many stitches . . . so much love part 2 November 03 2018, 0 Comments


many stitches so much love

Part 2


There are certain moments in our lives when in the midst of them, we know that we are witnesses to something beyond the ordinary.


Like beads in a garland, we collect and string them together to create the memories that we choose to cherish and carry close to our hearts. It is not that we don’t appreciate all there is to love about the routines and rituals of the ordinary instances of daily life, but these special moments I am speaking of seem to establish certain mileposts on the timelines of our lives, and in so doing, become as priceless jewels stranded together in a treasured necklace.


When we are in the midst of them, we know.  We know that this is a moment to take hold of, and to let every part of ourselves absorb it into the depths of our whole being.



I have these moments that I collect.  For me they always pass far too swiftly.  Sometimes, despite my efforts to not do so, I can be very hectic and I can nearly miss the whole of them.  There were moments such as this at FisherFolk this past summer, where I wanted to stop the clock and just not budge. It was hard for me, as I had many responsibilities and organizational things I needed to take care of, and I was afraid I would make a mistake or forget some important detail.  Yet even in the midst of my bustling,  there were these moments that I seized, attempting to pause and take it all in, lest I forget any part of it. To my chagrin, I am not the greatest at taking photographs, and often times am so immersed that I forget to take them, and so at the very moment I realize that I am in the midst of such a moment, I know that it is critical that I stop and really make a concerted effort to harness all that I am encountering, with every single one of my senses, lest I forget any part of it.


Just two weeks after FisherFolk, I experienced such a moment, wrapped into a short while. I have held  this "short while" close, wanting to savor the thought of it, believing it to be so personal, and wanting somehow to keep it to myself,  desiring to not subject it in any way to commercialization. It was too meaningful to me for that.  I believe, however,  that knitterly friends appreciate and celebrate for one another these kinds of moments, as it is in these times that we experience the passion and the drive to knit, and our stories encourage one another to press on to develop our already deep desire within to create and make things.  It is in this light that I share with you now.


The weekend after FisherFolk , I flew out of town to see my husband, who no longer fishes in Alaska for the summertime.   I brought along my unfinished gansey for son in law, Michael, and knit every chance I could. I had felt bad because when I first started the project I had made a schedule to complete the garment sooner, but despite my efforts, I was unable to keep the pace. I was sure I would have the sweater ready by the time fishing started in May, but with all the preparations for the event, I found myself occupied constantly with no time to knit.


While visiting my husband, I knit constantly, determined to have the sweater ready to give Michael as soon as possible, as he was already fishing and the season was fully underway. I still had to figure the last calculations on completing the sleeves, and the heart and the fish that would be inserted into the forearms. 


My determination paid off, for just as the plane landed upon my return to Cordova a few days later, I was weaving in the very last yarn end, of which there were many, from all the joins and pick up places in the garment. 

I remember distinctly breathing a huge sigh of relief in finally being finished, while at the same time feeling an enormity of mixed emotions as I tucked that last tail and faced the reality of the actual completion of Michael's gansey.


It had been over a year since I measured Michael for his sweater. I was at Tolt Yarn Shop, in Carnation Washington, there with Michael and Nelly, sharing about our project, our town, our fish, and fishing.

I had just finished knitting Nate's gansey, and had it there to show before mailing it to him. ( see PREVIOUS POST)  Michael was next on my list and it seemed a perfect time and place to begin the process for Gansey Number Two.  After taking measurements that day and recording them in a new journal, I was swept off into the busy-ness of trade shows and shop management. Days turned into weeks turned into months without a chance to give the project the time and thought it would require to begin.


Measured in January of 2017, I finally started my swatch in October. At last, I had some down time with Michael and had a chance to ask him some questions regarding his future gansey. From the very beginning he was excited, and glad we finally had this time for him to share his thoughts and give me the necessary input I needed to get started on calculating the elements he wanted incorporated into his garment.  I did a rough watercolor sketch, including some ideas for ways to incorporate the name of their gillnetter, the Pelican, into  a potential motif by designing an element that would resemble a pelican beak that would be repeated across the upper portion of the chest. He had already decided on the  Cordova color in Frangipani for his  yarn choice, so finally I was on my way.

