Wednesday, 22 March 2017

What's a Gansey?

Name- John Grant (17341725074)                                               
Photograph courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

It's a seaman's knitted jumper (also called a guernsey) as it originated in the Channel Islands centuries ago. The fishermen needed warm jumpers which would resist sea spray and rain so they used wool with a tight twist and were knitted on small needles to give a tight tension. 

The chap in the photo above is wearing one but it's not part of a prisoner's uniform! He was a fisherman who was arrested in North Shields for stealing some money from a bar in a pub in 1904. No he wasn't sent to the colonies, he was fined 10 shillings!

The use of the ganseys gradually moved north and into Scotland and as they did so the patterns which were originally plain gradually became more complicated. They were traditionally knitted by the wives and daughters and patterns were designed for specific villages. Some families had their own designs which enabled them to identify a fisherman in a case of drowning.

So what's this got to do with this post? Well in 2016 the Tall Ships arrived in Blyth, Northumberland on Friday as part of the 60th North Sea Regatta and I posted about it here.

In January 2019 a crew is due to set sail from Blyth, Northumberland to recreate the journey of a local man William Smith, who discovered Antarctica in 1819 but was never credited.

Some keen knitters from Blyth, Astrid Adams & Janice Snowball successfully applied to Northumberland County Council's Community Chest fund for funding to knit ganseys for all the crew on that trip. They were successful, However their research showed that although other areas in Northumberland had gansey patterns Blyth didn't have its own pattern so they set out to design one incorporating the Tall Ships logo, waves, rigging ladders, anchors & the Northumberland flag. 

They put out a request for knitters to produce the ganseys. The knitters will receive a kit which includes the special gansey wool, needles and the Blyth pattern. The ganseys take approx 150 to 200 hours to knit but there is plenty of time as the voyage doesn't start until January 2019. There is also a hat pattern for those who maybe don't get accepted to knit the gansey or feel that a gansey is too much of a commitment.

Each gansey will have a label with the knitter's name on it and the crew member who receives the gansey will be encouraged to write to the knitter. 

I've always wanted to knit a gansey as my Dad & brother were part time fishermen but the wool is very expensive & I mean expensive! So I applied about a month ago & apparently the project managers were inundated from applicants from across the globe. I didn't hold out much hope of being selected but today I got the invitation to be a gansey knitter! So I'll be looking forward to receiving my kit in the very near future and I can't wait to start even though I have a trillion balls of wool stashed away all over the house. Hopefully I will get around to knitting another later for my brother!

You can see the details of the project and pattern photo on the County Council website here. I wasn't sure about the copyright so I didn't copy the photo.

Before anyone asks, no the bloke on the Blyth gansey photo on the Council website doesn't come with the kit!


  1. What a tremendous task to take on. Bless your heart you must be a real go-getter-knitter. LOL Cannot wait for more news and for you final product. Will want to know when they take off on the adventure in 2019.

  2. Thanks Annie. I'm looking forward to it all! I love the process not just finishing the item although that's good too.
    I hope I last out until 2019 to see it leave. You never know do you so I'll get started knitting as soon as the kit arrives.

  3. My grandma came from Northumberland and sometimes referred to ganseys. She was a keen knitter and would always make us sweaters when we were young.

  4. Yes I come from County Durham & we often called them ganseys. Didn't realise that other people didn't call them that when I was young.

    I think most people knitted in the NOrth East when I was young, it was my Nanna & her daugher my Mam who taught me to knit & sew. Knitting seemed to die out probably due to cheap clothes & knitwear from China but in the last few years it seems to be on the increase again.

  5. How exciting!
    I knitted in Christian Endeavor we made blankets, square by square sewed them together and sent them overseas to needy children.
    I hope to get to see your gansey project when it's completed.

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  7. Such an interesting post and i'll follow the links you put down - congrats on getting chosen and hope you share as you go along. I knitted a few rows once about 40 years ago when I took an hour to learn from a friend and then that was it; I wish I had learned and could knit or crochet now. I'm bad at following tutorials but i might give it a go some day.

  8. i see you haven't posted lately either. Wondering if u have been traveling a lot.


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