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Equipment

If you’re going to knit a gansey, here are the things you’ll need to start with.

WOOL

You can of course knit gansey patterns in any wool, and very attractive they look too. But to knit a proper gansey you’ll need the proper wool, and that means Guernsey 5-Ply. This is a hard twist worsted fine spun wool available from specialist suppliers, some of which are listed below. (The wool also goes by the fantastic nickname of “fisherman’s iron”, which gives you an idea of how it feels when it’s been knitted up.)

Guernsey 5-Ply usually comes in 100 gram balls or 500 gram cones.

If I’m knitting a gansey for a burly chap like myself (42 inch chest, size “large going on porker”), I tend to use in the region of 9.5 to 10 x 100g balls, depending on the pattern and the length. So I tend to buy 10 x 100g balls just to make sure I’ll have enough, and usually have 0.5 balls left over.

If I’m buying 500g cones, I usually buy 2 cones at a time (of one colour) per gansey, which is just enough. After I’ve finished each gansey I add add any remaining wool to my stash.

It is, of course, important to ensure that all of the wool for one gansey is from the same dye lot. (If you do run out of wool and have to make up the difference with wool from another dye lot, try to ensure that you use the new dye lot on the forearms and cuffs of both sleeves – this way you can pretend that you’ve had to repair a well-worn gansey, and is at least an authentic look.)

While traditional ganseys were all of one colour, often but not necessarily navy blue, the range of colours you can buy nowadays is quite remarkable. I still prefer a traditional navy for most patterns (though if knitting in wintertime a good reading lamp is advisable!) whereas nothing shows up the intricate lace of a Hebridean gansey like cream wool. I’ve also had good results with conifer (green) and claret (dark red). But really, use whatever takes your fancy.

Suppliers:

There are only two main suppliers of guernsey 5-ply yarn nowadays, Frangipani and Wendy. Both are very good: Frangipani have a wide range of colours and a very friendly, personal service; Wendy offers the traditional range of just a few colours. Frangipani is slightly finer, thinner yarn, Wendy’s slightly chunkier.

Frangipani Knitwear

Available online from http://www.guernseywool.co.uk/ or by mail order from “Lamana”, White Cross, Cury, Helston, Cornwall TR12 7BG (telephone 01326 240367). Comes in 500g cones, nice and even to knit, with hardly any knots. Wide range of colours. Very friendly mail order service.

Wendy Yarns

Available online from Love Knitting or just put “wendy guernsey 5-ply” into a search engine to find stockists. Comes in 100g balls, often with at least one knot per ball. I’m a big fan of their navy blue yarn.

NEEDLES

The usual needle size for knitting ganseys is 2.25mm. You will need at least 4 double-pointed straight needles, and probably a circular needle as well.

Ganseys are knit in the round as a tube, from the bottom up, at least as far as the armholes. Traditional knitters used 5 or 6 long double-pointed needles to do this, usually anchored to the knitter’s waist by a knitting sheath, and I understand that remarkable speeds can be achieved by this method.

I’ve tried this, but it was like trying to drive a car with a manual gear in a country where they drive on the other side of the road. After a while I felt my fingers were going to fall off, and I regretfully abandoned the attempt. So I knit my ganseys with a non-traditional circular knitting needle, which works a treat for me. (But I suggest you give the other technique a try – you may find it works for you.) I use 80cm diameter circular needles, as I find this holds the 370-odd stitches of a gansey perfectly, and isn’t too much of a crush.

A word on circular needles. Many of them have a metal tip at each end, connected by a plastic wire. Some brands of needles have a slight lip or bump where the plastic wire joins the metal tip. Now, as I tend to knit quite tightly, when I use this kind of needle the stitches snag and catch on the lip. This drives me mad! Instead of achieving a nice, fluid motion, inching the stitches forward with the left hand to knit them with the right, I have to keep stopping to manipulate the stitches over the snag.

You can never be sure how smooth they really are until you try a pair, but I’ve found that Hiya Hiya circular needles seem pretty good. Milward circular needles are also very good, but they don’t make them any more so it’s worth keeping an eye on eBay.

I’d also recommend making sure you always have a spare circular needle. It may just be because I knit very tightly, am naturally maladroit, or don’t know my own strength (or all of the above) but I do find they break, tending to snap at the join, and releasing dozens of carefully crafted stitches like thistledown. So keep a few in reserve. Old ones are also very useful for serving as stitch holders for the front yoke while you knit the back.

