No Chillin’ in This Guernsey!

I finished my Guernsey Sweater yesterday and just in time, too, I might add.  The weather has turned hostile here with the wind just howling outside.  If there was ever a time that I needed a sweater that would keep me warm, this was it.

I used a chunky-weight yarn to knit this up and it is quite the heavy sweater, just as I envisioned it.  Today I wore it to church and I can tell you that it stood the test of brutal winds.  Yay!

I was updating my project page for this sweater on Ravelry and found myself curious about Guernsey sweaters in general.  Well, I may be retired now from my library work but I still love a good research project so off I went to do a little digging.

Did you know that Guernsey sweaters were originally knit in the Channel Islands off of Great Britain for fishermen?  They spread in popularity to fishing communities in Yorkshire, Northumberlund, and Scotland.  I suspect these sweaters are a close kin to the Irish Fisherman’s Sweater.

Many families had their own unique patterns and these patterns were often passed down from generation to generation. Tradition has it that these patterns were useful in identifying the bodies of fishermen lost at sea when they’d wash ashore.  Their sweaters would be used to identify them.  That kind of boggles my mind but I suspect certain patterns were known to come from certain communities or regions.  So….if a fisherman washed ashore near one town perhaps word would get to his home town and thus, eventually they’d figure out who it was.

The traditional Guernsey sweater is a tightly-knit sweater with a straight neck which has no particular front or back so you can reverse it and wear it either way.  The sleeves are designed in such a way that they allow freedom of motion.  That makes sense when you think about the physical activity that fishermen would be doing out on a boat.  The sides often have welt openings at the bottoms – again to allow maximum range of motion.

The garter stitch separating the patterned part of the sweater was thought to represent the waves of the sea breaking on the rocks or the beach.  The sleeves are often capped by a cabled pattern which is thought to represent sailors’ ropes.

Other names for the Guernsey Sweater that you’ll sometimes hear are the “Gansey” or the “Jersey.”  Also, a traditional Guernsey Sweater would be knit in a blue or indigo color.  If you’d like to read some more about this practical, comfortable sweater, you might want to click on the links below.  All three have short but interesting histories of these lovely sweaters.

A Knitted History – the Understated and Practical Traditional Guernsey Jumper
The History of the Guernsey Jumper
A Short History of the Hand-knitted Gansey

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  • A lovely sweater on a beautiful model

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