Seamless Gansey with Saddle Shoulders

mrossnyc's picture

So here's the other sweater that I recently finished; the one that I started while procrastinating finishing my 'Carey' sweater. The yarn is Wendy Guernsey 5ply. When I started knitting several years ago, I bought Alice Starmore's "Fisherman's Sweaters" book and bought this yarn for one of the patterns in there ("Stornoway" for those interested). After many attempts to get the correct gauge and not succeeding, I put the yarn away until this summer. That pattern has a combination of knits and purls with varying row repeats and I just felt like it would be too much of a challenge to adjust it to the gauge I was getting.

So, to make this sweater, I used "Knitting in the Old Way" by Priscilla Gibson Roberts and followed her version of the % system as outlined there and combined it with Plan 8, Sweater with Gussets and Saddle Shoulders. After going through my sewing hell of piecing together Carey, I wanted a completely seamless sweater. I hit several bumps in the process and learned more about knitting sweaters from this one (in a good way) than from any garment I've made to date. A couple of things to note about the pics that follow. Since the yarn is so dark I altered the color in Photoshop so that the detail is more readily visible. That's why the color varies from one pic to the next. The other thing that I noticed is that even though all the yarn was labeled as being from the same dye lot, there was one skein that doesn't look like it's from the same lot. FYI, the stripe in the pic below is much more pronounced in the pic than it actually is, that's why I didn't really notice it. If it bothers me though, I'll get some dye and dye the thing darker and hope for the best. Oh, the dark round spot at the bottom is my head in the way of the light.


It's fairly simple stitch-wise, just alternating cables and ribs on front and back with ribbing under the arms. The saddle shoulder has one cable that runs from the neck to the wrist with an additional cable on the arm running from the shoulder to the wrist.

It was knit from the waist to the top and I added gussets at the armhole on the way up. Once the gusset was halfway done, I placed those stitches on a holder, and continued knitting around, casting on additional stitches (these became the steeks) as I came to each armhole. I continued knitting all the way up to the shoulder edge with no shaping for the neck (something I didn't think of in the planning, but found a nice solution for at the end). So at this point, it was basically a very big tube of knitting with no back and forth knitting required.

The saddle shoulders were knit from the neck outward and the idea is to decrease one stitch at the end of each row, basically giving you double the rows as stitches set aside for the shoulder. So following that advice as written in Knitting in the Old Way (as well as Knitting W/O Tears and Knitting from the Top Down), I came up with this (notice how bumpy it is):


At this point I grabbed my Carey sweater off the pile and decided to finish sewing that one while I figured out what to do about these shoulders. One thing that was common in all the other directions was that they were referring to a sweater that was being knit in stockinette and not one on small needles with cables. Trusting the knitting sages that it would all work out after blocking, I secured my steek, picked up the stitches and knit one sleeve down to the wrist and started the other one. At that point, I realized the neck opening looked a little small. Sure enough, I could barely get my head through the thing. At this point, the sweater was put aside and the Xbox got some more use. Around this same time though, had a book sale and I got a copy of "Cables, Diamonds, Herringbone: Secrets of Knitting Traditional Fisherman's Sweaters" by Sabine Dominick. In that book were two techniques that saved me. The first one detailed how to decrease stitches in the body by about one-third to then have a saddle shoulder lie flat. This is how the revised saddle shoulder came out:


Much flatter and not as much cable splay (horizontal spreading at the end of the cables).

The other technique that was in this book was for adding neck gussets. Since I hadn't considered shaping the neck, rather than having a rectangular neck opening, by adding neck gussets at the beginning of the saddle shoulders, I was able to make the neck opening more of an octagon. Here's a detail of the saddle shoulder with the neck gussets at the top and the shoulder at the bottom.


Once the sleeves were done and it was time to add the collar, I did add about 8 short rows using the technique in "Knitting in the Old Way" so that the back of the sweater would be higher than the front. That was enough and it fits great.

One thing regarding the steeks, I was very nervous when cutting the first one and I followed Alice Starmore's directions for those, which do not use a machine, but rather backstitching by hand through each row to secure the yarn before knitting. Once the sweater was done, I cross stitched the steek flap to the back of the stitches. I know, it's sewing, but it's easy sewing. On a side note, as I was backstitching the rows to prepare to cut the second steek, I was on a flight and the guy across the aisle was really curious about what I was doing. When I brought out my scissors to start cutting the steek, his eyes became really wide and I just looked over at him and said, "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing." He was still mortified that I was cutting my knitting until I explained what I was doing.

Anyway, the backstitching worked great and secured the steeks while sleeves were knit and frogged and reknit and also through the many times of trying on the sweater. Needless to say, I'm hooked on steeks now.

I think that about sums it up, next up for me is going back to the basics and actually knitting one of EZ's sweaters, a seamless raglan. I'm ready for some big yarn and big needles. I also had a chance to dye my first yarn, which will be one of the colors used in that sweater. More on that later though.