After completing the circular swatch that we have outlined in our Cordova Gansey steps, and laying out my thoughts and figurings on charting paper and in my gansey journal, I was, at last, ready to begin knitting the actual gansey. I had started swatching the project thinking I would use a knitting belt and extra long double pointed needles, hoping to knit as the originals had been done, but just found it challenging on airplanes to maneuver the long needles, and not being proficient with this method, I saw gaps appearing, and so opted back to my previous method using two long circular knitting needles. I had experimented with a variety of ideas for the motif that would represent the pelican beaks which Michael had requested, and decided on the one I liked the best.



Over the next several months, the gansey, Beth’s book, and my folded chart  and journal, together in my navy and cream gansey knapsack, went with me everywhere.  Like a steady and faithful friend, I carried it along with me, knitting whenever and wherever I had a free moment. Each round of the body had nearly 300 stitches and 10 rounds made an inch.  For every inch three thousand stitches, making the armless body alone contain over 80000 stitches.   Adding the arms, I was surely over 100,000.  Fingertips touching the yarn at all times, human contact in every stitch. Thoughts of family, prayers for safe voyages, journeys, prosperous seasons, future endeavors, uncharted paths, hopes, and distant dreams flowed from heart to hand.  

In between each lapse of seeing Nelly and Michael, I would take the opportunity to check my progress and figurings. 

And then I simply knit...

and knit...

and knit... until I was too busy, and then when I could again, I knit and knit some more.

until . . . it was done.


I washed and blocked it that same night that I had flown back to town, and it dried as I continued my tying up of loose ends of FisherFolk while getting things caught up around the shop.  In the meantime, several storms and rainy days stacked up, and despite the damp weather, eventually the gansey was finished drying.

And then came a wonderful sunny day. After several stormy days, the skies were clear. In all that blue, I knew that that day was THE day.


When skies are blue in Cordova, you act promptly.  I booked a flight on our local air service, Cordova Air, packed the gansey up neatly, gathered up my paints and journal, and headed over to the lake where the float plane was waiting.

Dave Erbey was my pilot, and it was a day and flight like I hadn’t had for a long time.  It had been awhile since Bob, my husband, had stopped fishing,  and from the days when I used to catch a float plane and fly over to visit him in the Valdez Arm, when he was fishing there for the hatchery.

I actually remember one of the last times I flew out to see him there, how I saw all the boats milling around one another as we approached and thinking how much it felt like I was encountering something akin to the last of the wild west.  All the boats circled up out there away from town and in their own world, before cell phones and constant contact. They seemed so much farther away back then somehow.

The flight that day in the sunshine and scattered clouds was breathtaking. Dave is such a wonderful pilot, and the views from Cordova to the Valdez Arm through the mountain passes literally took my breath away.

The frozen lakes on one side and snowfields and green mossy mountainsides with waterfalls dropping to the sea on the other, were so beautiful and added to the excitement and anticipation I was feeling within of this gansey delivery to the fishing grounds. I could see that silty bluegreen Cordova Frangipani color in the waterways as I looked below from my vantage point in the sky.

In the small plane, like a soaring bird, we flew so close to the landscape, right between the mountains and clouds and sunshine beaming on the deep green banks, lush from the rain and storms. It was so breathtakingly beautiful and green and aqua  and rocky and icy, all at one time. I felt this inner sense of utter privilege to be seeing such sights,  to be where I was and where I was going at that very moment.

Once past the mountains and passes that we wove our way through and around, the arm opened up, and there in the distance were the fishing boats, and my first destination, Michael’s seine boat, the Bounty.  

We had said good bye to them a few weeks previously during FisherFolk when they swung by one of the docks for a sendoff wave on their way out of town.

Dave now called on the radio for them to prepare for our arrival. It was merely a quick drop off, as the charter plane needed to be on its way, but it was a very special one, regardless of the duration,  and my final destination would be to see and spend time with my daughter who was fishing at Esther which was still many miles away.  


