Designing a gansey

At first I thought I’d make a gansey by closely following a traditional pattern. Turns out that’s problematic: most patterns are modern ones, retrospectively designed from finished garments and photographs. As with many folk skills including singing, the knitting tradition was primarily an oral/aural one, passed on from mother to daughter or neighbour to friend, and adapted, embellished and personalised along the way. Whilst there are gansey patterns called ‘Filey’, ‘Flamborough’, ‘Sheringham’ and more, these reflect only a very small part of the long history of gansey knitting.

(c) Manx National Heritage

Instead, I am going to combine motifs particular to the person who will wear this gansey. The basic shape is taken from a Isle of Man gansey (pictured right) from Port St Mary. Why the Isle of Man? For years my Dad made and raced motorcycles, and the Manx TT was the focus of the biking year. One of my earliest memories is being on the island, listening to the whine of motorbikes zooming past whilst I held my little brother’s hand. That little brother now works at CERN and races motorbikes himself. The overall shape is very plan simple, and is available as a free Ravelry download if you fancy knitting along.

To this I will add ‘ridge and furrow‘ shaping around the shoulders, a traditional gansey motif that also echoes my Dad’s profession as a gardener – and include moss stitch for the same reason. I will also include a ‘railroad‘ motif, as my paternal grandfather worked on the railways and many of my Dad’s memories from his childhood are connected to my grandfather’s work.

gansey3At the weekend I popped into the National Library of Scotland to check out The Complete Book of Traditional Guernsey and Jersey Knitting, written by Rae Compton in 1985. I wish I could afford a copy of my own, as it’s been fastidiously researched and is beautifully written to boot. It includes a guide to designing your own gansey, which gave me the confidence to work this gansey using the methods described above. Here are some of my preliminary sketches (above)- all I need is a little more graph paper and I’m away! I have already begun to knit this gansey: a 300-stitch ten-centimetre rib in two knit, one purl. I got quite a lot done in front of the rugby over the weekend!

For those of you whose appetite for all things gansey was whetted by Sunday’s Countryfile, the Filey woman whose gansey features in that programme is Margaret Taylor. Margaret has already been the subject of a more in-depth film about Filey ganseys, which you can see here. Happy viewing!


One Comment Add yours

  1. Patricia Vlietstra says:

    Very interesting – but certainly for me, an overly ambitious project. Lucky dad!


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