The Long Blue Thing

or, How to use up your odd balls collection, try out new patterns, and always have a take-along project on hand

More colloquially, the Fisherman's Sampler Afghan
Judy Gibson, January 1999

This is more of a plan of attack than a pattern. The afghan consists of several long strips, each of a single color, and each strip is a sampler of several similar traditional fisherman sweater patterns. Since the strips are rather narrow, each takes only a few balls of yarn, so this is a good way to use up odd balls and mismatched dye lots. As you're knitting one strip at a time, it's easy to carry around, and while it's not exactly mindless knitting, it doesn't take a lot of attention. When people ask you what you're knitting, you can say what I did: "A long blue thing." And if you put the strips together as you finish them, you'll quickly have something warm to throw over your knees as you work.

The choice of colors, patterns, and the width and length of the strips is up to you. Choose yarns that knit to the same gauge. I used odd balls of worsted weight Woolease on size 8 needles, getting about 4 sts/in. in stockinette. I did the central strip with two fancy cable patterns in white (fisherman color), flanked by two green (green heather) strips with many samples of knit/purl gansey patterns, and on the outside, two blue (blue heather) strips each with two different Aran-style openwork and bobble patterns.

The strips are unified by a cable pattern along the edges where the strips are seamed together. The cable is worked on 10 stitches: k1, p2, k4, p2, k1. On the wrong-side row, p1, k2, p4, k2, p1. The center four stitches are the cable. Twist the cable every other right-side row (that is every 4 rows) by holding 2 stitches front, knit 2 stitches, knit the 2 held sts.

This cable is also the means of measuring that the strips are the same length. Mark every 10th cable twist by tying a tag of scrap yarn through the crossover. Make all the strips the same number of cable twists; mine were 90 twists long, and came to about 5 feet in total length.

On the strips that will form the edges of the afghan, instead of this cable pattern on the outside edge, work an I-cord edge on 4 sts. The two edge stitches are slipped as you approach the edge (end of row), and knitted at the start of the following row. The two stitches next to these are purled on the front, knitted on the wrong side, so that the I-cord will roll to the front.

How many stitches wide each strip should be depends on what patterns you want to use. The edge cable patterns are 10 stitches each; I found 36 a good number (or 24 would do) of stitches for the gansey patterns, since it's divisible by almost any repeat. I added 2 purl stitches each side of the pattern to separate the cable pattern from the sampler pattern, for a total of 60 stitches for the long green things. The long white thing was about the same number of stitches (with a complex cable in the center, two simpler cables, and the two edge cables), and the blue edge strips (only two patterns wide, with one edge cable) are narrower. I'd estimate I have about 280 stitches in total width, and my afghan looks like it's going to be about 52 inches wide -- too wide for its 60-inch length. I think a total of about 200 stitches in width is the number to aim for (maybe 30-40-60-40-30).

Where can you find pattern stitches for your sampler? First of all, try the many books of traditional gansey or fisherman's patterns. This is your chance to test patterns you might want to use on a sweater later. Next stop is stitch libraries. Another source is the pattern magazines -- you can find a fancy cable here, an interesting texture stitch there. Or...this is your chance to invent your own!

I found it neater to concentrate on a single style of pattern on each of the strips, and not to mix them together. The green knit/purl sampler I did by knitting 4 or more inches of each pattern, with 5 rows of knit (2 garter rows show on the front) to separate them. A model for this sampler is the gansey shown in the frontspiece in Beth Brown-Reinsel's gansey book. For both the blue and white strips, I made the patterns run the whole length, since I thought the cable and openwork patterns would look choppy if I did them in sections. I'd rethink this if I did it again, because I got really tired of the patterns before I was done. Maybe divide them into three long sections.

Now as I approach the finish, I wonder what I'll do with the ends. My first thought was a short fringe, with each strip fringed in its own color. But now it looks like the afghan might be a little short for its width, and I'm thinking of adding an end piece in blue, maybe a cable strip sewn across each end. Or maybe just continuing the blue I-cord across the ends. I'll decide when I get all the strips done and sewn together. And when I see how much blue yarn I have left, of course!

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Judy Gibson
Descanso, California
Email to jgibson (at) cts (dot) com