What I learnt knitting my Cornish Knit-Frock

When I posted about my Cornish Knit-Frock, I promised I would tell you a bit more about fixing a mistake and a nifty way of counting rows. Today I will do just that, and also want to share with you what I will do differently when I knit the next one, because I just know I will.


When I had knitted about eight rounds of the patterns above the bars and seeds, I noticed that the chevrons in the middle, where actually not in the middle, I was one stitch off. I knew this was going to annoy me no end, so I decided to fix it. I could frog back eight rows, but I first wanted to try something else: I decided to drop down the offending area only, and knit it back up. If that failed I could always still frog back.

Here’s a picture of said offending area, one stitch out of kilter:

offending area

I carefully dropped back the stitches between the two garter stitch columns on either side of the upside down chevron (with apologies for the poor picture quality):

all dropped down

Then I used a pair of double-pointed needles one size smaller, to knit it all back up. This gets a little bit fiddly when you reach the end of the “row”, but that is why it is easier to use somewhat smaller needles. Also make sure you don’t mix up the strands that get tangled into egg noodles:

knitting back up

It didn’t take me too long before I had everything back in the middle. Definitely an easier fix than frogging eight rows!

all knitted up again


One of the things that I really don’t want to do when I’m doing some mindless knitting, is having to put down the knitting and measure, yet again, whether I’m nearly there for the ribbing to start. No, another 1/4 inch to go. So I had a brain wave after ingesting the eastern style knitting chapter in Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book (which, incidentally, has the best glove pattern ever) and a remark by Elizabeth Zimmermann about trying to keep progress when doing endless rounds of stocking stitch (possibly related to her pi shawl?). Once you are getting close to that point where you have to measure whether you have reached the right length, stop knitting a bit before you reach the end of the round. Now measure the length of your fabric and work out how much you have left to do.

Say, you are knitting a sleeve in the round and are 1 inch away from starting the ribbing. Now your row gauge is for example 10 rows (rounds) per inch. Here comes the trick: pick up your knitting and when you have ten stitches left to finish the round, knit that tenth stitch eastern style. In other words, wrap the yarn around the needle in the opposite direction you normally do (normally you would wrap clockwise, so eastern style you wrap anti-clockwise). This sets the new stitch up with the right leg at the back of the needle instead of the front. Continue knitting as normal. You will hit upon that weird tenth stitch and notice that you will need to knit it through the back loop to put it right again (if you didn’t knit this stitch through the back loop, it would show up as a twisted stitch). The next stitch, nine away to reach the end of the next round, gets knitted eastern style. Again, continue knitting as normal, and at near completion of the round, you will have to knit the ninth stitch through the back loop. Keep going like this and it won’t be long before the last stitch to be wrapped eastern style is also the very last stitch of the round. Voila, you are ready for your ribbing! I found this also works with purl stitches.


When I will knit my next Cornish Knit-Frock, and I will, there are a few things I will do differently:

  1. I won’t bother with fancy seam stitches. A simple single stitch garter column is good enough for me, and it won’t curl under the stocking stitch.
  2. I will knit the whole thing in the round. No more separating front and back and peering over the needle to see what’s going on with the pattern. Instead, I shall knit steeks. It’s much easier to see what’s going on when you’re always on the right side of the fabric. I should’ve listened to Elizabeth Zimmermann.
  3. I will get myself a set of 40cm long double-pointed steel needles and a knitting belt or sheath. I broke two circular needles knitting my knit-frock. One broke at the join cable and needle as the fabric is heavy and it forces a sharp bend. Another pair got bent, as a knit-frock is knitted in a really firm gauge and manipulating the stitches puts a lot of strain on the needles.

What are your top tips and tricks for knitting ganseys?

9 Replies to “What I learnt knitting my Cornish Knit-Frock”

  1. Instead of using long DPN’s I find that using two circular needles, ie knitting off one onto another, makes it easier to move the tight stitches along. I also use this method for circular shawls. I find it less hard on my hands.

    1. I tried that as well, and did find it a little bit easier, but once one needle was broken, I couldn’t continue that way… In any case, I’m just curious about using those long DPNs and a knitting belt or sheath, as apparently it makes for really fast knitting.

  2. As I’ve said before, your gansey is lovely. And your tips for the next one are useful, but:

    YMMV, but steeks aren’t necessarily going to work in a gansey. A gansey yarn is smooth and worsted spun – brilliant for unpicking to reknit (mistakes or worn out sleeves) but not good for cutting steeks. You’d have to stitch it so firmly to prevent rows popping out and unravelling that you’d end up with a very bulky edge to your armholes. And ganseys are supposed to be formfitting and activewear – again, rather more stress on an armhole than on a looser, ‘woollier’ garment.

    Just my thoughts. If the original gansey knitters had thought steeks would work, I’m sure they’d have used them. The knitting would be MUCH easier.

    1. According to Mary Wright in Cornish Guernseys and Knit-Frocks, in the Channel Islands the ‘original gansey knitters’ did the following: [traditionally the body fabric is worked in the round to the shoulder level. Knitted stitches are then cut to form the armhole, and the sleeves are knitted from the cuff and sewn into the armhole.] (pg 62 of my 2008 edition). Why this method was never adapted elsewhere where they made similar garments from similar yarn, we will perhaps never know.

      I have an interest in historical techniques and patterns, and I like to let these inform my knitting. However, I don’t want them to restrict my knitting. So eventhough I can actually find a historically accurate reason to try a steek, I came to this from a more practical point of view (I had actually forgotten about what Wright had written until your comment triggered my memory): I will never be wearing the gansey in the same circumstances as a fisherman and would probably never put the same stress on the shoulder seams. Also, I found in my (it has to be said, limited) experience of gansey knitting the gauge so tight that I’m not too afraid of rows popping out, even if I do use a worsted spun yarn. That said, I will definitely try it out on a swatch before starting the adventure. As you say, a worsted 5-ply is very different from a Shetland woollen spun! And there’s always this method to try: http://textisles.com/2011/11/27/wool-worn/ In any case, whether a steek will work or not, I shall report back in due course!

    1. Thanks very much for the offer Jake. However, I have since found some 2.25mm 40cm long DPNs in the bag of knitting needles left by my granny. I only just recently found out they contained a complete set. What did you think of knitting with such long DPNs?

  3. I use this method of taking back stitches regularly when I am knitting my fairisles. It’s very easy to make a mistake if you are knitting a complex pattern while watching a film. However although I sometimes do it the way you do using knitting needles to pick up I often use a crochet hook and work my way up all the rows of each stitch then on to the next if you get my drift. Remembering to swap sides depending if you want a purl or knit on the right side. (It’s always the same side for me when I’m knitting fairisle in the round.
    I agree with the person who said that that steeks work well with shetland wool, I’ve even used felting to hold it all in place when I cut. However as you say you can use the method of winding extra yarn around your needle to get lots of loose ends to sew in. Time consuming…but I get the impression from your blog that like me you rather enjoy the slow and meditative process!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: