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About

GordonA warm welcome to Ganseys.com, a blog celebrating the traditional hand-knitted pullovers worn by the fishermen of the British Isles.

Ganseys, or Guernseys (the two terms are interchangeable) are remarkable garments. They feel heavy when you pick them up but sit easily on the shoulders and are surprisingly comfortable to wear; knit very fine in a tough, fine wool they resemble a kind of satiny chainmail, tight enough to keep the wind out while the distinctive underarm gussets offer considerable freedom of movement. Each gansey is only ever knit in one colour, traditionally navy blue or cream, but nowadays in just about any colour imaginable.

But the real attraction – the reason I have never graduated from ganseys to another style of knitting (Fair Isle, or Arran, for example, or anything other than pullovers, come to that!) – is the inexhaustible range of intricate patterns recorded from around the British Isles. The fine stitch gauge makes some truly stunning patterns possible, like a kind of monochrome Persian carpet.

Quite simply, they are beautiful garments, and a lifetime is not enough to fully explore all the diversity of the collected patterns that exist from Cornwall, East Anglia, Yorkshire, Northumberland, round the north and east coasts of Scotland and the Islands – at least my lifetime isn’t going to be long enough!

I’ve been knitting ganseys for over 25 years now – ever since Margaret my wife taught me to knit while I was “summering” on Cape Cod shortly after our wedding and I picked a gansey-style kit from the rack to start with, because I “liked the look of it”. I still do.

Margaret and I live in Caithness, in the small town of Wick (just south of John o’Groats). I’m the Caithness Archivist by day, and write novels and short stories in the evenings – when I’m not knitting or trying to perfect sourdough baguettes. My novels—six in total now—are now available on Amazon for kindle.

I created this blog to share my enthusiasm for gansey knitting, to offer a forum for discussion, and hopefully to encourage others to give ganseys a go – after all, if I can do it, anyone can!

Gordon Reid

 

44 comments to About

  • Hi! I just stumbled upon this site as I am thinking of knitting my mum a guernsey for her next birthday. I’m about the opposite of you, I have knitted just about everything you can think of (right down to underwear) but never a guernsey. I want to gather as much information as I can so I can design my own but in a traditional design. So thank you for putting this together!

  • Gordon

    Hi Sarah,

    How nice to hear from you! Though the thought of knitted underwear is going to give me some sleepless nights… There is obviously a huge amount of flexibility in gansey designs – whether you choose to use traditional designs in new and original combinations, or create your own – after all, someone must have come up with the designs in the first place!

    I’d be interested to see what you decide to go with in the end – please keep in touch, and with all good wishes for 2012,
    Gordon

  • Gracie

    Hello Gordon,

    I too just stumbled upon your website. Wonderful!

    I’m knitting an afghan for a very sick friend. Time is of the essence, so rather than heading down the laborious, (critical old aunties surveying all) Irish, route, I thought I’d try squares of Scottish fleet patterns. I launched into an approximation with some faux “fisherman” (from the states) wool. About 19 squares later, I figured I better check with the pros, and found you.

    Great website. You are extremely good. Your wife rocks. Does she feel over-shadowed now? Also, how’s the bread coming along? Almost nothing is better than real bread… with high-fat Irish butter of course.

    I’ve known only Irish knitting since childhood. In the old days, they used small needles and smelly, earthy, oiled, hearty, fresh sheep’s wool. Now, it’s so commercial that larger needles and fast yarn are the norm. Not the same. Thus, I was delighted to see you working in the round with small needles and good, oily yarn. Nice work. Extremely good!

    I also like the design of your website and the page header photos you share – and your stories.

    I’ll follow your posts.

    Gracie

  • Gordon

    Hi Gracie,

    And thank you for the kind words. (I like to think of myself not so much as a pro, more of a con!). I’m struggling with the oven in our new house – can’t seem to get it hot enough. I may have to think about building a bread oven out the back…

    Alas, modern gansey yarn isn’t really oily any more – it tends to be more like just very thin regular yarn. (Aaron’s Fisherman Knits blog has lots to say on that subject – me, I just knit.) Anyway, hope you continue to enjoy the blog, and feel free to drop in with any observations you may have anytime!

