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Hebrides

Tudfil’s Hebridean gansey. Knitted in Creskeld wool, based on patterns from Mrs Cath McMillan in Pearson, pp. 75-80.

The Hebridean patterns in Michael Pearson’s book are the most spectacular gansey patterns I’ve come across. They’re just beautiful. The body is knit in one combination of panels, and the yoke in another, separated with a simple border, and the combination of the three bands makes for a riot of patterns that is quite stunning. This was my first go at a Hebridean style gansey, and I was initially disappointed to learn that Pearson doesn’t explain how to do the yarnovers that create the lace effect in the chevrons. (Luckily Margaret was on hand to teach me.) I selected a combination of patterns from the photographs in his book, and tweaked them to my own taste (so while the cables in the photos are flanked by seed stitches, I stuck to my own preferred cable method, which is to flank them with a couple of purl stitches on each side).

10 comments to Hebrides

  • stan reeves

    Hi, Where can I buy a Hebridean Gansay. I live in Edinburgh.

  • Gordon

    Hi Stan,

    I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who knits Hebridean ganseys specifically as a commercial venture. You could try contacting the Moray Firth Gansey Project – see the links section on the right. They’re in touch with Highland knitters and some of those may be willing to knit you one. The only commercial company I know is Flamborough Marine (easy to find with Google) – I understand they knit to order, and say they’ll recreate any recorded pattern. Their prices are c. £230-£320, depending on chest size. Obviously I can’t speak for the quality of any of this – buyer beware, and all that.

    I thought of offering to knit ganseys to order, but I knit so slowly I decided I’d have to charge around £500-£600 per gansey to make it viable! And while people are willing to buy spectacles that cost that much, jumpers, alas, are another matter.

    Good luck with your search, and please let me know how you get on,
    Gordon

  • Flora Flip Vatersay

    The Hebridean patterns are difficult to find as they were primarily passed down by women in family groups. The jumpers were not only protection against the elements and thus the only “insurance” cover at the time but also a homemade quality “uniform”. The same arrangement of pattern was only changed with a slight variation within large families of fishermen. The jumpers had an additional function that enabled relatives to distinguish those lost overboard when they were eventually found washed up on the shore. This is now a rare gift to be able to offer and receive. To find someone who is prepared to put the skill and time into one handmade specialist garment is a tough challenge as you say the cost is not commercially viable in this day and age.
    Thank you Gordon for all the detailed instructions.
    Cheers
    Flora.

  • Gordon

    Hi Flora,

    Thank you for your interesting comments! I’m glad the instructions are useful.

    I recently bought a pair of spectacles – vari-focal, react to light, anti-glare coated, which cost £580. And that was the cheapest option. To me, a gansey as detailed as the Hebridean patterns should easily cost as much, and it saddens me that people aren’t prepared to pay it – not least because it might give me some income!

    I think there are stories to be told about the ganseys and the people who wore them and knitted them, and the books only scratch the surface. Yet in many cases it’s already too late.

    Still, the patterns live on, and I’m heartened how many people contact the blog to share their experiences of keeping the traditions alive.

    With all good wishes,
    Gordon

  • Eva

    My sister sews professionally and she said that if someone wanted quality work and special creations they have to pay her for her skill AND time. She charges $15 an hour and that includes the time it takes to shop for the materials specific to each special order. Her time is just as valuable as anyone else’s, so she charges accordingly. When considering the time involved in Hand Knitted Ganseys, The number of hours involved simply make anyone appreciate one no matter the price. If they don’t, then they can go to the local department store and buy one there. But that is just my opinion.

  • Gordon

    Eva,

    I recently discussed some work with an arts consultant who charged £650 a day. So I think we in the craft industry are definitely undercharging!

    I think I might advertise ganseys to be commissioned on the website at £1,500 each (which I could just about live on if I knit one a month) and see if i get any takers…

    Gordon

  • Sarah

    Oh, my word… yes, I was just telling someone that at 100 hours of knitting (I knit moderately quickly and could probably get one done in that amount of time, especially if the bottom half was in plain stockinette), paying myself $10-12 an hour, a sweater would be worth over a thousand dollars. If I could actually get any takers, I might do it. But I doubt, here in the land of Made in China, that I’d get anyone. Very very few people get the value of a handmade item anymore.

    P.S. Loving all your ganseys. They’re beautiful! I’m dying to make one.

  • Joan

    What an interesting pattern, my gran once told me the women knitted the sweaters for the seamen but when they never returned but came ashore the initials or name of the man were knitted into the cuff or welt of the sweater, and with the initials and design on the sweater he would be returned to his homeland, that is quite amazing that they would have thought of knitting that back in the day. That now makes me think I’ll knit another sweater.. I’ll just have to look up all the old pics to find a design.

  • Gordon

    Hi Joan,

    That’s one of the controversial stories about ganseys – and while I’m not saying it’s untrue, all the same there’s never been a recorded instance of it happening that I know of! People on both sides of the debate get quite heated about it, and anyway I’m just making sure I have my wallet and driver’s licence with me if I ever get washed overboard…

    One of the books mentions a case when another fisherman stole his gansey and because he had his initials on it he was able to reclaim it – though that sounds equally, as it were, fishy to me!

    Gordon

  • Flora Flip Vatersay

    As someone who has lost family throughout the generations to the fish in the sea I can assure you of the truth in my account. In my family as in the Picttish timeless tradition my word is my bond… paper proof is only a recent invention of the rich!
    Cheers
    Flora

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