What is a Gansey, Anyway?

Some sources in my personal knitting library say that a gansey originates from the Channel Islands.  If you look at a map, you will find the Channel Islands near the French border in the English Channel.  Other sources in my knitting library point to the origin of the gansey much further north to the Orkney Islands which are found on the top of Scotland.  However, the gansey could have had even northerly roots in Scandanavia as the Old Norse word for yarn is “garn.”

Unlike its other names (guernsey and jersey), a gansey is not an actual location.

The bottom line is that a gansey is a guernsey is a jersey; it just depends on whom you ask and where you are.

-Pamela Haswell, Cast On Summer 2016

Some point to a light-weight jersey that King Charles I wore when he was beheaded as proof that it existed in the 17th century where others simply state that fishermen wore the gansey during the Industrial Revolution (19th century).

Whatever the differences, they all agree that a gansey is knit with tightly spun yarn.  The close-fitting sweater is knit with little positive ease.  It is typically knit in the round from the bottom up and sports a variety of textured stitches.  And it’s a pullover which is a sweater going over one’s head rather than having a front opening such as found on a cardigan.

If you are interested on joining us on our knitcation in September, I encourage you to start looking through your knitting books. Who knows, you might already have a gansey pattern in your collection! If not, there are over over 475 patterns in Ravelry’s database for gansey pullovers. I’ve even narrowed it down closer to a hundred patterns for children.

We can find non-traditionally constructed sweater patterns with “traditional guernsey patterning” such as the two in Debbie Bliss’ Knitting Workbook.  These are both worked in sections, with textured stitches, to be pieced together later.

In America Knits, gansey-expert Beth Brown-Reinsel claims her approach to knitting in the round (once the split garter welts are completed) is more traditional. She’s also authored an entire book on the subject Knitting Ganseys which may be in your public library.

When it comes down to it, whatever sweater you want to knit for the Gansey Getaway project is fine. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough – period.

I think I have found the pattern I will knit for the #GanseyKAL. Once I can confirm I have the right yarn for it in my stash, I’ll be back to let you know which one it is.


Bliss, Debbie.  Knitting Workbook.  North Pomfret:  Trafalgar Square, 2001. 54-57, 62-65.  Print.

Falick, Melanie. America Knits.  New York:  Artisan, 2005. 29-31.  Print.

Haswell, Pamela.  “About Ganseys.”  Cast On Summer 2016: 49-51. Print.

Hiatt, June. The Principles of Knitting: Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting. New York: Touchstone, 2012. 658. Print.


3 responses to “What is a Gansey, Anyway?

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