in print form, you are a talented storyteller.

Thank You -



Thank you Dotty for bringin this full circle. Such a beautiful story. I also glad I got to be a part of it. And the knitting continues…

Beth Brown-Reinsel

Yes Amy. Not without its bumps, bruises ad rocky roads, but that is even moreso why we celebrate and appreciate them as they learn to overcome obstacles gaining confidence in the midst of humbling situations for them as well as ourselves along the way. Thanks for your comments.

Dotty Widmann

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.