    Best wishes and thanks again,
    Gordon

  • Linda

    Hello Gordon,
    My interest in ganseys as rekindled after a weekend reading a novel about someone researching ‘ganseys’ that was so fraught with inaccuracy I had to run to my bookshelf. The cover showing a small white top-down sweater should have tipped me off, but I slogged through the thing, periwinkle skies, lavender mists, perilous rescues, precocious children, Finding True Love, et al. Never again. At any rate, this grim experience sent me your way in my Search for the Truth.I knitted a gansey over 20 years ago, so dug it out, along with a half done one for my husband, and the charts I drew for it in the early ’90’s. I am going to finish it, which says a lot for my husband’s ability to still be the same size at 60 as he was at 40. Your site is an inspiration, and I look forward to becoming a gansey knitter again.

  • Linda

    Please excuse my typos. I am typing in a teeny box on an ipad where it’s kind of tough to edit.

  • Gordon

    Hi Linda,

    Go on – name and shame the book!

    Great to hear from you, and thanks for the kind words. Best of luck with your “gansey revisited” – some of us can only dream of being the same size at 9pm as we were 7am, so 20 years is pretty good going!

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Linda

    The title is Casting Off, and it seems to have won some sort of new fiction award. It is set in what is obviously the Aran Islands, and the protag is an archaeologist (!!!!) doing research on ganseys which sure seem to be arans to me. I have some knowledge of these things, having traveled, knit and collected books over the years, though I am certainly not an expert. What do you think? Is it a white top down gansey I am picking on just because I am getting crabby in my old age, or what? I own Thompson, Pearson, Compton and some others.

  • Gordon

    Hi Linda,

    I’m no expert, but no, I haven’t come across traditional ganseys knit top down. I had a look at the book and the reviews on Amazon, and I don’t think I’ll be ordering it for Christmas! Sounds like your reaction was entirely justified to me.

    (Mind you, i also have a deep aversion to the sentimental, romantic, dewey-eyed portrayal of Irish people in so much fiction these days; if only James Joyce had written about pullovers…)

    Gordon

  • I am so pleased to find a fellow gansey fan! I am looking forward to slowly reading through all your information. I have been searching in vain for someone after Gladys Thompson to read.

  • Gordon

    Hello there!

    Nice to hear from you. I hope you find the site of interest, and keep in touch.

    Looking back, this blog is turning into a sort of time-lapse of my life—very scary thought!

    All the best,
    Gordon

  • Natalie

    What a great site! Thank you! I stumbled upon it whilst looking for instructions for making gussets. I could see the advantage to having them, but for some reason, making them was an elusive mystery. No longer. I will bravely make my first attempt after a few more (boring) inches of stockinette. This is only my second gansey “by the numbers”, so you can be sure I’ll be bookmarkin this site for future visits!

  • Gordon

    Hi Natalie,

    Glad we could be of help! And glad you like the site. Best of luck with your project, and remember, if you’ve got any questions along the way we—or our more knowledgeable commentators—will always be happy to try to help.

    With all good wishes
    Gordon

  • Hi Gordon
    I have just set up a small knitting group in Port Seton where we are knitting the Gansey for this area. Some are knitting the different patterns and some the gansey. We are lucky to have a local woman who remembers the Port Seton & Cockenzie pattern as passed down by her mother so she is keeping us all right. We hope to have a little exhibition of what we have achieved in the summer so will keep you posted. Love your web site.

  • Gordon

    Good evening, Fiona,

    How splendid to hear from you. What are the main pattern types for the area? What a shame I don’t live in edinburgh any more or I’d pay you a visit!

    Best of luck with the project and I’d love to hear how you get on.