You will need at least 4 double-pointed needles to knit the neck and sleeves, even if you decide to use circular needles for the body. These are harder to come by – but again, eBay is your friend. I recommend 8-inch needles if you can find them.

An additional double-pointed needle to manipulate cable stitches is a sound investment, also 2.25mm, if you plan to include cables in your pattern. You can of course use one of your regular 8-inch double-pointed needles for the purpose, but I find I have less chance of putting my eye out or stabbing the cat with a smaller needle. (Ahem. This has actually happened – the cat part, anyway, and I have jabbed myself in the cheek. The cat was not impressed. The cheek stopped bleeding over time.)

TAPE MEASURE

Useful for obvious reasons (so you can measure how tall and wide you are, and how long the body and sleeves are). I recommend a soft tape so you can lay it flush against the contours of the knitting, and at least 30 inches long so you can measure the body at a stroke. (A soft tape measure hangs nicely over a doorknob, too, so you never have to worry about where to put it.)

STITCH MARKERS

I don’t normally use stitch markers, which sort of act as bookmarks, or placeholders, in the knitting – because with a fully patterned gansey, the pattern tells you where you are. But sometimes I use them when I’m knitting a half-patterned gansey which is plain from the end of the ribbing to the start of the yoke pattern.

As we know, ganseys are knit in the round, as a tube, from the bottom up. If you’re knitting one of these half-patterned ganseys, once you’ve finished the “knit 2/purl 2” ribbing it’s all just plain knitting to the start of the yoke. But ganseys traditionally had fake “seams”, a single purl stitch on either side of the body to differentiate between the front and back halves (this makes life easier when you come to start the gussets and divide front and back, as it saves you having to count all the stitches and divide them in two – and even though it’s not really necessary, it makes a nice effect – and anyway, as I say, it’s traditional).

To an experienced knitter, the feel of the ridge of the seam under the fingers when they come to it is probably enough to remind them that it’s time to make the purl stitch to continue the “seam”. But either I have the wrong kind of fingers, or else my mind just wanders, and if I’m not careful I wake up to find I’ve knitted clean through the seam and either have to unpick what I’ve just done, or try to remember to correct it next time I reach it.

In the end, I found it was easier just to mark each “seam” with a marker, so I can’t miss it. It works a treat.

I either use a proper commercial stitch marker, or I just cut a couple of short lengths of a different colour of wool, tie each one into a loop and secure them with a knot or two, trim the ends to stop them getting in the way, and slip them onto the needle immediately after the purl “seam” stitch. Whichever type I use, I haven’t missed a seam since.

CALCULATOR

Unless you have outstanding mental arithmetic capabilities, one of these is essential. Use it to work out your stitch gauge, to fit patterns to the number of stitches across the chest, or to work out the batting average of a cricketer if the whim strikes you.

PEN AND PAPER

Experienced knitters don’t seem to need this, but I can’t do without it. This is partly down to the fact that, even after over 30 years of knitting ganseys, I still have very great difficulty counting rows. So I use it to keep score, ticking a mark at the end of every row of a pattern, cable or gusset in the standard “five bar gate” marking system. So, if the pattern calls for me to cable every 6th row, I tick a mark for each of the six rows, then start again on a new line for the next cable, and another 6 rows. The same with keeping track of increases and decreases on the gusset (usually every 4th row), or pattern elements – sometimes I have 3 or 4 separate columns on the same page. It’s a bit fiddly sometimes, but it saves me the embarrassment of having to constantly ask Margaret if she can please count the rows for me. (Most of the time, anyway.)

I don’t use it for ribbing, collars or cuffs, or for ganseys where the lower body is just plain knitting – in those cases I’m happy enough to use the tape measure. But in any case where the pattern calls for me to do something on a particular row, it’s indispensable.

I also plan out my ganseys in advance on pen and paper – for more on this, please see the section on Choosing a Pattern and Adjusting it to Fit.

PAIR OF SCISSORS

These are handy for cutting the yarn on those few occasions when, say, you’ve completed a sleeve but still have most of a ball of yarn left. Alternatively, you can just twist a few loops round your finger and snap it with a sharp tug, but be warned – this yarn can be tough, and sometimes it’s your finger, not the yarn, that snaps! On the whole, I really recommend scissors. Also for snipping off the ends after darning in at the very end.

