Knitting Ganseys

Ganseys are easy to knit. They really are. You can knit a gansey with no more knowledge than how to cast on a stitch, cast off a stitch, knit a purl and a knit stitch, how to increase and decrease either side of a seam stitch, and how to pick up stitches round the sleeve and neck. If you wish to get fancy you can add cables, but that’s about it.

And there in a paragraph you have the totality of my knitting knowledge. That’s just about all I know. And that’s all you need to know to knit one.

Over time I hope to add tutorials for many of these elements on this website, just to prove how little skill is involved.

The most important quality you need to knit a gansey is patience, particularly if you’re a slow knitter, like me. You see, I’m just not very good at working with my hands – they don’t connect to my brain as efficiently as I’d like! (So, no matter how hard I practice, I can’t touch-type quickly, or play the guitar, to my secret sorrow.)

It takes me about half an hour on average to knit a complete row in the round. So, if I’m knitting a gansey for myself (let’s say with a 47-48” inch chest), that might mean 426 stitches. I average 12 rows to the inch, so that’s six hours’ knitting for every inch of the body.

Now, my standard gansey length is 27.5 inches, top to bottom. So that’s 27.5 multiplied by 6, or 165 hours’ work. And that’s just for the body – I still have the collar and the sleeves to do!

Now, you may knit faster than I do – most experienced knitters do – or you may choose to knit in a slightly looser stitch gauge. So you will probably get it done faster. But the point is, if you decide to knit a gansey, you’re in for the long haul. (Unabridged audiobooks are a godsend for keeping your mind occupied – I recommend the works of Charles Dickens and JRR Tolkien in particular – as well as the music dramas of Richard Wagner, the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, and the ball-by-ball cricket coverage of Test Match Special.)

But the jersey grows under your fingers surprisingly quickly – and the end result is a unique garment of remarkable beauty and supreme practicality. What’s not to like?

38 comments to Knitting Ganseys

  • joanna chester poulsen

    what a delight to find others interested in these wonderful designs–now, retired, i have more time to use what i have collected over the past yrs. have almost finished alice starmores complex pink sweater which is more aran but surely with gansey elements too–and working on westons flamborough which requires no sewing at the end -thinking to use that method in the future on most sweaters–i found the frangipane yarns and cant wait until i am more caught up to order –cant decide which color i like best–10 so far. thanks for the blog–makes me feel i am in good company-from california to firth–greetings

  • Gordon

    Hi Joanna,

    Glad you found the blog & found it of interest. It’s amazing how many people are gansey enthusiasts – after years of ploughing a lone furrow I suddenly discovered we were taking over the world! (But in very cool yet practical knitwear…)

    Best of luck with your own projects and please come back & share how you get on!
    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Thank you so much for that wonderful page!!!! Yesterday I found your page and could not stop reading and looking at your finished Fife gansey and all pictures about the Fife gansey until 4 o’clock in the morning.

    Congratulations, love it so much.
    Cheers from Austria, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for getting in touch, and I hope you’ll continue to find the site of interest.

    Cheers from Edinburgh,
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon!

    Thank you so much for your reply.
    Yes, I enjoy it, reading your page, there is so many interesting information you give to us readers.
    You did a great job, my documenting your wonderful knitting work.

    I also enjoy the beautiful pictures from the landscape and from Edinburgh.

    Please can you tell me, are there any Gansey pattern motifs from Orkney Islands, you know about?
    I would like to see very much a motif from Orkney, because my family has familial bonds to Orkney Islands.

    (I found the link on your page to the “Moray Firth Gansey Project” with all the beaufiful charts, maybe one of the charts is used in Orkney too?)

    Wish you a nice Sunday and happy knitting!

    Cheers, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hello again Ulrike,

    And thanks again for the kind words.

    The only reference to Orkney ganseys in any of the books that I know of is in Michael Pearson, p.73. It’s quite a short entry, “Here knitting continued, though two-colour work began to be more in evidence than the plain ganseys. The indigenous sheep of these islands produce fleece of many shades, which ahve been incorporated into Fair Isle patterns.”

    He also includes a picture of a boat crew, one of whom – John Hourston – is wearing a gansey whose pattern he describes as “horizontal bands and ridges in garter and single moss stitch. Each horizontal band is separated by by three bands of purl stitch knitted over two rounds, followed by four bands of plain knitting. The panels are moss stitch variations.”

