Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Yachting Jersey: How to Put a Spin on a Fisherman's Sweater [Part IV/V]

Fishermen Saluting Mrs. Buxton, from the Norfolk Museum collection of Fishermen Ganseys
As previously mentioned, the "Yachting Jersey" is somewhat pompously described as "specially intended for yachting and boating, may yet be worn for football and other athletic sports."  The jersey is, in point of fact, of a type known as a Guernsey (or Gansey) sweater.  Guernsey sweaters were anything but jaunty collegiate sweaters.  Though named for the Isle of Guernsey (a British protectorate), they were worn for hundreds of years (from as early as the 15th century) by North Sea fisherman of many nationalities for utilitarian warmth. By the 1900s, the Gansey had been adopted as the official uniform of the Royal British Navy.

On a website where one can still order a traditional Gansey sweater, Flamborough Marine describes verbatim how the Yachting Jersey is constructed *

A Gansey is a distinctive woollen sweater, originally designed to provide protection for fishermen from wind and water but which is ideal for all outdoor activity. Using a tightly spun 5-ply worsted wool (popularly known as "Seamen's Iron") the intricately patterned Gansey is knitted in one piece on five steel needles. The patterning to back and front and, in some cases, the upper part of the sleeve provides an extra layer of protection, while the combination of seamless construction, fine wool and tight knitting produced a garment that is both wind and waterproof. Indeed, every part of the garment is designed with practicality in mind. The wool is knitted tightly so as to "turn water"; the lack of seams ensures greater strength and impermeability; the underarm gusset allows freedom of movement; the lower sleeves where most wear is sustained, are left plain so the worn part can be unravelled and re-knitted, while the patterning across the chest provides extra insulation.1

Weldon's Woollen Guernsey Frock
     The most basic elements of the basic Guernsey are a tight fit and not-quite-full-length, tightly fitting sleeves, a band of garter stitch bottom wet, a ribbed sleeve top, and a vertical garter stitch panel on the upper chest.  Contrast stitching was applied only to the upper sleeve and upper torso (Again, the utilitarian reasoning behind restricting the more complicated stitching to the areas least likely to be damaged, so elbows and edges could be unraveled and repaired). These elements can all be seen in Weldon's pattern for the Woollen Guernsey Frock (above).  It is said that the farther north one traveled from Guernsey, the more elaborate the designs.   And here, on a blog featuring images from an archive of Shetland Patterns for Gansey sweaters one finds images quite similar to our Yachting Jersey (and with a good imagination, I believe one can almost see the hint of a block pattern on the chest, though not on the body):

Wayside Flower: Shetland Pattern Gansey Sweaters, "From the Archives - Island Life North of the border, Och aya."

By the 19th century, the Gansey sweater would have been widely recognized on sight (much like blue-jeans in America), and many British Isles knitter had likely committed the Gansey sweater to memory. By the time the Yachting Jersey was printed in the refined notepaper of Weldon's (in other words, NOT given to a young knitter by her mother/grandmother as her youthful chore), the Gansey was, for many,  part of the knitting vernacular.  Thus, I suspect that the suggestion that one should utilize a fancy pattern (The Block Pattern) on the arms and body, might have seemed rather frivolous... Not unlike the way I feel when someone tells me that young people are spending $250.00 on blue jeans because they are produced by "7" brand rather than "Levi's." 

...although they do say their handknit sweaters are made "...in one piece in the traditional way, using 5-ply WORSTED wool." ... not fingering as described in our pattern.  The use of worsted wool is corroborated by the Norfolk Museum Gansey Sweater Collection, where they write, "Of all the Norfolk fishing ports, Sheringham is particularly noted for its ganseys. They are extremely fine, being knitted in size 16 or even size 17 needles with three-ply worsted wool. This gives a stitch count of 13 stitches and 19 rows per inch"

1 Flamborough Marine, Ltd. (Accessed 2/24/2015)

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