Dave landed on the water and we pulled up to the Bounty.  I climbed out of the plane  and traversed the float, with my package in hand.  I handed it to Michael and he handed me a bag of shrimp that they had pulled from their shrimp pots for me to take for Nelly and I to share for dinner that night.  It was a fishing grounds sort of trade. As I let go of the bag with the gansey within, a part of me went with it.

He had been trying it on all along the journey of making this, but this time when he put it on, it was the culmination of much effort and emotion.  When you carry with you a project every where you go for so long, with stitches here and stitches there, knitting in every available moment, you can't help but feel some sense of attatchment. But deep down, I knew that it was home now where it belonged, out at sea with a fisherman, and this was the best possible send off I could imagine.

For Nate’s gansey it was the way I felt when I put his gansey in the mail, but different because this time I was able to make the delivery in person. This was so much better than packing it up and putting it on a delivery boat from one of the canneries, which I thought I might have to do to get it to him.  This was so very much better.

Out there with mountains and sea, and on the back deck with the familiar net pile, with smells of fish and fishing, the pass off was complete, and with float plane waiting for my next leg of the day’s journey,  it was time to leave, and back on the plane I went with a hug, shrimp in hand,  and a wave goodbye, off westward to find Nelly for a drop in visit,  fishing for Prince William Sound salmon on their gillnet boat, the Pelican.


After about 15 minutes in the air, a text arrived. It is funny being up in the air and these days, in the middle of Alaska wilderness to be receiving a text, but parts of Prince William Sound  is able to receive cell service.  In the days gone by, there were just side band calls and marine operator calls.  For entertainment we would listen to the marine operator calls as they were broadcast and everyone could hear. If you were ever on the other end, you never wanted to get too mushy as you knew the fleet was listening. But these days there is privacy and texts and even helped the pilot find where Nelly was fishing with an ap that Michael had that he relayed to me via text as we were flying west towards Esther Passage. But the text that meant the most to me that day was simply a photograph of Michael in the wheelhouse of the Bounty, the Captain in his post in his gansey.  

The joy and satisfaction of completion and in the giving. It made all those hours and all those stitches more than worthwhile, ever remembering that it is the person nestled inside the knitting that is the most treasured of all.

My time out in the sound  with Nelly after the dropoff, was also especially memorable for me, as I don't get out there as much anymore. I had some very special time with her, and loved seeing and being with her at work out on the fishing grounds, along with our delicious special delivery shrimp dinner to celebrate  "Gansey Day".


I  look forward to knitting her gansey over these upcoming months and savor the thought of being with her in spirit via a handknit created just for her to her specifications.


It had been literally only a matter of a few minutes that I was there with Michael for the drop off, but my flight, those moments passing it over to him and watching him try it on, watching him wearing it on the deck as we took off, and the time I spent after with Nelly, were the "short while" moments of a  gem that I will long  treasure in this lifetime.


Later this summer, Michael and son Nate were rafted up next to one another out on the fishing grounds, sharing fish talk, and sent this photo off to me so I could see them together in their ganseys. Fishermen in their fisherknits in an impromptu photograph from my daughter who had joined them later in the season for seining. In  some small way, I hope you will see the reality of the preservation of and honor  to the fisherfolk gansey legacy and tradition of the North Atlantic, both those wore them and those who knit for them, 

It isn’t like I think everyone will want to make one of these or that everyone in town is walking around in them, because in reality there is only a handful of us who have done it here.

But for all of us who knit, or quilt or sew, or make things for those we love, it is the same. We put a part of ourselves in it. We handle the materials with our bare hands, and something of us is incorporated into that thing. We contemplate, we plan, we dream, we hope, we love, and in doing so, we extend a part of ourselves that stays with those we love even when we cannot.

many stitches

so much love



More FisherFolk tales to come…stay tuned.


Photo credits:

Photo at Tolt taking Michael's measurements by Kathy Cadigan

Last photo of Michael by Gabe Rodriguez for Kitchen Unnecessary

NOTE: repeating again that Beth Brown Reinsel author of Knitting Ganseys has a knitalong taking place this month. Follow her group and KAL in her Ravelry forum for more information. 