A DARNING NEEDLE

There is no darning required in the knitting of a gansey … with one exception. Because of the way I join together the ends of any two balls of wool (I knit the two ends together for 4 stitches, then carry on with the new ball), I’m left with lots of little rats’ tails hanging down on the inside of the gansey.

So, the last task for me on any gansey is to turn it inside out, scrounge a big darning needle from Margaret, ask her to show me again how to thread a needle, and then darn in the ends through the back of a number of stitches, before cutting off the remainder with a pair of scissors. It takes about half an hour, and is a sort of rite of passage with me, my own equivalent of “topping out” a building. That’s when I know I’ve really finished.

PATTERNS

Finally, of course, you need a pattern to follow. I recommend any of the gansey books from my list, as they are full of patterns, photographs, enthusiasm and inspiration, or indeed this website.

You can purchase a kit, with a pattern already charted and sized for you. I understand there are some very good ones on the market, but I’ve never used one myself. It’s really very easy to use the charts in the books to create your own customised patterns, and more satisfactory too – and I will take you through all the steps I use to do this in the section on Choosing a Pattern and Adjusting it to Fit.

(You can also go back through the entries on this blog, since every gansey I’ve knit since I started the blog are fully documented. And some of the ganseys featured in the Gallery will have pattern charts added to them over time.)

Having secured your equipment, you’re ready to begin. The next step is to determining your Stitch Gauges and Sizing.

23 comments to Equipment

  • elliott

    hello do you know someone who can knit me a gansey

  • Gordon

    Hi elliott,

    Sorry it took a day or so to get your comment up on the blog – it got caught in our spam filter(you’d be amazed how many emails we have to filter out each day!).

    The only place I know that sells ganseys, or knits them to order, is Flamborough Marine (http://ganseys.co.uk/). They charge in the region of £200-£300, depending on chest size, according to their website. I can’t speak for them for I’ve had no dealings with them at all, and I can’t see how fine the stitch gauge is from the photos, but they look like the real deal.

    I am thinking of offering ganseys for sale, either selling off some of my old ones or knitting to order. Again, I would be looking to charge £350-£500 per garment, depending on the size and complexity required.

    Best wishes
    Gordon

  • June Jones

    Hello Gordon, thank you for this website especially the myth busting. One of my knitting ambitions is a gansey but after Norwegian mittens and a Lopi cardigan and if I live long enough, I too am a slow knitter so nice to know I’m not alone.
    Have you tried Addi needles? Their circular needles have a smooth transition and extremely strong cords. The double pointed are in sets of five and in lengths from 15 cm to 40 cm, loose knitters probably find them too ‘slippy’ but you might not.
    Thank you again for all the information you have shared.
    June

  • Gordon

    Hi June,

    Glad you found the site of help! (Lopi cardigans look pretty cool, by the way, by which I mean neat and warm.)

    I haven’t tried Addi needles, but any needles that don’t snag the yarn on the join between the loop and the needle are fine by me, especially considering how tight I knit. A shop in Edinburgh had a sale and I came away with handfuls of Pony and Knit Picks needles for when civilisation collapses and I become a survivalist in the hills. (Most of my needles are so old they’re bent like corkscrews!)

    Anyway, thanks for getting in touch, and I hope you continue to find the site of use,

    All the best,
    Gordon

  • June Jones

    Hello again Gordon,
    Just a couple of web addresses for your interest,
    http://www.addineedles.co.uk/
    Lots of sites stock Addi but these seem to be the only ones with 2.25 mm
    And
    http://www.dragonyarns.co.uk/
    Stock Wendy’s guernsey yarn in 100 grm balls.

    The above is for your information only of course and yes I will return.

    Best wishes

    June

  • Hi Gordon

    Your site has been an inspiration – thank you. As a result I am making a gansey for my husband and have a quick question. Is it necessary to do the sleeves on DPNS? Can one use a circular needle instead? I assume you can, but most people seem to use DPNS so I was wondering whether there was a reason for this over a circular needle. No doubt there is and I’m being thick! If you can shed some light I’d be very grateful.

    Many thanks for all your wonderful work!

    Sara

  • Gordon

    Hi Sara,

    And thank you for your kind words! It’s much appreciated.

