Knit mission update

SeansGansey2017I’m being very remiss with this blogy thing.  I said I would keep you updated on the Knit mission impossible Birthday Gansey.  Well here it is. If you follow the Instagram you will have seen its progress.

I did not make the birthday deadline – well that was not really a surprise was it now.

But it was finished with minutes to spare – the photo was taken whilst our lift was waiting to take us to the bus to the airport for a trip to New Zealand to see my folks in what I think of as my second home.  Quickly snapping some photos, Sean decided he was going to wear it on the journey.

Its not strictly a gansey as such, the construction is not using traditional technique.  Does this matter? The body was knit bottom up in the round and then dividing for front and back bib knitted flat.  Ganseys don’t use steeks.  The yarn is too slippery and the construction not strong enough for the rigours that work would have demanded.  The sleeves probably wouldn’t have lasted longer than five minutes on a fishermans back before coming adrift. In traditional gansey technique the sleeves were knitted straight of the the body by picking up stitches from the front and back after joining at the shoulder. For Seans jumper, the sleeves are set in for a more modern fit.  With the armhole shaping I also didn’t need to use an underarm gusset for ease of movement.   I am a bit niggly about the sleeve head.  I think its a bit pointy.  I’m hoping its going to settle down if not my obsessive angel that sits on my should will make me rip it and re-knit it till its right.  I can’t help it…knowing somethings not right disturbs me … I have to make it right or it will drive me nuts…

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Motifs on front bib

I stuck with diamond motifs – I really like the shape and how it could be worked with different textures.  So many variations just by knitting and purling stitches.  All those little bumps making negatives and positives. I find textured knitting not only really pleasing to knit, but also to look at and to feel them running under your fingers.  Lovely.

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back showing the patterned band, plain knit bib and sleeve shaping

I started the patterning just under the arms in a continuous band but, cheated time by only continuing the patterning all the way up the front bib  and plain stocking stitch up the back after separating the torso tube.

The yarn was not the easiest to work with, its very tightly spun and is quite sturdy. I knit english, holding the yarn and throwing it with my right hand whilst the left hand feeds the stitches to be worked. I found that my left hand forefinger does most of the work of feeding really felt it.  It got a bit calloused.  Hopefully, it will be incredibly hard wearing and last a lifetime if not more before I, or my descendants, have to mend it.

 

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Dutch Ganseys at the Sheringham Museum

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I took myself of the The Stella Ruhe Dutch Gansey Exhibition at the Sheringham Museum yesterday.

The exhibition is the result of research by Stella Ruhe in to the heritage and history of Dutch fishing communities and the ganseys worn by these men. It’s a travelling exhibition of over 60 ganseys reproducing old patterns in modern yarns. The exhibition also includes a few Sheringham Ganseys.

What is a gansey? It’s a close fitting, usually seamless, sweater traditionally worn by fishermen along much of the North Sea coastline of Britain and the Netherlands. Designed to be a very practical item of work wear. Hardwearing, windproof, waterproof. Tough. A tough garment for a tough environment worn by people who had tough lives. I think you get the point.  Ganseys were the work horses of knitwear. Hardcore knitwear.

Everything about them was practical and honed to achieve a windproof, waterproof, hard wearing easily mended long lived garment. From a technical point of view Ganseys were perfect for their function. A simple construction. A basic T shape. Knitted seamless in the round on fine 5 double pointed needles (14 – 17 imperial or less than 2mm) to create a dense windproof textile. Tight fitting, with little ease, often with an underarm gusset for movement. The sleeves a little on the short side to keep the hands and lower arms free. Cuffs knitted after thought to make repairs easy.

Traditionally knitted in dark blue in 5-ply worsted yarn. Although research is turning up all sorts of colours, greys, pale blues, black and red. Decorated with textured patterns round the upper torso, possibly to increase thickness for extra warmth.

Working ganseys were also rarely, if ever, washed and were worn next to the skin. The oils, dirt and grime all adding to the weatherproofing. I can’t help wondering what they would have felt and smelt like. Savoury?

What I find fascinating about ganseys is that despite the practicality of the gansey as work wear space was found for the knitter to express her art and craft in the decoration.  Ganseys were, by and large, knitted by women for their menfolk. Their sons, husbands and fathers.  The stitch patterns (all in simple combinations of knit and purl) were passed along by word of mouth down generations from mother to daughter and transmitted around the coastal communities of the North Sea. Each community developing its own unique pattern and stitch ‘library’. Rich in traditions and heritage, the stitch patterns symbolised everyday life: tools, harvest, landscape and weather. Stitch patterns include ridges and furrows, waves, anchors, diamonds, cables, lightening, ropes and ladders. The textural patterns are clean, linear, abstract and look modern.

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This is a wonderful example knitted by Esther Nurse of Sheringham in 1950. Its the Norfolk II Sheringham in Patterns for Guernseys, Jerseys and Ganseys by Gladys Thompson. It used a 4-ply yarn knitted to a tension of 12 stitches and 20 rows to the inch. Her father died wearing a gansey of this pattern, it apparently fitted so snugly that it had to be cut off. The pattern shows the 3 ridges around the chest common to most Norfolk ganseys. What I really like is the unrepaired hole. I am wondering if its wear and tear of if moths may have been the culprit.

A gansey was much more than just a practical uniform for work. Fishermen wore their ganseys at all times, even having a Sunday best Gansey for Church, weddings high days and holidays. And it is thanks to this that we have some scanty records of these beautifully crafted garments.

As an item of workwear produced by women and worn by working men ganseys are overlooked and largely unrecorded. There are surviving records of boys and men posing in their best ganseys in rare (and expensive) studio photographs or documented at their work by photographers such as Olive Edis.

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Just how fine is this knitting? I love fine knitting. I assumed it was hand knit. It was so beautifully even, crisp and precise and fine. I can appreciate the time this garment took to make, if it was by hand and not machine. It’s truly amazing. A testament to the art and craft of the knitter. I wish I knew the women that made this.

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Mending and repairs. Definitely not a disposable item these were precious garments to be mended and maintained. Or just worn to destruction. There is a lovely picture in the Fishermans Heritage Centre , just around the corner from the Sheringham Mo, showing a lifeboat man at work in a much worn and frayed gansey. The yarn curling and unravelling out from a hole at the cuff. I didn’t note the name of the gentleman pictured, and excuse to go back…

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Pompoms and tassels. These confused me. Would having cord around your neck with fluffy balls on the end not be something of an accident waiting to happen on a working fishing boat? This is a question I hope I can get answered at the 2 day Symposium being held at the end of September.

I ended the visit with chips on the beach watching the world and his dog go by and trying to imagine quieter days before ‘holidays’ were invented.

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You can visit the exhibition from now until the end of September. The Gansey Symposium 2017 is from 29th September to Sunday 1st October.