Another NOTE: elements of Michael's gansey. motifs form bottom to top.

salmon eggs

salmon bones



waves mountains

pelican beaks and eye of God for protection

winds of prosperity that send gentle breezes


AND another NOTE: 

Another gansey tale of another knitting mother in our group worth the read for those who are looking for more Cordova gansey tales:

Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #9 Down River December 10 2015, 0 Comments

It was just over a year ago that I returned to the states after my Shetland Wool Week and Fair Isle excursion. If it is true that "tradition is a river that flows towards new ground" *, then I was headed downstream, afloat on a vessel of its own accord, surrounded by satchels of unformulated ideas and plans, and a seed of inspiration held close in hand and heart. 

It is an interesting habit and tradition that we name our waterbound vessels. Sometimes we may name ranches, or cottages, or even cars, but water vessels are most always named, and proudly painted on bows and sterns to identify and admire . Sometimes one may inherit a boat name, and other times one gets to choose their own. In 1980, when we had our first boat built, we had the opportunity to give our new boat a name of its own.  My husband wanted to call it the ORION, the mighty hunter, after the constellation, and consequently, the ORION  became a part of his personal identity and that of his crew and his fishing operation. He even named his next boat the ORION as well, wanting to maintain the identification that had attached itself to his persona and commercial fishing life.

And so, in like manner, the "vessel" that I was aboard and headed downriver was deemed officially "The Cordova Gansey Project", whose home port of call would be Cordova, Alaska. The project would not necessarily be limited to our town, nor represent the migration of just a single pattern or knitting style, but would rather be a broader collection of traditional handknit working gear borrowed from those in other regions with a shared fishing and knitting history, and would hopefully extend its reach to anyone who was interested and grasped its vision.

As I began to move forward, ideas emerged. First, as an American, I  thought this project would ideally be integrated regionally , and I knew of an American author Beth Brown-Reinsel who had a book, Knitted Ganseys, that we carry in the shop. Awhile back, we had hosted a small study group workshop on the book, taught by one of our local knitting instructors, Valerie Covel. Even though I wasn't able to be part of Val's group, it still interested me. Beth was  my first inkling and first stop. I started emailing her to initiate a conversation about this idea that was brewing.

Through my emails and phone conversations with  a very kind, helpful, and receptive Beth, I began to formulate a plan. We would start with a core group of knitters who were interested in knitting a loved one a garment designed specifically to suit the modern fisherperson. My thought was..

  • I have fisherman son in law (who I had promised to knit a sweater for over two years ago)
  • I have a fisherman daughter married to the son in law
  • I have a fisherman son
 All three are current fisherfolk (although we call everyone male and female fishermen here) and part of a group of young fishermen who have recently entered the fishery


    • that I would love to enrobe each of them in a functional handknit made-to-fit garment that they could work in that would actually be superior to its synthetic counterpart. This would be the “working in wool” component.  
    • I love the thought of taking fishermen sweaters back from fashion to function, although there is nothing to say that these would not just be functional, but I hope that they would be fashionable as well.
    •  perhaps others might want to join me in this project, and we could be work on this project together....

    The plan would be to start in June 2015, and it would involve Beth and begin with a Fiber & Friends Gansey Workshop.


    The initial workshop with Beth was set for 20 students to be predominantly locals that were interested in creating a “working in wool” garment, whether it be for fishing, forestry, or other outdoor use.  For two days we would work on constructing a reduced size model and for two days we would design a garment specifically geared towards a specific person, with the goal of completing the garment by the first day of the gillnet opening in May 2016.  At the same time we made these arrangements, I had this idea in my mind that we would bring her back again the following summer and start a new group, as well as invite other instructors and build a symposium style event centered around the fishing/knitting/fiberart connection, and so the Net Loft Fiber & Friends:FisherFolk event was sketched into the calendar for 2016. It would be an opportunity to launch our first set of ganseys and share this concept with others, as well  as celebrate our local fishing fleet and community.

