Saturday, 13 June 2020

A Guernsey project in Sheringham Museum, using my long knitting needles!

June 2020

I had a lovely bit of news from a good customer in Eastern England, the region we know as East Anglia, comprising mostly Norfolk and Suffolk, recently famous for its fishing fleet.

The project was the brainchild of Martin Warren, ex-curator of the Cromer Museum. Martin is centered on Sheringham Museum and the website is the result of over 20 years of his research featuring the Museum’s large collection of ganseys and historical photos of old fisherman wearing ganseys.

He now has the support of many knitters and my customer has written: “Last year I was invited to a meeting of the Textile Group at Sheringham Museum and became involved in the Gansey project. A group of ladies knit swatches and samplers from charts compiled by Martin Warren from photographs and original ganseys in the Sheringham Museum and Cromer Museum collections. We are trying to replicate the fine work of the Sheringham gansey knitters.”

The various designs are beautifully catalogued in very easy-to-access pages showing dozens of photos of old fishermen and their ganseys. Each photo has its matching swatch, recently knitted, for modern knitters to access, and it is these swatches which the Textile Group knits regularly.

Belcher Johnson's herringbone and hailstones gansey and its matching chart

To see these beautiful designs, go to and lose yourself in the pages of ganseys. Val Smith has kindly mentioned me and my Youtube videos on one of the pages, and writes about the local knitting shields (elsewhere known as knitting sticks or sheaths). The shields are designed with one central hole drilled into a wooden core which snuggly fits just one size of needle. If you want to knit with a variety of sizes, you should try a knitting belt – and I sell these on my Etsy shop.
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One of my most successful patterns has been a small child size guernsey pattern which I created nearly ten years ago. I made it for my grandson who was two years old at the time, and my grand-daughter modelled it. She was three years older, demonstrating that a guernsey will accommodate a range of ages, as its constructions lends itself to stretching to fit as the years pass. The pattern will fit children from 2 to 5 or 6 years of age. For a taller child, extend the sleeve and body lengths.
The best yarn for a guernsey is a 5-ply wool, spun with a worsted method. In the UK, worsted is not a thickness of wool but a method of spinning. The fibres of the wool fleece are laid out parallel in a horizontal sheet, all the kinks and twist removed. When this is spun it creates a very strong dense yarn with no ‘fluff’ or ‘halo’. This yarn wears very well, because it does not pill or pull out. In fact, over time it gains a sheen and polish which is very attractive and adds to its longevity, added to the fact that the yarn is dense and traditionally knitted at a tight gauge which displays the textured designs of the guernsey to advantage.

A genuine Guernsey (gansey or knit frock), knitted to the traditional design, has no front or back. Both are identical, so when it is worn it will be rotated to back and front and therefore its sleeves and cuffs last so much longer before they wear out. After many years, as the sleeves eventually wear out, and because they were knitted downwards towards the cuff, it is easy to cut off the worn out section and re-knit them, thus giving the garment a new lease of life. Similarly, if the neck wears, rip the rib out and re-knit that also. A child’s guernsey should last long enough to pass through several children or to give to the next generation.

If you want to have a go at knitting a guernsey, do it traditionally round and round with no seams on 4 or 5 dpn needles or a circular needle. Britain produces some first-rate guernsey wools (no man-made fibres!) in a large range of lovely colours, traditional blues, greys and navies, as well as more feminine colours such as pink and pale green. The most economical way to purchase is to buy a couple of cones, saving so many ends to weave in, but entailing carting a large cone around with you!

My Etsy shops sells the long double pointed (dpn) knitting needles which speed up the knitting of guernseys, both in 14 inch and 9 inch (35 cm and 13 cm) sizes from 1.5 mm to 5 mm (US 00 to US 8) (old UK 16 to 6).
 There are some lovely books by such old-time experts as Michael Pearson, Gladys Thomson and Mary Wright, as well as more modern works by too many authors to mention, which will guide you on your way.

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