    I think the main reason people use dpns is that as the sleeve decreases you need less and less of the loop of a circular needle so you have a great bulging loop sticking out which is awkward to manage (well, that was my experience, anyway). And traditionally everyone used dpns for the body too.

    I just find dpns easier, but there’s no law about it. Lynne, who posts regularly on these pages, has a brilliant solution – she uses two circular needles instead of dpns, with great success. If you like I can send her your email address and I’m sure she’d be happy to give you her perspective, if that helps.

    Whichever way you decide, go with what works best for you – and good luck!

    Gordon

  • Sue Rees

    Great tips! Am knitting a gansey ( knitted one 30 years ago) but cannot remember how I joined in new balls of wool. Would be grateful of some advice.
    Many thanks.
    Sue

    • Brenna G.

      Sue (& Gordon!), you might like the “Russian Join” method as well. There are several tutorials on YouTube and other online sites that are easy to follow, & they leave an invisible join.

      • Gordon

        Thanks for the tip, Brenna. (The videos make it look so simple, but I have a feeling that when I try it with gansey 5-ply at this scale I might end up joining my thumbs together like a Chinese finger puzzle while the yarn ends remain separate!)

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    Well, I’m not sure I’m the best person to advise you, since my approach tends towards the “crude but functional”. But (since you ask!) the way I do it is to wait till I’ve got a few inches of the old ball left. I then take a few inches of the new ball and let it dangle on the reverse side. I then take the old yarn, and a pinch of the new yarn, and knit them together for 4 stitches, after which I let the old yarn-end dangle on the reverse side and carry on with the new ball of yarn.

    Does this make sense? It has the advantage that the old and new balls of yarn are securely fastened – the downside is, if you’re not careful you can end up with an unsightly bump caused by the two bits of yarn being knit together, so I try to make sure I join the ends on a side seam, or somewhere it won’t be noticed!

    Hope this helps,
    Gordon

  • Sue Rees

    Thanks for this. I had come to the same conclusion about where the join should be!

    Sue

  • Ann Seymour

    Hi Gordon
    It must be some time ago that you were buying wool in York as the wool shop in The Shambles is now called Ramshambles and the staff are lovely, very friendly and helpful.
    I’m not sure whether they still sell the yarn you described, but they do have a good range.
    Ann

    • Gordon

      Hi Ann,

      Thanks for this—it’s about time i changed that link, you’re right (though the memory of the humiliation I experienced removes some of the terror of senility, I can tell you!) . I’ll get in touch and check if they stock gansey yarn.

      Cheers,
      Gordon

  • Aaron Lewis

    When using a long needle with a knitting sheath, the knitting sheath is over the right buttock, and the is flexed forward and held in place by the weight of the right hand. The needle is pushed into the stitch as the right hand carries yarn forward to loop over the working needle. It is the wrist/forearm that pushes the needle into the stitch, as the hand moves forward. Then, the hand pulls back, allowing the spring of the needle to finish the stitch and release the finished stitch. The needle is not pushed out of the stitch. The stitch is pulled off by the fabric, and these little tugs on the fabric ensure a very uniform and even fabric. The working needle tip motion is diagonally down to the left, and finishing the stitch up and to the right. There is perhaps a cm of motion of the right hand, but all the power come from the upper arm and shoulder. There is almost no finger motion. At the end of a long day of knitting fine and tight, my biceps are tired- not my hands. I have knit a good, large, weatherproof gansey in 9 consecutive days, without any residual soreness.

    The hardest part of learning to knit in this style, is the proper placement of the knitting sheath, and now to keep it there.

    I also put less effort into tensioning the yarn. The technique works very well allowing the yarn to drape around the right index finger. The way the fabric stretches as the stitch is finished, and

    The Dutch knitting sticks are used with shorter needles and the motion is more left/right, often with the needle pushed by the ball of the thumb, again – driven by the shoulders. It is better for small objects and not as fast for sweaters.

    • Hi Aaron, that’s really interesting, thank you. I’m certainly in awe of people who’ve mastered this technique, and of course I’ve seen people knitting with a sheath and the speed is beyond compare with the circular needle.

      Have you considered putting up tutorial on your blog, or maybe a YouTube video?

      Anyway, hopefully your comment will encourage more people to give this technique a go, and pick up some useful tips on best practice. And that includes me!

