Month: April 2015

You could tell a drowned man’s port of origin by the pattern on his Gansey.

Most men washed overboard were considered to be buried at sea. It was hugely impractical to transport a corpse & no parish would want to stand the cost of burying a stranger. There are over 800 graves in the churchyard at Old St Stephen’s Church, in Robin Hoods Bay on the N. Yorkshire coast. Many of them commemorate mariners. Only 4 are ‘drowned & found’.

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‘There was only one way to do it & that was the way everybody did it.’

Patterns were handed down by eye & word of mouth. A youngster would learn off her older relatives, cutting her teeth on small & easy stuff like socks,

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‘Those old lasses could knit anything.’

Not every Gansey knitter was born to it; knitting was a universally activity and many a new bride was already a proficient practitioner before she married into a fishing family & had to learn how to knit the Ganseys required by her new family & community. One such knitter was told she’d never knit a Gansey. ‘Right then,’ she thought, & has since knitted dozens.

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‘Have you got a pattern for a Gansey?’

Know your tension. Buy a box of matches. Learn the stitch requirements of design elements & have a trial run, ie a tension square or a small project to find out what this means in your case. Hats & mittens are good. Find out about construction niceties such as gussets. You can ask about shoulder straps later. Measure the future wearer. Convert pattern requirements into something that will fit – design elements can be tweaked & odd stitches buried in side seams. Work out a plan that’ll make your life easy; a cable might take 6 rows, so a diamond might be 12.

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‘Patty Elder taught me well,’ he muttered.

It wasn’t only women that knitted Ganseys.

I haven’t mentioned Alf Hildred. A trawlerman, he’d worked out of Great Grimsby & Hull before coming to live & work in Whitby nearly 50 years ago. He asked a neighbour, Patty Elder, if she’d knit him a Gansey.

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Mucky old jumpers.


Nowadays Ganseys are frequently constructed on two needles & sized for comfort rather than as close-fitting working gear. Occasionally knitted in cotton, or by machine, these fashion garments serve as a reminder of days gone by & keep the patterns alive.
Things change.

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