    Best wishes, and thanks for getting in touch,
    Gordon

  • Nicola Bielicki

    Dear Gordon
    I have just found your informative website – was actually trying to find some 5 ply wool to make a cardigan having knitted one Gansey sweater and in the middle of another ( both patterns from “Traditional Knitting from the Scottish and Irish Isles” by Debbie Bliss).Both garments were started about 10 years ago ( rescued from the loft!) and the 5 ply wool used for them was from John Lewis who unfortunatley no longer stock 5 ply.My next project is a cardigan but I am trying to find a purple,heather colour for it.WIll try the stockists you list-can only find limited colours in the London wool shops unless you know of a London shop that does stock lots of colours?
    Thanks and regards
    Nicola

    • Gordon

      Eeek – Nicola, I’m so sorry to have not responded to your post before. Usually I get a notification when a comment is made so I know to reply, but something seems to have gone wrong with the system this time.

      It’s probably way too late for you, but no, I don’t know any stockists in London who stock a range of colours—even online, most are the usual handful (navy, cream, red, green, black). Frangipani definitely seems to have the widest range and the most fun colours, including a nice heathery purple if memory serves, so I’d seriously consider them if you haven’t already.

      You’ve probably knit half a dozen cardigans by now, but on the offchance you haven’t (and aren’t mortally offended): how’s it going?

      Best wishes,
      Gordon

  • Mark Ballard

    You must have a favorite yarn, right? Supply is meager in the states. Thank you for sharing your skills and knowledge. I am slowly going through your blog. Primo

    • Gordon

      Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I did have a favourite yarn that Margaret brought back from the States a decade or so back, it was gansey 5-ply but knitted up nice and soft (some yarns can knit up a bit hard—they didn’t call gansey wool “fishermen’s iron” for nothing—the only wearable garment that you can scour pots with) but when I looked for it again it had been discontinued. Very annoying!

      I don’t have a favourite from the existing yarns—Frangipani has the widest range and I use it a lot, but it is a bit finer than some of the others and knits up tight. Wendy’s is nice and soft in the ball but isn’t so finely spun and the threads can fray if you have to unpick any stitches. I’m looking forward to trying some of the others, such as the Island at the Edge yarns, next up.

      Cheers,
      Gordon

  • Christopher

    Hello Gordon,
    Not quite sure how I found this site, but it is a treasure! Wonderful references, books, and great work. I have been knitting for some years now and have recently been enamored with all things Starmore! So of course that led me to Fair Isle, guernsey’s and Arans, I guess it was a matter of time til I found your great site! Will be checking back often, so much to read through and learn from. Big Thanx!!

    • Gordon

      Hi Christopher,

      Good to hear from you! And thank you for the positive feedback—much appreciated.

      You can’t go wrong with Alice Starmore, I think, she has some really great designs. Also check out Liz Lovick, who’s now selling her patterns through Frangipani gansey yarn’s website, and has a very fine website herself. Also, have you checked out Ravelry’s gansey group? The great and the good of the gansey world circle there like lions round a water hole, and if you ever want knowledgable informed comment, that’s the place to find it!

      With all good wishes, and thanks for getting in touch,
      Gordon

  • Laura Sibley

    What a happy coincidence I found your website Gordon. I’m ready to start my first adult gansey (1400gm Creskeld gansey 5ply in stash waiting for use) but I’m stuck for a pattern. It will be for my brother who is 64. Any suggestions for a first project? I’ve already done a tiny gansey from Beth B-R’s book so I have the techniques under my belt. He lives on the coast in Devon but I’m not aware of any traditional Devon patterns.
    Another question: the yarn has a very “hard” hand. Do you think a bit of fabric softener in the wash before blocking will tame it a bit?
    Kudos for all the wonderful ganseys you have knitted. I have to say your website is the best and most comprehensive on the subject that I’ve found.

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for the kind words. I find that 5-ply yarn does usually soften up a little as it loosens in the washing process, we wash our ganseys through the wool cycle in the washing machine with just wool washing detergent. Though it wasn’t known as “fishermen’s iron” for nothing!