      With all good wishes, and thanks again,
      Gordon

  • M Stannard

    Hi there, Am wondering if you have come across a gansey made for fishermen and sold in Lowestoft around 50 yrs ago – not so tightly knitted and using a lighter wool (possibly mohair?). Had one of these which was extremely warm and long in the body – imagine it may have been a working garment for warmer weather(?)
    Would be interested to hear if you have come across this type of gansey.Greatly enjoyed your site.

    • Gordon

      Hello there, good to hear from you. I’m sorry but I haven’t come across a gansey like that, though it’s clear when you see old ganseys that some weren’t knit so tightly—and the patterns are universal, so you could knit them in all kinds of different wools. Of course, it’s hard to tell what the yarn is from the photographs, too. We lived in Lowestoft for a few years in the late 1980s and there were no ganseys to be seen, in the town or the harbour (like living in Wick, I seem to have become a gansey archaeologist, looking for fossils!) – though we’d have paid an archivist’s ransom (about £4.50 in new money) to find one.

  • S Holt

    Hello Gordon,
    I wonder if you could be so kind as to help me with a question?
    I’m getting myself organised to knit a gansey (my first)for my husband’s 50th birthday. Thank you very much for all the great information you give here.
    We live in the East Neuk of Fife and so I’ve ordered Pearson’s “Ganseys of Scotland and the Scottish Fleet” to help plan patterns with a local flavour (if such a thing exists, after reading you entries!).
    Finally, to get to my question- do you know of any scottish yarns that are suitable for ganseys? I like the idea of using a more local product and love using Jamieson’s wools (and often moon over the glorious shade card). It sounds as if the texture of the yarn as well as its weight are important in getting the gansey right. A gansey is a big project for me so that I really want to make sure I plan well. I would be very grateful for any advice.

    • Gordon

      Hello!

      First of all, there are patterns with a local connection, no question – I’ve been playing this game long enough that I can spot certain patterns as belonging to a particular area by the general style and arrangement. It’s just that many patterns were copied, or created separately, in different parts of the country, so the idea of identifying a late-19th/early 20th century fisherman by his pattern does seem, well, optimistic.

      You can knit gansey patterns in a variety of wools, but the best yarn is, as you’d expect, the type known as Guernsey 5-ply, which is a very fine yarn specifically designed for ganseys. (I suspect in the very early days knitters used locally spun yarn – but certainly by the time of the photographs they are using commercial yarn from the big suppliers.) There are a small number of suppliers, which are listed in our Suppliers page – Frangipani offer by far the widest range of colours and have revolutionised the market – when I started you could get maybe half a dozen – Frangipani offer a couple of dozen!

      The only Scottish Guernsey 5-ply supplier I’m aware of is Island at the Edge, formerly of the Hebrides, now of Skye. Their range is smaller, but it’s very good stuff (there is a link to them in the right-hand menu on this blog).

      I’ve only ever used 5-ply (apart from my very first knitting project, which was a gansey pattern in chunkier yarn), so I can’t help you much beyond that, I’m afraid. You could alway stay posting the question on the Revelry gansey group and see if anyone has any suggestions. But all the Scottish gansey knitters i know use one of the suppliers – after all, it’s the patterns that make them Scottish for me!

      Anyway, best of luck, and feel free to ask us any questions, or look for a second opinion, either by posting a comment or by emailing me a gordon@ganseys.com

      Gordon

      • S Holt

        Dear Gordon,
        Thank you for you very speedy and helpful reply about whether there are Scottish suppliers of gansey yarn. I’ll set to ordering yarn from one of the suppliers you kindly give.

  • Wendy

    Hi There, I am considering making a gansey. I like the humber pattern I have seen on this site, but I have a question. You mention that a traditional Gansey is knitted in Guernsey 5 Ply, Is that the same yarn that is referred to as Sport Yarn like millaMia or Drops? Thank you for so many tips to help the beginner like me/

    • Gordon

      Hi Wendy, to be honest I’ve only ever knit with 5-ply, and am not familiar with the yarns you mention. The gansey or guernsey 5-ply I knit with has 224 metres or 245 yards of yarn per 100g, if that helps?

      One thing you could do is ask for a colour card from Frangipani, one of the main UK gansey wool suppliers, as that will give you a chance to see the size and weight of gansey yarn for yourself.

      But of course you can use gansey patterns in all kinds of different wools, as many of our readers’ projects can testify!

      I hope this helps. If not, please don’t hesitate to get back to us.

      Kind regards,
      Gordon

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