Bill's picture

Michael visited our Monday

Michael visited our Monday Night Knit group tonight...and was wearing this sweater!'s GORGEOUS!!!!

mrossnyc's picture

Thanks Bill! It was great

Thanks Bill! It was great meeting everyone and I'm glad my plans coordinated with the knitting group's.

sonics's picture

Wow. That is awesome. Very


That is awesome.

Very excellent work.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Neck gussets will to be

Neck gussets will to be great to know. I haven't worked any shoulder saddle knitting for several years but having a tapered area at the neck will help avoid the really wide strip that didn't quite appeal to me. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

New York Built's picture

On the next sweater, I want

On the next sweater, I want to do a saddle that's tapered and incorporates this gusset construction. Lot's to explore.

"Think...then write...then rewrite...THEN publish."
- Mark's bathroom mirror sticky note to himself

jdkcubed's picture

I love saddle shoulders but

I love saddle shoulders but so tough. . . . EZ has a few designes with the saddles shoulder in knitting without tears may have to try one finally. . .

mrossnyc's picture

I found reading the

I found reading the instructions to be confusing, but once I had the knitting in front of me, it was easier. But, keep in mind that her instructions are for stockinette. My first shoulder followed her instructions, the second version was the decreased stitch version. Good luck!

RickeScott's picture

Very nice piece of

Very nice piece of handiwork. Sure you're not an architect?

albert's picture

The sweater is gorgeous! I

The sweater is gorgeous! I really admire you diving into the gussets; I've been wanting to try neck gussets but haven't worked up the nerve yet. Thanks much for the detailed description of your process.

mrossnyc's picture

The neck gussets took some

The neck gussets took some thinking through. The instructions were written for working them from armhole to neck and I needed to do them in the opposite direction. I think I did the decrease on the knit side in the 2nd and 3rd stitches from the beginning and end, then did the join of the saddle to the shoulder at the end of each row (front and back) with the last stitch on the needle and the next shoulder stitch on the needle. One other thing that helped was to knit a sample with 2 needles holding 'shoulder' stitches and then working the saddle on one of them. I am mainly a visual learner so once I drew out the plan on paper, I did the swatch and confirmed what I thought I needed to do. All said, they weren't hard and I'm really glad I came across them. I had never heard of them before.

ronhuber's picture

The sweater is gorgeous.

The sweater is gorgeous. You must be very proud of yourself. Congratulations.

purlyman's picture

Beautiful sweater!! I love

Beautiful sweater!! I love the detail and the color. EZ has some saddle-shoulder sweaters that I definitely want to try! Congrats!! It's amazing.

mrossnyc's picture

If you knit a sweater in

If you knit a sweater in stockinette and follow her directions, you should be fine.

rdought's picture

Great sweater and post. I

Great sweater and post. I really appreciate the details on the problems and solutions.

Buck Strong's picture

Dude: You are like the

Dude: You are like the sweater stud! Awesome!

"A man may fight for many things. His country, his friends, his principles, the glistening tear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally, I'd mud-wrestle my own mother for a ton of cash, an amusing clock and a sack of French porn." Blackadder

mrossnyc's picture

Thanks, you guys. I hope you

Thanks, you guys. I hope you realize that I started Carey in March and just finished the Gansey last week. Granted the Xbox was welcome relief, but I won't have another sweater on here for a while...

Buck Strong's picture

Video Games Rock! "A man may

Video Games Rock!

"A man may fight for many things. His country, his friends, his principles, the glistening tear on the cheek of a golden child. But personally, I'd mud-wrestle my own mother for a ton of cash, an amusing clock and a sack of French porn." Blackadder

mrossnyc's picture

I agree. Sometimes too much!

I agree. Sometimes too much!

Kenny's picture

Man, you're a sweater

Man, you're a sweater wizard!

mrossnyc's picture

One other thing, I meant to

One other thing, I meant to thank Mark (NYBuilt) for sharing his casting off technique last week. It made a big difference in keeping the edge nice and straight and not getting all wobbly like ribbing can when cast off in the typical way.

New York Built's picture

Thank you, sir, glad the

Thank you, sir, glad the info was usefull.

Thanks for sharing your experience so thoroughly...I learned quite a bit just reading what you did. I hope no-one was bored...all too often, we assume that others know what we know and the re-telling is just painful re-iteration of the obvious. I will be checking out your book recommendation.

I have converted a cardigan with vertical AND horizontal cables into a top down, seamless process. What drama! I will tell the tale when I get closer to midway...LOL

"Think...then write...then rewrite...THEN publish."
- Mark's bathroom mirror sticky note to himself.

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Yowza! That ought to be

Yowza! That ought to be quite a tale indeed. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.

Bill's picture

Thank you! ...beautiful

Thank you!
...beautiful sweater...and a real learning experience for all of us...thank you for taking the time to explain everything...

Joe-in Wyoming's picture

Great sweater. I love

Great sweater. I love Fisherman's sweaters and have used motifs for socks. I will have to seriously consider the book by Ms. Dominick. I will do a Gansey sometime in the future and love the idea of all those tips being handed on. -- Books, knitting, cats, fountain pens...Life is Good.