    Michael Pearson’s book is about to be reprinted, so it would be worth checking the original!

    I would think there’s quite a lot of unrecorded patterns in old photos and chests of drawers around the northern islands of Scotland. I think it would make a really interesting research project to unearth them.

    Hope this helps,
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hello again Gordon!
    Thank you for your answer and for the information, you are very kind.

    Yes, this helps!

    That sounds very interesting, the horizontal bands of garter ridges and moss stitch. So I can play with the garter and moss ridges.

    I was searching in the internet for pictures about ancient Orkney ganseys, but did not find anything.
    Only one new picture I could find, the “Stromness gansey”, reworked by Liz Lovnick. It is easy to find out the stitches by looking at the picture.

    Ah, yes, the book from Michael Pearson must be great, but I am afraid, in Austria it will not be available. Will se what I can do, to get this book!

    Regards, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    The Michael Pearson book is being reprinted, and will be published at the end of September. It is available for pre-order from Amazon UK – see this link.

    I don’t suppose it will available from Austria’s Amazon store, but we in the UK can order things from Amazon in Germany and the USA, so it may be possible for you to order it from Amazon UK or US?

    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon, thank you so much for your reply and for giving me the link to Amazon.

    Sorry for my late answer.
    I was so busy to follow all your instructions about calculations to make a gansey all done by myself. Of course, only for my dear daughter’s doll. But it worked and I have finished a miniature gansey and I like it.

    Now I now, it could be done!!!!!! Thank you again for posting all you know about knitting ganseys.

    About the book by Michael Pearson: I have my dear daughter living in Edinburgh (first she was a student, now she is working there) and next week she will see how she can help me to get the book.
    The best way I think, is, she would order and pay for the book and then send the book to me.
    Or Amazon can send the book and dear daughter pays. (It is, because we do not have an arrangement, to order and pay from the internet, there has to be such a thing like a credit card, I suppose???).

    Wish you a lovely weekend!

    Regards, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    Yes, your daughter could probably order the book from, say, Waterstones and send it to you if you don’t want to get involved with Amazon!

    Can we have a picture of your miniature gansey? I’ve seen children’s ganseys and little ones as samplers, but not a dolls’ one. Sounds cute!

    Best wishes,
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon, again I have to say: Thank you! (For the information about “Waterstones”).

    You make me laugh, about asking for a picture for the doll’s gansey.
    Yes, with pleasure I can give you a picture. I have already sent the picture to my daughter also.
    Please tell me, how is the way, you can get the picture? I mean, where can I send or post it?
    It was so much fun, to knit this miniature.

    Wish you a nice Sunday evening.
    Best wishes to you too.
    Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Ulrike,

    You can send it to us at gordon@ganseys.com – my “ganseys” email address. I’m interested not only in examples of ganseys, but also how people have used the designs or style in other projects. So yes, all is grist to our mill!

    Best wishes
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon, thank you for your reply.

    2 pictures are on the way (in two mails)!

    I like your sentence: “all is grist to our mill!”

    Next time I’ll try to knit a scarf with gansey pattern, I want it to be reversible, so no cables, but Scottish fleet pattern.

    The “Scottish flag” pattern is known in Austria very well, here we call it “knife point” (Messerspitze) and once it was used very often for stockings.

    Best wishes, Ulrike

  • Ulrike

    Hi again,
    Just got a failure notice, the messages could not be delivered.
    I typed:
    gordon@ganseys.com

    What went wrong?
    So sorry.
    I tried three times.

    Could not you send a message to my mail address and then I have only to press “answer”?

    Please help!
    Ulrike

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon,
    my dear daughter ordered two books, both on Amazon.
    The first of that books today arrived, it is the book about Cornish Ganseys and Knitfrocks by Mary Wright.
    The second book, by Michael Pearson did not arrive yet.
    I like Mary Wrights book, it has very lovely pattern; I started immediately swatching stitches!

    Regards, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    I went to order the Pearson on Amazon yesterday only to find they’re already out of stock in the UK!