      The only Devon pattern I’ve come across is “Appledore”, mentioned in Rae Compton’s book, which is entirely plain except for the patterned shoulder straps. But really there was so much coming and going with the fishing along the coast I wouldn’t have any problems with picking a pattern you like from anywhere – and even if you want to restrict yourself to the South West, well, Cornwall is full of great patterns and is just over the border!

      I’ve made 2 Cornish ganseys: a variant on Jim Curtis’s from Polperro (http://www.ganseys.com/?page_id=13), and a plainer one from the Lizard (http://www.ganseys.com/?page_id=22), both very different, neither of them hard. But if you look at any of the main books (Pearson, Compton and of course the Blessed Mary Wright) you’ll be blown away by the choices from that part of the world!

      Best of luck – and do let us know how you get on. If you’d like a second opinion at any stage, don’t hesitate to get back to us.

      Cheers,
      Gordon

  • Isabel

    I just wanted to say I just found your blog/website, thanks! There’s a lot of info here that I’m looking forward to reading. Also, I love your sense of humor!!!
    I live in California where it’s currently supposed to be 78*F today (January) and the last thing I need is wool, and my definition of insanity is knitting something large on tiny needles, but I have a lot of Northern EU heritage and am just crazy for the ganseys and their patterns!

    Cheers!!

    • Gordon

      Hey there, Isabel, glad you found the site and glad you like it. I’m slightly appalled at the thought that the blog has been going for over 5 years—never in the field of human knitting have so many words been wasted on so few jumpers…

      I’ve heard rumours of temperatures of 78ºF but I refuse to believe in them. They’re a myth!

      Best wishes,
      Gordon

  • Hello Gordon and everyone. I have recently found this site whilst re-researching Ganseys for a new project. I live in East Anglia and just visited the wonderful Moray Firth Project exhibition that is currently in Sheringham. So many Ganseys, beautifully displayed and lots of interesting information. I shall be going back for another visit and will certainly try and promote this website as the information on it is plentiful, incredibly useful and a joy to read. thank you all for an enjoyable read!! Hopefully I shall post a gansey-in-progress later in the year 🙂

    • Gordon

      Hi Gillian,

      Thanks for getting in touch. The Moray Firth Project collected some great ganseys and if the Sheringham display is anything like the Inverness exhibition, it will be well worth a (re)visit!

      Please do keep in touch and let us know how your project develops—do you have a specific pattern in mind yet?

      Kind regards,
      Gordon

  • Sandra Cottingham

    Hello Gordon,

    I just came upon your site after seeing a reference to Gansey sweaters; I am a lifelong knitter but hadn’t heard of this. I am mostly a scarf and afghan knitter because I don’t like worrying about gauge but you have inspired me to try this! (and to check out your novels). My husband and I have a trip to Scotland on our bucket list so I think I’ll try to finish the sweater before we show up in your neck of the woods. The navy blue you sport in your picture is lovely. I’m heading to your knitting section next, then to Amazon to find your novels.

    Cheers from across the pond (Michigan, USA),

    Sandy

    • Gordon

      Hi Sandy,

      Glad you found us! Remember, if you do take the plunge and decide to try a gansey, if you have any queries you can always drop us a line or ask a second opinion.

      As for my novels, I suggest you try downloading a sample first—experience shows that they’re not to everyone’s taste…

      Scotland is a wonderful country to visit, so I hope you make it. But bring warm clothing just in case, not to mention midge repellent!

      Best wishes
      Gordon

  • Matthew Perry

    Hi Gordon
    I’m a guy knitter with nearly 28 years under my belt
    I want to knit a gansey for myself but not doing one before I wondered if you point me in the direction of a mans pattern for a finished chest of 58″ please
    I’m working my way through your wonderful website

    • Gordon

      Hi Matthew,

      I’ve had a look at the books I own and can’t find any patterns larger than about 44 inches around the chest. Which is not very helpful.

      But the good news is that gansey knitting has always involved adapting patterns to fit the desired width, and this usually means just adding on more columns on each side; or, in a pattern like the Lizard (http://www.ganseys.com/gallery/ian/ ), just knitting more stitches.

