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How to Knit a Gansey

In this section I want to share with you how I go about knitting a gansey, and some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned down the years. Now, many of the techniques I’m describing here are just basic knitting techniques – and I am acutely aware that many of my readers will know more about them I do, and will either be able to do them better, or will know better, easier ways of doing them.

But I’ve tried to write this for the very beginner – someone like the me I was 20 years ago, but hopefully better looking. Anyway, I hope you find it useful – please feel free to use the comment boxes to share your experiences, whether you use these techniques or different ones, and if you have any suggestions as to how I could do it better I’d be delighted to hear from you.



Techniques for knitting

43 comments to Introduction

  • Nigel

    Well done Gordon and Co, this is marvellous

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel,

    Glad you like it! I hope it proves a useful resource, so if anyone finds any errors, or things that could be explained more clearly, or even if they still have any questions, they’ll let us know and we can keep on improving the site as a resource.

    Thanks for the positive feedback, as ever,

  • Nigel

    Just one wee thing.

    A search button would be handy now!

  • Gordon

    For me, too, now I come to think of it. Good call! We’ll see what we can do.


  • Gail

    This is excellent and brilliant. I am considering making one for the s-i-l, Jim, who, when he saw the small example I had made for Owen (age 5), declared he wanted one just like it. I talked him into wool (rather than acrylic (is this considered a word never to be uttered, like “He who must not be named”?) and he wants a “hoodie” version like Owen’s. I thought I might spur the decision on by showing your website, which was down for these great improvements. So, his sweater comes after the socks requested by Owen (greenish and just like mine) and Evie (almost 3)(sparkely pink). Will send piccies of Owen’s sweater.
    House in full disarray; bedroom end torn apart, bathrooms gone, framing done on both levels. Glad to hear you are back knitting.

  • Gordon

    Hi Gail, and thank you – we aim to please.

    As for acrylic, I’m a constant disappointment to Margaret (who has standards) by often preferring it to wool, but thanks to judicious application of a cattle prod I’m slowly getting conditioned into the correct opinion.

    I’ve never tried a hoodie version, which we associate in the UK with disaffected teenagers hanging around shopping malls, or getting drunk and disorderly, but using the hoods to hide their faces from the cctv cameras. (Come to think of it, you might like to ask Jim what he gets up to on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons?) My advice would be for him to buy a hat, possibly a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, which I think would look well on him.

    I’m thinking of incorporating a section to display ganseys, and gansey-inspired knitting by other people, which is likely to be a broader range of styles than mine. What do you think?

    Good luck with the rebuilding. If you’ve lost the bathrooms, you may be grateful for a bit of rain, or else it’s back to the bucket with a hole in the bottom suspended from a branch in the garden, I daresay.


  • Carole

    My husband has asked me to knit a gansey for him, however, i have now come to realise I am out of my league and was wondering if anyone knew of where I could get one knitted at a reasonable price? I have the pattern he has chosen but I just cannot get the hang of knitting in the round. I don’t like to admit defeat but I know I will never get this jumper knit!! Thanks.

    • Gordon

      Hi Carole,

      I don’t know if you got the email I sent you, but the main suppliers of knitted ganseys I could find online were Flamborough Marine at ganseys.co.uk. If I learn of any others I shall post it on the blog.

      Best wishes

  • Laura

    It is not showing me the directions for knitting a gansey, just computer computer jabber unreadable. Is it possible for you to email this to me?


  • Bernès Guy


    I am in France and speaks little English.
    Who would like to knit me a Gansey?
    If so at what price.
    Thank you for your answers.`

  • Annie

    Why a Texan would have a passion to knit a gansey, only heaven knows. But after the purchase of a number of books and reading many reviews, this site is the first I have encountered that said, OK, getcher yarn and git goin’, gal.

    Thank you, thank you, now for it!

    • Gordon

      Well, to coin a phrase, “Annie get your yarn!”

      Best of luck, and if we can be of any assistance for advice or second opinions, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.


  • Jan Tilden

    Hello Gordon
    Would you be the archivist I met at the Wick library? I also met my first gansy there I believe and then I saw all the wonderful Johnston photos of men wearing them and thought I’d like to make one for myself. And then I find you’ve provided this great resource … So thanks.
    I’m back in Australia now and I think I might give it a go,
    Best regards

    • Gordon

      Hi Jan, yes, that would’ve been me! It was lovely to be asked by the gallery to lend them a couple of ganseys for the exhibition, though of course the wonderful Johnston photos really don’t need any help. (Incidentally, don’t forget you can go to the Johnston collection online and search for “jumper” “gansey” and “fisherman” and see a wide range of Wickers in their ganseys.)

      As you’ll see from this site, ganseys are a long-term project but they’re not actually difficult, so of course you should give one a go! (Not that I’m biased or anything…) And remember, if you do, you can always call on us for a second opinion or clarification at any time.