    Mary Wright’s book is a classic, part social history, part pattern book, full of great patterns very clearly explained. If only they’d commissioned a series, one for each county around the coast…

    Happy reading!
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hi Gordon!
    Wish you good luck for tomorrow, your first working day in the archive.

    Thanks for wishing me “Happy reading” for my new book.
    It was truly happy reading, I could not stop reading and looking at the charts.
    I like that book very much.

    As for the second book, that one from Michael Pearson, it did not arrive yet; my daughter was informed, that we have to wait for furthermore time, because all the pre-ordered books are already sold out, but we are still on the waiting list.

    It is not too bad to wait, if the book only arrives some day!

    Again good luck,
    Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike, and thank you. I’m sorry it’s taken so long to reply, I haven’t had broadband, and everything’s very hectic just now. It’ll settle down.

    The Michael Pearson is definitely worth the wait. in fact i may not be knitting ganseys now if it wasn’t for that book!

    The first week has gone well – I already feel very at home in the archive. Only another 14 years to go…

    Best wishes
    Gordon

  • Cindy

    This is a wonderful site! Thank you for the inspiration! I am an avid knitter and quilter. I guess I should say I do both to an obsession and wouldn’t have it any other way. I too am smitten with Alice Starmore’s pink sweater. I like experimenting with yarn but have to order everything online as we have nothing close that carries good wool. Thanks you again. I will keep reading.

    Cindy in Iowa

  • Gordon

    Hi Cindy,

    Good to hear from you, and thanks! Now I’m in far-off Caithness, mail order is about to become an important part of my life too, I think. I don’t do much experimenting, being content to run in my groove, and finding the world of ganseys endlessly fascinating, but I can see what I’m missing (probably not quilts, though – don’t they involve sewing?!)

    Hope you continue to enjoy the site, and please keep in touch.

    Best wishes,
    Gordon

  • Ulrike

    Hello dear Gordon!
    I am still reading all your posts! Thank you for posting all the wonderful pictures of the landscape.

    Sometimes I think at you, so far away high up in the North!

    Your “Humber” looks wonderful!

    About the problem with the different tension between plain knitting and pattern:
    It is my problem also.
    I think, by knitting seed stitch we try not to make gaps between the stitches and pull the yarn tight.

    I am still waiting for my book.

    Wish you a lovely weekend!
    Cheers, Ulrike

  • Gordon

    Hi Ulrike,

    It looks like they only printed about 10 copies of the book and they sold out quickly. I haven’t managed to get hold of one either.

    Thanks for your comments – i’m assured by the experts that the uneveness in the stitches will be sorted by washing and blocking, so i’m refusing to worry just yet. Well, not too much…

    I’m beginning to learn that the “the frozen north” is more than just an expression!

    With all good wishes,
    Gordon

  • Barb Hilton

    I’ve been intrigued by the texture of gansey’s for some time now. Have several times ventured forth hoping to get caught in some instructional ‘net. Absolutely LOVE your site/blog – that wonderful sense of humor! Kept me laughing in my cubicle for an hour past quittin’ time!

    Keep up the great work – both the writing and knitting! LOVELY!

  • Hi Barb,

    Great to hear from you! And thank you. Ganseys are wonderful garments and, as you’ve probably gathered, quite addictive. (In fact I’ve been in rehab several times. They took my needles away from me, and now I’m forced to share needles, & have to get my yarn “fix” from street corner pedlars – the only problem is, the raw goods are :cut” with low grade Fair Isle or Arran yarn, and the markets getting flooded with cheap Columbian 5-ply.)

    Where was I? Oh, yes. Hope you keep in touch!

    Best wishes,
    Gordon

  • Barb Hilton

    Snort!

    Who says Brits have a dry sense of humor… Oh! Maybe they meant WRY???? HAHAHAHA!

    UM, my “Da’s Mum” came across the pond in 1917 on the Queen Mary… married a first generation American – great grans’ were British immigrants! Dad married my German/Irish mom, so I have a strong connection to knitware through heritage. But I taught myself to knit as an adult after many failed attempts as a child…

    Meant to ask you… are you the Knitter, or the Blogger in these parts?