      Can I suggest contacting a supplier such as Frangipani and ask for a sample skein in the colour you’re interested in, and practicing with a pair of needles until you get a stitch gauge you think is fairly accurate – the average seems to be about 8 stitches per inch. Have a look at some patterns you like (on this website and elsewhere) and then get back to me and I’ll see if I can help you build your own pattern. I’d suggest buying one of the standard books on ganseys to give you inspiration and advice.

      Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds (the “how to” section of the website is all about this) and I’d be happy to talk you through the various steps involved.

      Feel free to contact me “offline” at gordon@ganseys.com if you want to discuss further. (I might not always reply straight away, but I get there in the end!)

      All the best,
      Gordon

  • Just found out about you from a fellow knitter here in the north woods of Michigan. She talked about you a lot at our quilting group today, and I have been chosen as the one to read all your blogs, so next week I can verify you are so readable! I don’t think this is going to be a chore at all. I’m a transplanted Yorkshire girl here in the US, so I love to read about knitting back “home”, and I spent some vacation time with my parents up in the north west corner of Scotland, way above the tree line, fond memories of fishing holidays.

    • Hi Pippa,

      Great to hear from you! I like the idea of of a “designated blog reader”, the blog equivalent of a canary in a coal mine, to make sure it’s safe for the rest of the party. I hope you live to tell the tale!

      Hope you and your friends continue to enjoy the blog, and happy quilting!

      Cheers,
      Gordon

  • Janet

    I’ve been mulling over the challenge of knitting a gansey for my (adult) son, and research on the web led me here to your site. And what a treasure trove of information it is! I’m a yet another English transplant here in the U.S., and spend a considerable amount of time knitting during the long brutal winters in upstate New York. I’ve already ordered a couple of your recommended books, and I’m looking forward to planning the details of the sweater the moment they arrive. I’ve more decisions to make re: yarn and steel DPN’s v. circular, but I’m very excited about this whole process. I expect to spend a considerable amount of time perusing your excellent blog in the very near future.

    • Gordon

      Hello Janet,

      Glad you found us! No matter which book you read I’m sure you’ll find plenty of inspiration and remember, if you ever want to discuss your project or have any queries please don’t hesitate to drop us a line or post a query on the weekly blog. And from what I’ve heard of the weather on the east coast this winter, you may end up knitting yourself a gansey too, just to keep warm!

      All the best,
      Gordon

  • Jean Swarm

    Dear Mr. Reid,
    Is age 61 too late in life to attempt to knit a gansey? I found an article about your web site recently and have been enjoying your blog posts, as well as all the pictures and historical information. I am only an advanced beginner knitter, but would like a challenge. What do you think?

    Best regards,

    Jean Swarm

    • Gordon

      Hi Jean, well, I’m 55 and no spring chicken masel’, so I think you’re in good company!

      Seriously, as I’ve said before, gansey knitting isn’t really hard. What it is is a long-haul project, so that a finished gansey is going to take weeks and months. But the techniques are just basic knitting – knit, purl, increase, decrease, and picking up stitches, as well as knitting in the round.

      I’m told that the two things people find they have to get used to are, (1) the thin yarn and needles, which can make it feel like you’re knitting table cloths for field mice, and (2) planning an designing your own jumper instead of following a set on pattern instructions. But practice takes care of the first, and a good book for beginners (Beth Brown-Reinsel’s is a good start) and internet sites like this one and Ravelry will help with the second.

      You can see from this week’s blog post some of the calculations I’ve had to make to get the pattern to fit right, but this is about as hard as it gets. If you choose a yoke-only pattern you get half the body in plain knitting, plenty of time to ease into things, and even a “simple” pattern can still look very effective. (There are a good range of pictures of knitted-up ganseys on the Flamborough Marine website – I sometimes sneak a look at them for inspiration myself!).

      So, in short the answer is go for it! (What are you waiting for?!) And we’ll always be happy to answer queries and give a second opinion if you need one.

