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Knitted Ganseys: A Love Story

Jul 22, 2014

Our biggest story in Knitscene Fall started with an image on Pinterest. A simple photograph of two pairs of feet on a dock, overlooking a lake, on what appeared to be a foggy autumn day. I couldn't shake that one simple image from my head for days. Finally, all the thoughts swirling around my head based on that image coalesced and condensed into one thought—knits to wear around the campfire.

But I took that thought one step further—"What kind of knits might people wear while camping?" And then I remembered reading about ganseys. A gansey is a type of traditional sweater knit in a specific type of wool at a very dense gauge, intended to be worn by sailors. While not waterproof (as some have claimed), the tight knitting and natural tendencies of wool make them warm and water-resistant to a point. A traditional gansey is a work of art, featuring a variety of stitch patterns worked mainly in knits and purls, with a gusseted underarm combined with a drop-shoulder construction.

 

For Knitscene, though, I wanted to take the ideas behind this traditional knitting style and add a Knitscene spin.

The most traditional-leaning project in this story is Kristen Orme's East Neuk Hoodie, featured on the cover. Kristen knit this out of Cascade 220 Superwash (which, for me, in general, knits up at a DK gauge) on smaller needles to get that dense gauge. She combined classic gansey stitch patterns with a modern silhouette, adding a kangaroo pocket and a hood. There's even seed stitch elbow patches! This sweater is a favorite around the office—I've cast on for my own version, Louisa is being a good knitter and finishing another project before she starts her own, and countless other people (some who don't even knit!) are oohing and aahing over this sample.

Alison Green also borrowed from traditional gansey patterning in her Plum Island and Deer Isle Pullovers. Worked in a worsted weight wool from Imperial Yarn, these sweaters share a stitch pattern column leading to a cozy funnel neck.

Lisa Jacobs's Rockland Socks use mini-cables and purl stitches to create beautifully textured socks. If you're new to cabling, these socks would be a perfect project to learn a new skill.

The Bournemouth Cardigan from Amy Christoffers features a simple stitch pattern on the upper arms and pockets of a slouchy men's cardigan. Well, it's intended as a men's cardigan, but I think it would be great as an oversized cardigan for women, too.

Turning the traditional patterning on its side, Emma Welford placed knit and purl stitches at the bottom of the Eastbourne Sweater. Worked from side to side, this breezy dolman would make a great transition piece between seasons with its loose-fitting silhouette in a cozy wool yarn.

Allyson Dykhuizen took the idea of the knit and purl patterns and turned it into a simple colorwork repeat. Basic stripes alternate with a polka dot pattern in the Block Island Pullover. Knit in a Blue-faced Leicester yarn with incredible yardage, this sweater is quick to knit and so soft to the touch.

My personal love of ganseys meant I had to get in on the action, too. I looked through stitch pattern books and found one in Beth Brown-Reinsel's Knitting Ganseys that I then modified and turned into a colorwork pattern. I chose Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift for the yarn because I love it's traditional quality, and it's an excellent yarn for colorwork.

I pulled together this collection with the intention of perhaps introducing some readers to traditional knitted ganseys in a roundabout manner, or providing more inspiration for those of us who are already in love with these sweaters. I'd love to hear what you think about these patterns and what's going on your needles—let me know in the comments!

Until next time, happy knitting!


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Comments

yakamia wrote
on Aug 13, 2014 11:41 PM

absolutely a beautiful project , love the patterns

AmyPalmer wrote
on Aug 13, 2014 5:55 PM

@saitkin I hope Wendy will see your comment and get in touch with you! You can try sending her a message through the Knitting Daily site by clicking on her username. I wish you luck!

@Prudence Kitten, that's so lovely! I pull a lot of my inspiration for naming projects from place names--Kristen herself suggested East Neuk for her hoodie--so it's nice to have that place-name association so deeply ingrained. Enjoy your travels!

@JanetteM I did not know that! That's my thing learned for the day--thank you so much for sharing.

JanetteM@3 wrote
on Aug 13, 2014 3:12 PM

Did you know that Gansey is the Anglicised word for "gheansaí" which is Gaelic for jumper or sweater!!!  Lovely article and lovely names for the different jumpers.

J

on Aug 13, 2014 2:15 PM

I was born in Yorkshire, England, and the names of the Ganseys are all villages and towns on the East coast of Yorkshire.  I have visited Flamborough, Whitby, Filey, and Robin Hoods Bay frequently on trips back to England, and am looking forward to seeing them again this fall when we are over there.

I enjoy receiving Knitting Daily.

Prue Russell

saitkin wrote
on Aug 13, 2014 8:22 AM

Amy, loved the last issue, especially this article.

I am wondering if Wendy Leigh-Bell has a pattern for the child's sweater she knitted for her children. Sounds like a wonderful sweater for grandmothers to knit. I am always looking for traditional patterns for children not babies, they are hard to find. Patterns for teenagers are almost impossible.

Thanks for again for your insight into knitting,

Susan

saitkin wrote
on Aug 13, 2014 8:22 AM

Amy, loved the last issue, especially this article.

I am wondering if Wendy Leigh-Bell has a pattern for the child's sweater she knitted for her children. Sounds like a wonderful sweater for grandmothers to knit. I am always looking for traditional patterns for children not babies, they are hard to find. Patterns for teenagers are almost impossible.

Thanks for again for your insight into knitting,

Susan

AmyPalmer wrote
on Jul 30, 2014 11:53 AM

@Wendy Leigh-Bell, I've also heard about the ripping and re-knitting! Makes sense as those lower arms and torso would be the most active places--it also explains why the patterning was primarily at the upper torso and shoulders.

@AnnS@60, I hope you enjoy Beth's class! I had the pleasure of meeting her a few months ago and she's a lovely, learned woman--I'm sure you'll get a lot out of the class!

on Jul 26, 2014 10:10 AM

One of the best sweaters that I made when the kids were small were traditional ganseys, with the underarm and neckline gussets, mock side seams, and the sleeves picked up at the armholes and knit down to the wrists.  The close fit is warm and wind resistant, the gussets allow for movement and the (mostly)circular knitting means no seaming.  The shoulder is a 3 needle cast off.  It is a very clever construction method and I have read that the women who made them would unravel the sleeves back to above the worn out elbows and re-knit back down to the wrist rather than do a whole new sweater.  sincerely, Wendy Leigh-Bell

AnnS@60 wrote
on Jul 25, 2014 10:26 AM

I'm taking Beth Brown-Reinsel's Knitting Gansey class at Stitches Midwest in a few weeks.  I love the classes that offer technique as well as the history behind them (Bohus, Aran, Estonia Lace) - and now I'm even more excited, and anxious, to start knitting a gansey.  Gotta check my stash ... thanks for this article.