     An important element to be figured would be our yarn choice(s) for the project. One advantage the United Kingdom had was the great sheep close at hand, and since we have no flocks of sheep in Cordova, I began to research who was making gansey yarn in the United States. Beth Reinsel-Brown referred me to Upton Yarns on the East Coast, as they sell an American 5 ply naturally hand dyed sturdy gansey yarn. I initiated a dialog with Sarah of Upton Yarns, hoping we could make our initial set of garments for this year with her yarns, but there just wasn’t enough available at this time. Sarah was good to talk with and we made a plan for her to have some of her yarn available in gansey quantities spun and naturally dyed with indigo by June 2016 for our planned FisherFolk event. We decided people could choose the yarn they wanted, but also had available a wide selection of Frangipani traditional gansey yarn from the UK, which the majority of the group chose. I had spoken to Russ at Frangipani, who was also very helpful, and even shared stories with me of his time as a commercial fisherman whose boat went as far as Greenland years ago.  He shared his story of how when he first got there, they gave him a close fitting gansey to be worn right next to the skin, and though a bit rough, it "did the job".

    I was able to take a workshop with Beth at StitchesWest in February. Such a wonderful teacher, just being with her that day and seeing her in her gansey cardigan made me look forward to our summertime sessions in Cordova with excitement and anticipation. I was assured that she was the perfect person to help and guide us with our project.

    We warmed up to Beth's gansey workshop with a knitalong where those interested could knit a gansey wrister designed by Beth. Particants could use Frangipani, and Sarah from Upton made some of her yarns available for those interested in working with a domestic 5 ply yarn. Beth met us online for a Ravelry chat online, and  we were off and running. I was really glad for this opportunity to practice the channel island cast on and to practice some of the techniques we would be learning more about in her upcoming class.


    Beth came to Cordova in early June, and our pilot group had 4 days with her lessons and instruction in traditional gansey knitting.




    The days were filled with knitting, planning, studying reference books, calculating, and charting. 








    Using our swatches, measurements, favorite garments, and input from our end users, we began the design process for our individual garments.

     Our new gansey knitting knapsacks would hold our yarn cones,

      and there was a little exploring around the area thrown in, just for fun, for those from out of town. 



    As far as who would receive the first gansey from me for the project, I decided on my son Nathan, who was excited about the prospect of a custom fit sweater and I obtained his measurements to help with the process, and already had ideas on ways he wanted it customized to suit his particular practical needs as a fishing sweater.

    As we were working in the classroom, I looked around and I thought about my time in Shetland and more specifically the fisher lassies and the old photos that had drawn me in.  I thought about the friendships and the smiles on the faces of the women in the photos with their knitting in hand.  I was reminded of this as I scanned the room and watched the faces of the women who "hopped aboard" and joined me on this venture, and feel grateful for their friendship and willingness to take part.



    I was amazed to see how each of the participants embraced the spirit of the project and watched as they each brought their ideas to life as they began to chart and create their own unique gansey sweater blueprints.


    Finishing off our time together with a shared potluck feast which included fresh grilled Copper River Red Salmon was the perfect ending to our fisherknitter four day "Traditional Gansey" workshop. We are continuing to meet periodically in town, and also stay in touch via Ravelry and  a  Facebook Group which you can join if you are interested in following along with our progress.

    This was Part 1 of the plan that emerged and focused primarily on the history and knitting of a Traditional Fisherman's Gansey. Part 2 focused on another version with a contemporary twist, and I will share more on that coming up...For those who would like to join in, you can contact us and I can get you started now using Beth's book, DVD (excellent), and Frangipani yarn,  OR you can take Beth's workshop which we will be repeating again next summer. It was a wonderful experience, and loved seeing all her knitted samples, and having her close at hand to answer all my questions. We will have online registration available soon.



    I would especially like to thank Beth Brown-Reinsel for her guidance and expertise as we embark on this journey to help an old tradition flow into new territory here in our commercial fishing village of Cordova, Alaska,  and we look forward to her return next summer for Net Loft Fiber & Friends 2016: FisherFolk when she will start another group of FisherKnitters on their way.


    Chapter 10 


    credits: Painting by Jen-Ann Kirchmeier   Copper River

    * see previous blog entry #8G