      Best of luck,
      Gordon

  • Sue

    My dad had an original Appledore Gansey from decades ago but was cut up while he was having a heart attack. I would like to knit him one but before I take this challenge on(!) is there anywhere I can buy one?

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue, there are knitters out there who will knit ganseys for money. It’s been a few years since I looked into this, though. and I don’t have any names to hand. The only name i have is that of Flamborough Marine, who have a team of knitters who knit on demand – see http://www.flamboroughmarine.co.uk . It is relatively expensive, though, at £300-£400 a gansey, but then you are getting over 90 hours of someone’s time, as they’re all handmade.

      You could also try posting on the Ravelry website, under the Gansey group – I’m sure someone there will know if anyone is knitting them for sale?

      Sorry not to be of more help – but good luck!

      Gordon

  • Sue Riley

    Hi Gordon,

    Thanks for your help on this – I have seen a kit which I might try!!

    Sue

  • MRS. R.J.S. GOODWILLIE (Jean)

    Gordon

    I enjoyed this. I am the Great-Granddaughter of Samuel Gillies, of Lower Largo, Fife. Great-Grandad was the Skipper of the fishing boat, Brothers, which was lost with all hands on 30th March 1886, 50 miles east of the May Island. I have a couple of photos of him but not showing his gansey. Do you know which pattern the fishermen in Largo would have worn? I thought that I had read some years ago that the Largo pattern was similar to that of Staithes. I read it on my old computer which I got away back in 2001. It still works but my husband just uses it for storage now.

    • Gordon

      Hello, Jean, and very good to hear from you! That’s a sad story of your great grandfather, but so many fishermen were lost. I don’t know what the pattern would have been, I’m sorry, but I suggest you contact Di Gilpin: she’s a traditional knitwear designer based in Largoward in Fife. Also the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther might be able to help – see http://www.scotfishmuseum.org/contact-us – they have a lot of information about Scottish fishermen and ganseys.

      Cheers,
      Gordon

      • MRS R.J.S. GOODWILLIE (Jean)

        Gordon

        I’ll have a go at both. I might be back in Fife sometime during the next few months. I’ll try to go when we come home from our holiday in Pickering. My cousin’s husband is from Largoward and when I worked in the bank in Colinsburgh we had a sub-office at Largoward. I know Anstruther well. We took our Grandson for a visit there last year when he and his Mum (our daughter) and her husband brought him over from America for a holiday. He will be five years old in September. He saw the lifeboat and the fishing boats when he was there. I was brought up in Lower Largo and my Dad was born there as were his family. I left a message for someone from the Scottish Fisheries Museum to get them to phone me but I was out this afternoon so there might be a message on the answerphone. I’m hoping to visit Staithes this year. On our last two holidays at Pickering (2015 and 2016) we went to Whitby and Scarborough. I bought a copy of “Knitting Ganseys”, by Beth Brown-Reinsel in 2015, and I already had a copy of the Gladys Thompson book, entitled, “Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys & Arans”. Over the years I have knitted a fair number of Arans but last year I bought some wool and a pattern for a gansey. I must get it started soon, but I have been so busy with other knitting, both for the family and for a charity called The Schoolbank which is based locally. The girls in our Ladies’ Fellowship knit items for them. I am also going to knit hats for sailors. I know that many of them are not properly kitted out. As well as Great-Grandad, my Dad was in the Navy during the war. His brother was in the Fleet Air Arm. Thanks for your help. I’ll let you know how the gansey goes.

        • Gordon

          Hi again Jean, the whole coast from Yorkshire up to Fife is full of super little harbours, full of history, and there are lots of little museums which often contain information on the fishing. Of course Anstruther, apart from the fisheries museum, has some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever tasted, along with Whitby. (You’d think a fishing town like Wick would have decent fish and chips, but no.) Staithes is lovely too, but nobody seems to wear the Staithes bonnet these days, sadly.

          Anyway, best of luck with your gansey. You can’t go far wrong with Beth and Gladys as your companions!

          Happy knitting, Gordon

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