      With all good wishes,

  • Jan

    Thanks! I may well take you up on that.

  • Lois

    I’m delighted to find your site. I have a photo of my great-grandfather wearing a gansey, about 1870 or so. He fished out of Bridlington and Flamborough. Unfortunately his beard obscures a great deal of the yoke pattern, but I reconstructed it enough to knit ganseys for my husband and 3 sons. Ranging from 6 foot 2 to 6 foot 6, this was no mean feat!
    Not having authentic gansey yarn in Canada, I came as close as I could by using a dk weight worsted produced by a local mill.
    Many thanks for your useful and delightful site.
    And, oh yes, I have two ganseys of my own, but in fine acrylic, since I’m allergic to wool.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, glad you found your way here! It’s very cool having a photo of your ancestor in his gansey. And congratulations on figuring out the yoke—what sort of pattern was it, out of curiosity?

      I’m semi-allergic to Fair Isle wool, I find, so I can sympathise. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s the patterns that matter, not the material!


      • Lois

        The photo is head and a bit of shoulder only, so I only had the edge of the yoke to go by and a bit of sleeve. The rest is all beard! Pretty spiffy looking guy, no wonder a Flamborough girl snagged him!

        A friend had gifted me with Gladys Thompson’s book, or I would never had an idea where to start. What little I could see was panels of rig and furrow alternating with cables and a cable strap above moss stitch on the sleeve. Not knowing what the centre of the yoke was, I put a heart panel on my husband’s. Even spun the wool for it. Labour of love, that was.

        The boys got variations on theirs with moss stitch, cables, rig and furrow, and Flamborough diamond. Figured I couldn’t go wrong with that. And each got a pair of matching socks in fingering.

        My father could remember hearing about the Whitby lifeboat disaster as a boy. Family memories last a long time.

        • Gordon

          Hi Lois – a labour of love indeed! I’m dipping my toe in the water of figuring out patterns from photos, challenging but rewarding. I think the way you varied the patterns probably is just the way the old knitters used to do it, too.

          I occasionally toy with growing a beard long enough to cover a Gansey yoke, but then I think of the consequences of getting it trapped in a pasta-making machine, and common sense prevails…

  • Ian

    This is really interesting stuff, my partner and I have a fully rigged Dutch sailing Barge ‘Drie Gebroeders’ she was laid down in 1898. And we are going to have a crack at making the local Gansey to wear at River Festivals etc. The pattern we’re going to have a go at is the Pernis one. We’ll keep you informed of our progress.

    Superb site by the way. Thanks.
    Ian & Hilary

    • Gordon

      Hi Ian, how nice to hear from you. You win today’s “coolest first sentence in blog comment” award!

      I looked up the Pernis gansey and it’s pretty special—very ornate without being fussy, a real classic. Best of luck with that—please do let us know how it goes, and if you ever want a second opinion on anything, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.

      Happy sailing!

  • Karen Fretwell

    Hi Gordon

    I too have just stumbled across your site. Am so excited as am about to embark upon my first Gansey. I hadn’t realised that you could not just get a “knitting pattern” to follow in the same way as other knits, which I am used to.

    However, I am so excited about the thought of tackling and designing my own gansey! Graph paper is at the ready and my calculator for working out the designs. (Would like to use some of the Whitby patterns – having obtained the Gladys Thompson book) Your guidance is fabulous and you appear to use my language and way of looking at things, especially in using the five bar gate way of counting.

    In determining what wool and needles to use you have been extremely helpful. Your information is easy to follow and I love the step by step guide. Wish me luck as I attempt my first jumper and head off for ordering my wool!

    Thanks again for this helpful site.

    Best wishes

    • Gordon

      Hi Karen, glad you stumbled across us – I’ve been meaning to do something about that boot scraper, people keep tripping over it!

      In fact there are a few worked-out patterns as examples in the back of Rae Compton’s book, half a dozen or so, but they’re the only ones I’ve come across. But it’s much more satisfying to pick ‘n mix your own, I think—you can really make something that suits your tastes.

      The world has moved on since I first devised this site, and there are much more books available, as well as websites and Revelry etc. – but as I’m not really one of nature’s knitters I had to figure out all the techniques in a way that I could understand, whereas a lot of the books seemed to assume you’d already knit everything from scarves to yachts. Even now, I keep expecting to be unmasked by The Secret League of Knitters and exposed as a fraud! But it’s been nearly a decade now, so I think I’ve got away with it…

      Anyway, thanks you for your kind words, and best of luck with your gansey. Feel free to get in touch if you ever want clarification or a second opinion, and hope you enjoy it!

      Best wishes,

  • Karen Fretwell

    Hi there Gordon

    Just to let you know, I designed my pattern for my Gansey on graph paper as planned. It is surprising once you get started how much you can remember as you go along!

