Fisherman’s jumpers of the British Isles
Seamless and with gussets at the underarms to allow for greater freedom of movement, ganseys were tight, for extra warmth and to prevent snagging. There are tales of dead sailors having to be cut out of their work ganseys. It is hard to be certain how commonly the more complex designs were worn. In the posed studio portraits often used to decipher patterns, the men would have been wearing their Sunday best. Certainly, in the more natural photographs taken by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe in Whitby (see page 47), the men at work are often wearing plainer garments. Although some patterns are claimed by specific areas, examples of many can be found hundreds of miles apart, spread by the migration of the Scottish herring girls, who gutted and packed the fish all along the east coast.
Likely to be fastened with buttons on the shoulder, and featuring flags and diamonds. On the Aberdeenshire and Moray coast, patterns tended to be in vertical columns, while further north, horizontal patterning was more frequently used.
Patterns were usually all over, rather than just on the yoke and the upper sleeves. Sometimes the very bottom was left plain and initials were knitted in. The famed Betty Martin ‘ladder’ motif is thought to originate in Filey.
Simple lines of vertical rib stitch or horizontal seed and bars were common, along with lattice and basketweave patterns, although the local contract knitters might knit more complex designs - like this one - in order to command a higher price.
The wool used here was notably finer and knitters often used ‘all over’ patterns on the yoke, rather than separating different motifs with ‘spacer’ bands of simpler patterning. Sheringham was known for excellent examples.
Guernsey sweaters tended to be longer and looser and often had a folded hem or decorative ‘knotted’ edge, with a small section of rib right above the hem, but were otherwise relatively plain.