  • sarah silverwood

    Hi HELP !!!! just knitting the sleeves, I picked up 120 stitches for a size 40″ Gansey and as my sleeves started to grow into puff balls I thought they maybe a printing error in my pattern. My question, should there be different amounts of arm stitches to match individual size Ganseys?? My pattern only says pick up 120 stitches around the arm holes not including gusset. Surely there must be less stitches for smaller size ?????????????? If this makes sense please help as I’m about pulling my hair out :\

  • Gordon

    Hi Sarah,

    What is your stitch gauge (how many to the inch) and how big is your armhole from gusset to the top of the shoulder? And what is your pattern on the sleeve?

    Sorry to hear you’ve got problems—let’s see if we can help sort this out.

    Gordon

  • sarah silverwood

    Hi thanks for the speedy response!!!

    The stitch gauge is 7 to 9 rows, it is the Scarbro pattern so it is just plain knit. It measures 8″ from the gusset to the shoulder.

    Thanks again,

    Sarah.

    • admin

      Hi Sarah

      Margaret here, the silent partner in the blog. Your stitch gauge is 7-9 rows per inch? And what are your stitches per inch?

      The simplest way to calculate the stitches you need is to double the gusset to shoulder measurement (2 x 8″) = 16″; then multiply it by your stitches to inch gauge.

      So, for instance, if my stitch gauge were 9 stitches per inch: (2 x 8″) = 16″; 16″ x 9 stitches per inch = 144 stitches.

      It is possible that your stitches per inch gauge has changed from when you started at the bottom of the sweater, so it wouldn’t hurt to measure it again on the sleeves (before you rip them out :-().

      And to avoid having to pick up the stitches again, rip back only to the first pick-up row. Then on the first round, decrease evenly to the number of stitches you need.

      Regarding “should there be different amounts of arm stitches to match individual size Ganseys”, in theory, yes. But if all sizes of the pattern have the same armhole depth (the 8″), then the number of stitches to pick up will be the same for each size.

      Hope this helps!

      Margaret

  • Sarah Silverwood

    Thank you very much for your help…happy knitter again :) x

  • anna

    I have always wanted to knit gansey and have books on how to do it but it looked so complex until I stumbled upon your site!!!! Your explanations and steps have taken the fear out of making one!!! Thank you so very much!!

  • Gordon

    Hi Anna,

    Good to hear from you—thank you for the kind words! The important thing to remember is, if knitting ganseys was hard, I couldn’t do it. Best of luck with your own project, please keep in touch and if you ever want to talk something over we’ll be happy to offer any assistance/ second thoughts we can. The people who post on the blog are a friendly, supportive lot – just see the comments on the readers’ gallery – and I’m sure would always offer suggestions too.

    With all good wishes,
    Gordon

  • Vickie

    Hey Gordon, my son would like me to knit him a gansey, but I can’t

    seem to be able to knit in the round- it just becomes a terrible

    muddle- any suggestions…..

    Vickie- hopeful from Lincoln x

  • Vickie

    Hey Gordon + Margaret, thanks for your useful tips. I went to the

    wool show @ Harrogate today and am newly inspired…. watch this

    space, I’m going to give it another go!

  • Gordon

    Hi Vickie,

    Good luck, and we’re always happy to help if we can,
    Gordon

  • Tracey Emmerson

    Please can you help me – My family were fishermen from Hull, East Yorkshire and my Grandmother used to knit my father and his brothers gansey’s but her’s were different to the knitting patterns i’ve seen. On the chest part where the main pattern was – she used to be able to make it double thickness so that she could then pad out between the layers with extra wool batting like you would put in a quilt, This gave them extra warmth over the chest and torso. She was originally from Denmark so I don’t know if this is from there or not. I would be interested if you have heard of this or know of patterns for this as i would love to knit one with my homespun yarn.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tracey,

      I’m afraid i haven’t come across layering in ganseys before, so I can’t help you, sorry.

      However, have you visited the knitting forum Ravelry? They have a ganseys group at http://www.ravelry.com/groups/guernseys-ganseys-knit-frocks—fishermens-sweaters (you have to register and log in, but it’s very quick and easy). The people who post and comment on there are extremely knowledgeable, and one is I believe something of an expert on Hull ganseys—so if anyone can help you, they can, and a post on the forum will definitely get a response.

      Good luck! And apologies for not being able to help you this time,
      Gordon

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