    I am excited as I have just finished the back and shoulders, and am now picking up the stitches to do the front. I am going to do as you suggest and do a shaped neckline.

    Just another little thank you for your easy to read instructions, especially as I approached the shoulder straps with some trepidation.

    Think I might have fun when I get to the sleeves, but….one step at a time.

    Once again, thanks.

    • Gordon

      Hello Karen, as for remembering, well, just bear in mind you’re speaking to someone who usually forgets the pattern at the start of the second sleeve by the time he’s finished the cuff of the first one!

      Glad you found the notes of help—one of the beauties of ganseys is, of course, that generations of knitters before us sorted out all the problems, so all we have to do is follow in their footsteps and it’s relatively easy!

      Good luck with the neck and sleeves,

  • Jane Thompson

    Broken links all over your blog 🙁

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Jane – Thank you very much for bringing this to my attention. I removed an out-of-date plug-in about six months ago, and thought I’d caught all the broken links, but obviously quite a few slipped through the rather holey net! They should all be fixed now. Apologies for the frustration the broken links caused.

  • Ruth Lee

    Looks like I am really late getting to knit a gansey sweater. I would like to make a female cardigan. Any ideas or links you can share with me at this late date.

  • Angela

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing this very clear and logical explanation of how to knit a gansey!

    Because you’ve made the process so easy to understand, I now have the confidence to try it. The yarn is arriving this week. 🙂

    • Gordon

      Hi Angela, very glad you found it useful! And remember, if you ever need a second opinion or want to check something please don’t hesitate to get back to us.

      • Angrla

        Will do!

        Right now making Beth Brown-Reinsel‘s sampler, sized for my smallest cat! 🤣

        Thanks again for creating this excellent resource!

  • Ian

    Hello from south Devon.

    I’ve been interested in ganseys for years and I’d like to learn to knit them, but everybody keeps encouraging me to start with big needles and big wool and do quick knits etc. whereas I want to knit ganseys and not really anything else. Same for you I gather. So how did you start? Did you jump in at the deep end and start a gansey or did you knit squares etc? Any tips etc? best Ian

    • Gordon

      Hello Ian! Great to hear from you.

      My first knitting project was a gansey-inspired chunky sweater. After that I wanted the real thing and switched to 2.25mm needles and guernsey 5-ply yarn.

      I hate knitting swatches – it feels like time wasted when I could be knitting a gansey! But all experienced knitters swear by them, and they’re kinda right. It’s the best way to see what your stitch gauge is and try out patterns.

      My advice, for what it’s worth, though no warranty given or implied, is to get some needles and yarn and try knitting a swatch to see how it feels, and get a feel for your stitch gauge, and experiment with it. Ganseys have so many stitches a small variation In gauge can result in too many inches, or too few (voice of experience here!).

      Whatever you do, you have to accept that your first gansey may not be perfect, though of course we hope it will be. But just as the second bookcase I made was better than the first, ganseys, like all crafts, are things that practice makes perfect…

  • Lynne Bilton

    Hi Gordon
    Well I’ve done it! Finished my first gansey. In a Filey pattern. But I think the armholes look big. I don’t know how to upload my photo tho for your critique. 🙂

  • Su

    Hi . I am searching for Gansey knitting patterns for men.
    Can you recommend anybody or site please.

  • Bev

    Hi Gordon. I am starting the Mrs Laidler Whitby Gansey Pattern. My tension square using 2.5mm kneedles is 7sts and 9 rows per inch. I am working a 48chest so multiplied the 7sts by 48 giving 336 sts. However the pattern for a 50″chest using the same tension ( but on a 3mm needle) is only 326. I am using the 5 ply guernsey frangipani yarn. Please can you advise as I am unsure of the number of stitches to use. Many thanks. Bev

    • Margaret Reid

      Hi Bev.
      Margaret here.
      My first thought is, on the 50″ pattern, are there increases after the ribbing at the bottom? That may account for the difference. And doing the maths, 326st / 50″ is 6.52 st/in, so it can’t be the same stitch gauge. 50″ x 7 st/in = 350.
      And my second thought is, always go with your tension square.
      Hope this helps. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

  • Marie

    Hi, really helpful website, and finally think I can make a start. Question, will it be the end of the world using 2.5mm rather than 2.25mm? Purely because the former seems harder to source.

    Also, again, really enjoy your writing style, which has kept me engaged enough to keep reading.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marie, and thank you. The short answer is, you can do as you please – old photos show ganseys knit with finer needles than 2.25mm, and also wider.

      The tradition gradually resolved into using 2.25mm needles and guernsey 5-ply, and most of the patterns reflect that, but really in the old days people just knit with what they had. I can’t imagine a group of fisher lassies sitting on the quay, waiting for the boats to come back and knitting, expelling one from the group because her gauge wasn’t to regulations!

      This is liberty hall – 2.5mm is perfectly fine. Best of luck!

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